The education reform train is leaving the station;
Regents must be on board, or leave NYS students behind.
The Regents just posted the agenda for their monthly two-day meeting this Monday and Tuesday, including several ambitious reform ideas to strengthen New York State's application for federal Race to the Top funding. Raising the cap on charter schools and providing equitable funding for charters are on the list.
Among the list of recommendations is to "transform [State Ed.] from a compliance-oriented agency to a service-oriented agency" to assist school districts with preparing students to compete in a global economy. It also calls for the Department to be equipped to pursue "dramatic turnaround" for low-performing schools, including "direct management of schools by external lead partners." Managing turnarounds in persistently low-performing areas will require more than a few broken eggs. Though it's not explicit, these reforms to be successful will inevitably require a new district accountability starting with transforming union work rules embedded in contracts years in making.
Proposed reforms affecting teachers include merit incentive pay for recruiting science, math and technology teachers in high-need schools; encouraging differential pay for more successful faculty; using multiple measures to evaluate teachers, including student achievement data; and streamlining the process for disciplining (or firing) incompetent teachers.
This is heady stuff and welcome. The challenge is the state Education Department's culture is deep into legalistic compliance issues that burden school districts and charter schools alike to levels of absurdity. And, the Department does not have a strong track record on its management of the Roosevelt School District on Long Island, even with millions of extra state aid for the purpose.
That was then. Today, the Department has new leadership at the Regents and commissioner levels. Commissioner David Steiner and his Senior Deputy, John King, are not lifelong bureaucrats having risen up through the ranks. Their lengthy list of reform recommendations reflects their backgrounds and displays a compelling vision that the Regents should adopt this week.
Will the Regents go along?
State Ed Recommending Charter Cap Lift & Equitable Funding
State Ed also calls for lifting the charter school cap, and for "equitable funding for charter schools, and access to facilities financing." Today's New York Post reports on the charter provisions here. This is not only a major step forward, but a necessary one for New York to garner up to 8 percent of the points on the federal scoring rubric for Race to the Top funds.
The Regents have long been ambiguous about charter schools, with the backdrop of teacher union and school district opposition. Nevertheless, the Regents have usually overcome this pressure by putting student needs first and approving most of the 170 charter schools since 1999 (counting conversions from district schools) - including many charters in smaller school districts outside of New York City.
Backwards or Forward?
As the current charter cap is soon to be reached, it is only natural that the Department is going in this direction, especially with President Obama calling for states to "lift caps and reform charter rules." The President is backing up his words with his plan to award states with Race to the Top funds for adopting charter and other education reform policies.
Monday afternoon's Regents meeting in particular will tell us much about the educational future of this state and which direction its headed. Standing still by doing nothing means going backwards. The education reform train is heading forward, out of the station. The Regents need to be on it.
for The Chalkboard
Disclaimer: The Chalkboard is hosted by the New York Charter Schools Association (NYCSA) as a place where members, public education advocates and others can view and respond to informed commentary on timely public education and charter school issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the NYCSA, its board, or of any of its individual charter school members. Anyone who claims otherwise is violating the spirit and purpose of this blog. To comment on anything you read here, or to offer tips, advice, comments, or complaints. please contact TheChalkboard.