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Meeting of the Board of Regents | May 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 - 8:30am

sed seal                                                                                                 







The Honorable the Members of the Board of Regents


Regent James R. Tallon, Jr.


Richard P. Mills



Recommendations from the Regents Project Management Group



May 12, 2009





Issue for Decision


              The Regents will review the recommendations of the Regents Project Management Group (“PMO Group”).  These recommendations are the first step in developing a Statewide plan for school improvement and transforming SED into a high-performing service organization.


Reason for Consideration


              As part of its P-16 Action Plan, the Regents sought and secured foundation funds to build capacity to raise student achievement, with particular focus on improving schools and transforming SED into a high-performing service organization.  The Regents used these funds to engage several consultants, which developed draft proposals to achieve these goals.  The Chancellor established a group of Regents to consider these proposals and, working with the Commissioner, to develop a set of related recommendations that are aligned with Regents goals.


Background Information


              The Board of Regents sought and secured foundation support to build capacity to raise student achievement through three integrated strategies:  research-based practice, a P-16 data system to guide that practice, and a transformed State Education Department as the organizational platform.  The foundation support enabled the Regents to engage consultants to assist with this work.  Since December 2008, the Regents PMO Group has considered several questions raised by the consultants’ draft recommendations for increasing SED’s capacity to drive school improvement and student achievement, including: (1) whether SED should adopt a district-based approach to school improvement; (2) what field structures the Regents should adopt to best implement a district-based approach; and (3) how to structure SED’s internal organization to best pursue the Regents’ expected outcomes of increasing student performance and closing the achievement gap and to ensure that SED staff have opportunities to grow within an integrated structure.




              That the Regents support consultation with SED leadership, staff and the field on the recommendations and solicit ideas on what actions will be necessary to implement the recommendations.


Timetable for Implementation


              Action on the recommendations is planned for the May meeting. Upon the Board’s approval of the recommendations, detailed implementation plans will be developed for subsequent review.

Recommendations of the Regents Project Management Group




              The Regents P-16 Education Plan articulates the Board’s vision for a New York in which all people are prepared for citizenship, work and continued learning throughout their lives.   The Regents foresee a New York in which gaps in achievement have closed, and the overall level of knowledge and skill among the people matches or exceeds the best in the world.  They want dramatically improved results for all students – from elementary and secondary school to post-secondary education and beyond – with clear, measurable outcomes such as increased graduation rates from both high school and post-secondary institutions.


              The Regents expect that all New York State students will achieve at high levels and be supported by resources that are coordinated to achieve this goal.  The P-16 Education Plan encourages all educational partners – including students and parents, teachers and administrators, higher education and cultural institutions, community and business organizations – to work together toward a common purpose and with a shared understanding of how to produce excellent student outcomes.


              The Regents PMO Group has developed the recommendations below as the foundation for realizing the Regents P-16 vision and outcomes.  The recommendations envision a new organizational design and field structure to enable SED and the Regents to build the capacity of school districts to improve their own schools and provide effective SED accountability and support.


Recommendation 1 – District-Based Approach to School Improvement


              The PMO Group recommends that (1) in order to accelerate student achievement, SED and the Regents build the capacity of school districts to improve their own schools, (2) school districts, rather than individual schools, should be SED’s primary point of contact for school improvement and student achievement, and (3) because of its size, complexity and unique organizational structure, NYC represents a special case for which a refined approach is necessary.


              With respect to the implementation of a comprehensive district-based approach, the PMO Group recommends the development of an SED-based structure to direct and manage an integrated system of supports and differentiated interventions available to districts at the SED level as well as within a single network structure.  Specifically, the PMO Group recommends that SED (1) help districts improve their schools by providing a coherent system of high-quality, easily-accessible supports and (2) hold districts accountable for the performance of their schools.  As an alternative to SED’s current Regional Network Strategy (“RNS”), the PMO Group recommends creation of a single network that would be directed and managed by SED and could operate regionally through a BOCES Joint Management Team (“JMT”) approach.  The group recognizes the complexity of designing an alternative and will seek recommendations from staff and others on a unified design including processes to enable transition from current structures.  Finally, to ensure the continued effectiveness of the district-based approach, the PMO Group recommends that SED conduct quality reviews of districts and their schools using common evaluative rubrics, integrated review systems and independent, external review teams.


