Chatting with Chapey
On November 8, 2007 Regent Geraldine Chapey seized the moment to bring the New York State Education Department in Albany to Queens in New York City to a regional Regents P-16 Educational Leadership Forum at St. John's University to discuss important topics impacting P-16 educators and to identify new opportunities for advancing the P-16 agenda. The Educational Leadership Forum was conducted in partnership with the New York City Department of Education, the City University of New York, the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of Supervisors and Administrators. Attending the conference were elected legislators, Presidents, Deans and faculty of colleges and universities, superintendents, principals of all levels, teacher leaders, parents, directors of cultural institutions and libraries and labor leaders.
The focus of the forum- the P-16 Action Plan- was dynamically described by Senior Deputy Commissioner Johanna Duncan-Poitier and her team - Deputy Commissioners Joseph Frey, Sheila Evans Tranum and Rebecca Cort. The goals of the P-16 plan are twofold: (1) to close the great divide in achievement that presently exists along the lines of income, race, ethnicity, language and disability and (2) to keep up with growing demands for even more knowledge and skill as competition increases in a rapidly changing global technology economy.
Accomplishing these related goals requires unprecedented collaboration among educators, parents, elected leaders and employers. All levels of education - pre-kindergarten, elementary, middle, high school and higher education must work closely together - focusing on the transitions from P to 16 - making a commitment to engage everyone. The Round Table discussions at the Forum were lively, current, animated, practical and productive. New professional relationships were formed. Plans to visit partner schools were initiated as were follow-up conferences. (This part of the column was written by Dr. Geraldine D. Chapey.)
On Wednesday, December 13, 2007 the New York State Board of Regents held a news conference "reaffirming its support for the P-16 action plans - to improve student achievement initiatives and college readiness and completion programs. At that conference it was announced that private funding had been secured to promote these endeavors. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wallace Foun- dation committed $6.2 million dollars to implement these initiatives to improve New York State high school graduation rates and completion programs".
The private foundation committed this funding in response to the New York State Regents Action Plan set forth in October, 2006 "to strengthen instruction, raise standards, improve graduation rates and increase accountability". To implement the Regents Action Plan the New York State legislature and the Governor also increased public funding for state aid to school districts by an unprecedented $1.7 billion dollars in the 2007-08 state budget. Governor Elliott Spitzer noted in his remarks on the Contracts for Excellence on January 26, 2007 at the State Education Department that "this is the largest infusion of public resources in our state's history" and is tied to a strong comprehensive reform agenda.
The historic public funding increase was predicated on Judge Leland De- Grasse's decision that New York City was underfunding programs for students who were low on performance and low in achievement. The case was brought by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and was affirmed by the New York State Court of Appeals. Judge DeGrasse's decision called for an infusion of funds for program and operating costs, capital projects and new technology.
The CFE consists of a group of parental and community activists working in conjunction with educators who are deeply concerned about the education of our children. It is their considered opinion that lowering class size would be a crucial ingredient in helping our children achieve academic success. The CFE has offered serious and considered recommendations regarding the reconfiguration of current school space to achieve smaller class size. UFT President Randi Weingarten has categorized the CFE proposal as a blueprint for success. Randi Weingarten and her professional colleagues unequivocally state that lowering class size is an urgent and essential component of a sound educational program. The UFT wants a cap on class size and does not want an average as the DOE is proposing. These CFE positions and the lower class size issue are discussed in a December 6, 2007 article in the New York Teacher entitled "Time to Make Low Class Size a Reality".
The P-16 Regents plan will strengthen relationships and partnerships from Pre-kindergarten through higher education. For the first time this program stresses the importance of the development of personal relationships between and among the professionals involved at the transition points between elementary and junior high school, between junior high school and high school and between high school and college. These relationships will facilitate the seamless transition of students from one level to the next. Many initiatives are planned as an outgrowth of the Regents Action Plan including the Contracts for Excellence, strengthening teacher education and preparation programs and providing opportunities for professionals at all levels to dialogue with one another.
The Contracts for Excellence demand program, performance and fiscal accountability. The Contract for Excellence contracts differ from previous programs because each district receiving funding must sign a written contract with the New York State Education Department specifying the measurable goals that will be achieved. These performance objectives will be measured at the end of the school year to hold the districts accountable. Going forward this accountability system will be strengthened in order to incorporate a growth model that would allow the measurement of a child's progress year after year. Fifty-five districts around the State signed Contracts with the New York State Education Department in November, 2007 to further the achievement of students most in need.
The UFT and NYSUT have been an active partner in the implementation of the Contracts for Excellence. NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi states that "we know from experience that a contract forged through collaboration is a powerful tool for meaningful change" (according to the NY Teacher December 6, 2007 - State Finalizes Contracts for Excellence). The UFT lobbied and succeeded in persuading the DOE to align Contract for Excellence funding with students who have the highest need. The UFT reports that some teachers have agreed to participate in a program that would give them pay increases for improvements in school wide student performance (according to the NY Times, December 19, 2007).
The Regents Action Plan also requires the strengthening of teacher education and preparation programs in order to prepare teachers to meet the new written program, performance and fiscal accountability goals. Regent Meryl Tisch held a conference on July 12, 2007 at Teachers College, Columbia University on "Teacher Education in New York State: Meeting the Needs of Our Present Students". Many strategies were proposed.
The Regional Collaborative session held by Regent Geraldine D. Chapey in Queens and the Teacher Education Preparation session held by Regent Meryl Tisch reflect the importance of the implantation of the New York State Regents Action Plan.
In New York State at this historic time in education, the Regents P-16 Action Plan has the necessary ingredients to raise achievement and close performance gaps across the Pre-kindergarten through higher education (P-16) continuum. The new accountability system will require changes not only in the direct services to children but will also require changes in the teacher and administrator preparation programs in the colleges and universities.
Regent Dr. Geraldine D. Chapey and Dr. Geraldine M. Chapey will be presenting a session a "P-16:Strengthening Pre-Kindergarten Through Higher Education" at a conference on University and College programs in January, 2008.
The following sources were consulted in writing this column: P-16 Education: A Plan for Action (2006) from the New York State Board of Regents; notes from conferences in Queens, Manhattan and Albany; Education: The Campaign for Fiscal Equity by S. Sanders and S. Silver (2003): The School Executive Bulletin by Johanna Duncan Poitier; Governor Spitzer's speech on Contracts for Excellence (2007); New York State Education Department Press Releases; the New York Teacher 12/6/07 and the New York Times 12/19/07. (This article was written in collaboration between Dr. Geraldine D. Chapey and Dr. Geraldine M. Chapey).