The Regents showed they were serious about reforming education by adopting the recommendations from their new education commissioner, David Steiner, this afternoon at their monthly meeting.
This comprehensive package of reforms includes raising the charter cap, providing charter facilities funding, streamlining teacher removal, encouraging teacher merit pay and incentives for specialty teachers, enabling school districts to contract with management companies, among other changes. Commissioner Steiner and his senior deputy, John King, methodically presented the package of reforms in a marathon four-hour meeting today in Albany.
Charter schools are a sensitive subject with the Regents, and several board members raised concerns, including James Tallon, a former majority leader of the state Assembly. Regent Tallon questioned the policy objective of charter schools and whether they were suppose to "leverage" change in school districts, or "replace schools." I submit charter school objectives are presented in the Charter Schools Act (section 2850 of the Education law, here), which include improving student learning and achievement, providing choice in the public school system, and other objectives. Still, Tallon's concerns are important, including how charters fit within a local school system as a competitive challenge.
Regent Betty Rosa from the Bronx had concerns about charter schools serving students who are English language learners. Actually, Regent Rosa's concerns are best handled administratively by the state Education Department and the SUNY Charter Schools Institute which should be examining charter schools in areas with English language learners, and whether such schools are making good faith efforts to attract and retain such students, as the current law requires.
Regents Unanimously Endorse Reform - Legislature Up Next
Former Regents Chancellor, Robert Bennett, from western New York, spoke in favor of the reform package and in support of charter schools. All in all, the reform discussion by the Regents was at a new level that views charter schools as a necessary part of the state's public school system particularly as an option for improving districts with low-performing schools, and should be expanded.
The Regents voted unanimously to endorse the Education Department's recommendations. Ultimately, there was no dissent. This unanimity is an important statement to the state legislature, which appoints this entire board. The legislature would have to adopt many of the Regents proposals, including those for charter schools, for them to become a reality. That is far from certain.
Still, despite this legislative uncertainty, education reform took a huge step forward today from the state's top education policymaking board. Federal Race to the Top funding is closer to reality, provided the legislature follows suit.
Impressive Leadership by Chancellor Tisch
Finally, enormous credit belongs to the Regents Chancellor, Merryl Tisch. She led the effort to appoint a well-known reformer as commissioner, oversaw the details of the reform package prepared and presented by the Department, and convinced her fellow Regents--including the reform skeptics--to approve it in full. This is impressive leadership all around.
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