The Stars are Aligned for Changes to the Education Reform Agenda

By Howard J. Goldsmith

Various reports, actions and reactions have taken place over the past few weeks to align the stars for much anticipated adjustments in the implementation of the various components of the Regents Reform Agenda. Many of these actions are the result of parent, teacher, school, and community comments and feedback issued during the course of Education Commissioner John King’s series of statewide public forums starting in October.

The first action leading to pending changes was the release of the Senate Education Committee’s report entitled The Regents Reform Agenda: “Assessing” Our Progress. This report is a culmination of the work of Senator John Flanagan and his colleagues in conducting five public statewide hearings, receiving over 30 hours of testimony from 115 witnesses and considering close to 1,000 pages of written testimony from a full range of education stakeholders. NYMuniBlog has written about the Senate hearings in previous items here and here and here. Some of our suggested adjustments for recommended changes to the Common Core Learning Standards implementation, testing and APPR are similar to proposed changes included in the Senate report.

Just last week, at the monthly meeting of the Board of Regents, Chancellor Merryl Tisch announced the creation of a six member Regents Task Force to report back to the full Board at its February meeting with recommendations for changes to address and improve the implementation of the education reform agenda. The task force is charged with reviewing feedback from parents, educators and community leaders, particularly from the forums attended by Commissioner King, Chancellor Tisch and other members of the Regents.

Members of the Board of Regents are split on the extent of the needed changes to testing, common core implementation, APPR, and large-scale student data collection through an outside private vendor. While some members of the Board have continued to insist on moving forward as previously set forth by the Regents prior to widespread input from education stakeholders, others have plainly stated that mistakes were made and actions beyond mere minor adjustments need to be taken. Regent Roger Tilles stated, “We’ve made mistakes and I think we know we’ve made mistakes.”

At the same meeting in which Chancellor Tisch announced the appointment of the Regents Task Force, Regent Tilles made some candid comments during the Board’s discussion on the substance of the recommendations issued by Senator Flanagan. Tilles stated that Flanagan’s report and proposed legislation in response to the report is “not window dressing.” He went on to plainly warn the full Board of Regents that “unless we want the governor and the legislature to make education policy, we need to act and be proactive.” The task force members who will report to the full Board in February are Regents Bennett, Cashin, Dawson, Tallon, Tilles and Norwood. Regent Betty Rosa, who has been extremely outspoken on the Board’s reform agenda, was not included in the task force.

The third major star pointing towards upcoming changes is the action taken by Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver and Assembly Education Committee Chairperson Cathy Nolan along with over 50 members of the Assembly. They issued a statement with Speaker Silver calling for Commissioner King and the Board of Regents to delay the implementation of the database being developed by inBloom, the private not-for-profit company contracted by the Education Department to coordinate a student statewide data base as a component of the education reform agenda. The Speaker stated, “Until we are confident that this information can remain protected, the plan to share student data with inBloom must be put on hold.” While each of these recent actions put pressure on the Regents and Commissioner King to propose substantive changes to the reform agenda and its implementation, the Speaker’s letter may be the most influential. Each of the 17 members of the Board of Regents were selected by Speaker Silver and are appointed to the Board upon the approval of a joint session of the legislature, the largest group of this process is comprised of the Assembly majority. This level of Regents’ oversight and accountability was recently discussed in an opinion item in Newsday.

An additional star aligning for changes could be the upcoming release of the final report from the governor’s New NY Education Reform Commission. This commission released its preliminary report in January 2013 and is expected to release its final report in January 2014. In addition, various legislative bills have already been proposed in response to the Regents’ Reform Agenda dealing with testing, privacy, local school board control, parent “opting-out” and teacher evaluations.

The stars are aligned for some type of action adjusting the current education reform agenda and its implementation plans. Whether these changes come from the Regents, the executive, the legislature upon the start of the upcoming legislative session, or a combination of these factors, is yet to be determined. In any event, the stars are predicting that school boards, districts, school administrators, teachers, parents and New York’s education stakeholders will need to be ready for these changes and adjust accordingly in the weeks and months ahead.

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