NYS Regents Host First NYC Town Hall at Medgar Evers College
Announcement of New Chancellor Cathie Black Was Hot Topic
Educators, parents, and concerned community members packed the Founder’s Auditorium at Medgar Evers College to participate in the first New York State Regents Town Hall meeting in New York City.
The hottest topic was Mayor Bloomberg’s announcement that he named Cathie Black, a media executive who oversees national publications like USA Today, as the new NYC Schools Chancellor.
Dr. Young explained the process to appoint a non-educator is not simple. A non-educator requires a variance, which the NYS Dept. of Education Commissioner provides by establishing a five member panel that decides.
Owens said he thinks it is necessary that the top administrator of a school district be an educator. “I think it is an insult to the education profession that they make a choice of a business person to run a school system, he said. “We ought to all be very angry about it. They must have 12 courses in education in order to meet the requirement. To say you need someone with a business background to run a big education system, get an educator. He can always hire somebody with a business background to be number 2. The man in charge ought to know education.”
The former congressman said he “has no remorse over Chancellor Klein resigning. He did a very bad job. An example of a non-educator in the wrong spot. He ended up lying about statistics and a whole lot of other things.” Regarding a media person becoming the chancellor, Owens said we must fight, or we will get the same old thing all over again.
Assembly member Annette Robinson is irate with Bloomberg’s decision. “The Mayor has made another decision in terms of another person that does not have the background or experience that the job requires. Enough is enough. We will rally,” Robinson said. “We are concerned about the lack of participation of our parents. The President of the United States has told us what parents must do for their children’s success. We have to remember what our ancestors went through to get an education. We have to pass it on to our children. We can do no less for them. We have to make sure all our children are successful.”
Assemblymenber Hakeem Jeffries said, “With the advent of Mayoral Control, we have found that educators have been taken out of the process. Had someone said during that debate in 2002 that we were getting ready to hand over the keys to the educational future for more than one million children to an anti-trust lawyer and a Wall Street tycoon, you would have called him crazier than Carl Paladino. That is exactly what has happened. You wouldn’t place someone lacking military background as the head of the Pentagon.”
Town Hall Meeting Discusses Standards and Goals
Regent-at-Large Dr. Lester Young and Senior Deputy Commissioner for the NYS Dept. of Education John King presented current standards and goals for high school graduation requirements, K-12 assessments, statewide curriculum, and Race to the Top (RTTT) initiatives. The event, a collaboration with State Senators Adams and Montgomery and Assembly members Camara, Jeffries, and Robinson, was moderated by Richard Jones, Executive Dean in the Office of Accreditation, Quality Assurance, and Institutional Effectiveness at Medgar Evers College.
The event was both prescient and timely, considering Mayor Bloomberg named yet another non-educator as chancellor and the pressing issues of high dropout rates, over-age/under-credited students, Boys and Girls and Paul Robeson High Schools at risk, and rampant college remediation of NYC high school graduates.
Dr. Young and Dep. Comm. King gave an in depth presentation of the Regents’ efforts to improve educational outcomes, starting with a global perspective: ranked 15th among developed countries, the United States college graduation rates have stagnated during the past decade. NYS Regents and the State Dept. of Education are rising to the challenge with numerous initiatives with the goal of college and career readiness for all NYS students.
A major impediment to college graduation has been the necessity for many NYC high school grads to take remedial math and English classes when they enter college. Remedial classes are expensive, move students off the 4 year collegegraduation track, and are discouraging for students who were led to believe they were adequately prepared. Using data driven evidence, the NYS Board of Regents has found that students who score above an 80 on their Regents exams have a good chance of earning at least a C in college level math. A commensurate score in English is predicted to produce similar results. Recognizing preparation begins before high school, the Board of Regents has introduced higher proficiency standards for grades 3-8. These reforms also seek to move NYS standardized test results into alignment with National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.
With graduation rates barely hitting 50% in NYC and in some districts across the state, Regents have created a College and Career Readiness Working Group to explore the effectiveness of New York’s high school graduation requirements. Under consideration are increasing graduation requirements, increased flexibility in meeting requirements, alternative or supplementalcredentials, and re-thinking how students with disabilities meet requirements.