Recommendation 2 – SED’s Internal Organization


              The PMO Group recommends that (1) the Board reaffirm its commitment to a

P-16 vision and strategy for SED, (2) the future pursuit of a P-16 strategy requires realignment of responsibilities for P-12, Special Education and Higher Education, and (3) for the Regents and SED to drive increases in achievement for all students, special education and general education should be integrated.  The group recognizes that further discussion will be necessary to address related issues, including the design and role of SED’s Higher Education and VESID functions.


              As part of its discussion of a refined approach to school improvement in NYC, the PMO Group recommends that the Board direct the Commissioner and staff to examine the functions and structure of the NYC office and make recommendations consistent with the PMO report.  The group also recommends that the broad school improvement responsibilities currently held by SED’s NYC office be consolidated into SED’s Statewide structure.


Recommendation 3 – Theory of Action


              The PMO Group recommends that the Board adopt a theory of action – a framework through which the Regents goals for all students are communicated, carried out and refined over time – to achieve substantial and sustained improvements in learning for all students.


              The group agrees that improved student achievement is produced in the interaction among teacher, student and curriculum (“instructional core”).  The group recognizes that, while the Board uses policy action to exert powerful influence on the instructional core, there are many other partners involved and an effective theory of action must include a shared understanding of how the partners work together to produce excellent student outcomes supported by resources that are coordinated to achieve this common purpose.  As a result, the group has articulated a focus on all children and an integrated system in which the roles and responsibilities of each partner in the educational process – including students, parents, teachers, school districts, administrators, BOCES, SED and Regents – are clearly defined and aligned with that focus.  Appendix A contains a detailed description of the PMO Group’s recommended theory of action.


Next Steps


              With the Board’s approval of the PMO Group’s recommendations, the Commissioner and SED staff will begin drafting detailed designs and will identify any emerging issues for further review and consideration by the PMO Group and the Board.

Appendix A


Theory of Action




              The Regents want dramatically improved results for all students.  The foundation for this goal is the Board's belief that all children can reach high standards and be successful in school and beyond.  How can this goal be accomplished?  Some of the Board’s consultants rephrase that question this way:  “What is the theory of action?”  A theory of action refers to our understanding of how we will achieve dramatically better outcomes by establishing clarity about practices, responsibilities, roles and relationships among the various partners in the education system, including all components of USNY.  A second question is, “How will we put the theory of action in place?”


              With a focus on an aligned system of rigorous standards, curriculum, assessments and accountability, among other elements, the Regents current theory of action has succeeded in improving schools and raising student achievement.  However, substantial performance gaps still exist.  This paper thus proposes a framework through which the Regents can define a new theory of action to achieve their expected outcome – substantial and sustained improvements in learning for all students.


What do we want for our children?


              The education system nurtures students’ natural inclination to learn through stimulating programs, caring adults and adequate funding; it accommodates students’ diversity and enables them to grow in all developmental pathways through common high expectations.  There are many ways for students to complete high school and all students graduate ready for citizenship, work, and further education.  There are many post-secondary options leading to a high level of knowledge and skill and the great majority of students complete post-secondary education.


              All children and young people become competent in reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing and presenting, adept users of technology for communication and learning.  They are competent analytical thinkers and communicators, practice the arts and sciences, and apply this knowledge with honesty and integrity to make sense of the world.  They are resilient and possess the character, attitudes, motivation and preparation needed to contribute to their families, communities and nation as competent, caring, productive adults.


What is our “Theory of Action?”


              The theory of action is the framework through which the Regents expectation – improved learning for all students – is communicated, carried out and refined over time.  Practitioners say the following elements are needed for the Regents to achieve this expectation quickly:


  • An “unrelenting, laser-like focus” on improving student achievement.
  • Productive interaction among student, teacher, and curriculum to get better results.
  • Educators, students, parents, and community alike have access to the same information about what works and what is expected.
  • Alignment and coherence among all the elements of the system. For example, teacher lesson plans are consistent with the curriculum, which is aligned with the standards; high school graduation standards match college admission standards.
  • Shared understanding of how everything works together to produce excellent student outcomes, supported by resources that are coordinated to achieve this common purpose.  This is what some call the “theory of action.”