A major consideration discussed in the townhall was the possibility of a temporary bump in the dropout rate as administrators, teachers, parents, and students adjust to new standards. The numbers of older students lacking required credits increased this school term in NYC as students who thought they were entering high school were sent back to middle school. Dr. Young acknowledged there is an issue with overage, under credited students. His response was met with audience applause. “The answer is not to make up a diploma give it to them and let them think it means something,” said Dr. Young. “This is exactly why we need parent and community involvement. We are getting the students, but we are not getting the resources. The people in the schools continue to get the students, but who advocates on behalf of them to get the resources? We need the community to put some pressure on the system to make sure that if a school like Boys and Girls High will thrive in our community, them they have to have the resources to do so.”
Medgar Evers College Preparatory School Principal Michael Wiltshire told the audience of the school’s model for academic achievement for its 6th through 12th grade students. Sixth through eighth grades are what is called “Early High School.” By the 7th grade, the students take four Regents exams. In the 8th grade they continue to take Regents exams, including chinese and physics. This year student grades on the Physics Regents ranged from 70 – 99. In the 9th
and 10th grades, students begin to take AP courses, including pre-calculus. This year, 244 African Americans in the U.S. took Physics C Electricity and Magnetism Exam; 24 or 10% of the students came from Megar Evers Prep. In NYS, only 46 African American students took the exam; 24 of the 46 came from our school. “It is not so much that Medgar Evers College is doing something exceptional,” Wiltshire said. “Why aren’t African American students given the opportunity across the state to take these rigorous courses? What we at Medgar have demonstrated is that if we give our students the opportunity, and if we give them the support, then they can perform just as well as any other student.”
Another example of a college readiness high school is Bard High School, with campuses in Manhattan and Queens. Affiliated with Bard College, students take two years of intensive high school classes, then two years of college classes.
They graduate with an Associate Degree in Arts. Bard College appoints the high school’s leaders and college faculty, 2/3 of whom have Ph.D.’s. Bard High School’s two campuses have a combined enrollment of 1,150. The student population is diverse: 20% Hispanic/ Latino, 17% African American, 22% Asian and 40% Caucasian. Graduates can transfer to a CUNY or SUNY school as a junior. Each year about 5 – 10 graduates attend Bard College; 99% enroll in a 4 year college
program. Graduating seniors Nicholas Gumas, Emma Gerstenzang, and Matthew Goldman told the audience of the enthusiasm of their teachers who make them want to learn and that they are grateful for the opportunity to earn a college degree while in high school.
After the Bard presentation, one audience member asked if NYS was moving towards 10th grade high school diplomas instead of 12th grade, Dep. Comm. King said “12th grade diplomas will stand.”
A major topic of discussion was Race to the Top and how the funds would be spent for the benefit of student achievement. Regents plan to use the funds to adopt
internationally-benchmarked standards and assessments, build instructional data systems that measure student success, recruit, develop, retain, and reward effective teachers and principals, and turn around the lowest-achieving schools. Of the $700 million awarded to NYS, $250 million will be allocated to NYC over 4 years.
Congressman Major Owens attended the townhall and said, “President Obama’s plan called Race to the Top (RTTT) should interest all of us because large amounts of money are going to be invested in our communities to improve our schools. In
NYC, $250 million. That’s a lot of money. They are saying they are going to ask the people running the districts right now to tell them how to spend the money. I think that’s outrageous. Many more of us should be brought into the discussion of how to spend that money and succeed where we have been failing.”
During his tenure in Congress, Owens chaired the Education and Labor Committee, and introduced the Owens Amendment, a section of Title I which requires 1% of all [federal] school funds to be used for parent involvement. “It’s in the law,” said Owens, “but principals, education administrators, the State Board of Regents ignore it. According to the rules, they can’t spend the parental funds.” Owens said most parents do not know about the Owens amendment to Title I. “They can make the decision of how it is going to be spent, whether on more school trips, books, or counseling for kids who are about to go to college.”
Dr. Young said the Dept. of Education Commissioner has been all over the state – Buffalo, Syracuse. “I hope to hold Regents hearings in Harlem, South East Queens, and the South Bronx.” There was not enough time during the townhall to
answer audience questions. If parents have any questions, Dr. Young suggests they contact the local Dept. of Education office at 55 Hanson Place.