Focus on the instructional core


              Both practitioners and policy experts agree that we must focus on the instructional core – the interaction among teacher, student and curriculum.   The results we want are produced in that interaction.  It follows that policy and action should concentrate on making that interaction effective.  The work of teachers and students with the curriculum takes place far from the Regents, yet the Board exerts powerful influence.  Examples include policies that raise the quality of teacher preparation, require that all students encounter a Regents curriculum, and that students who need extra help receive it.


Accomplishing our expectations for children requires “backward mapping”


              While the Board, through policy action, exerts powerful influence on the instructional core, there are many others involved.  How are all the partners involved?  “Backward mapping” means starting with the outcome we want – high achievement in mathematics, for example – and working back through all the people and structures to enable everyone to add value to the outcome.  For example, to enable teacher and student to excel with a challenging curriculum, what must the principal do?  And to support the principal in that work, what must the superintendent do?  And so on, to SED and the Board of Regents.


              Michael Barber describes a “chain of delivery,” which is a detailed description of who does what to get the outcomes expected.  Barber says that if we cannot describe the chain of delivery, we cannot deliver anything.  For the Regents, defining the chain of delivery involves identifying the partners in creating high achievement and how they work together toward a common purpose.  A description of the delivery chain that the Regents could incorporate into its theory of action appears below.


a.           Students and Teachers – In New York State, both students and teachers are held to high standards.  We recognize, however, that students differ from one another and need many paths to achieve high standards.  Examples include traditional academic high school programs over four, five or six years; alternative high school; dual enrollment in high school and college courses; and career and technical education.


              While teachers receive direction from their administrators and boards, they also have an ownership stake in the process of educating their students.  Teachers collaborate with colleagues on the practices of teaching and possess the tools to develop their practice, including: direct access to all relevant information; networks of colleagues and supports; technology based lesson plans; knowledge of brain and learning theory; knowledge of standards and curriculum and how these are aligned with assessments; and classroom management skills.


b.           School Districts, Administrators and BOCES – A focus on student achievement drives everything that school districts and administrators do.  School districts and administrators ensure that all resources, human and financial, are allocated to the instructional core and aligned with student achievement goals.  They celebrate student successes at every opportunity.  They get the right people in the right positions.  They believe that teaching is the key to student achievement, and they build the capacity of teachers and schools to improve instruction and learning.


              BOCES support districts, administrators, and teachers by providing leadership and professional development that is focused on the elements that research and best practice show to be most effective in teaching and learning.  BOCES facilitate shared services to enable districts to control costs and make more funds available for improving the instructional core.


              School districts, administrators and BOCES develop strong partnerships and connections within their communities – including parents and families, businesses, community-based organizations, higher education and cultural institutions (USNY partners) – in order to mobilize all partners to a common purpose and to foster students’ cognitive, physical, social and emotional growth and development.


c.           Regents, SED, and Regional Structure – The Regents, though policy-making, and SED, through implementation, work together to assure a consistent framework of state-level policy and practice that aligns with the Regents goal of improved achievement for all students.  The regional structure is the vehicle through which SED provides a coherent system of quality supports and interventions to school districts to improve student performance and achieve Regents goals.


              SED carries out Regents policies by developing state-level systems that align with those policies and by assisting school districts in using those systems to improve student achievement.  For example, based on Regents policy direction and approval, SED develops standards and systems of assessments, curriculum, student achievement data, and accountability.  SED engages districts to support their work to improve schools and student achievement.  SED directs the efforts of its regional structure to provide a coordinated system of quality supports to school districts.  SED creates the state plan for special education, collects data on district performance related to the plan, provides professional development, and administers programs to hold districts accountable for improved results.  SED approves teacher and leader education programs and issues educator certificates subject to Regents policy.  The Commissioner approves Contracts for Excellence.  SED continually consults field leaders, parents, employers, and other citizens to support Regents policy development, encourage regional collaboration, and ensure access to information for teachers, administrators, higher education partners, and the public.  SED approves BOCES cooperative services proposals.


              SED’s regional structure includes a direct point of contact between districts and SED which will conduct diagnostic reviews of districts and direct the ways in which supports and interventions are provided to all districts, with a focus on struggling districts.  SED directs and manages the resources and supports available to districts at the SED level as well as within a single network structure, which includes designated District Superintendents in each Joint Management Team (“JMT”) region and SED network staff, and reports to the appropriate Deputy to ensure implementation of Regents policy for improving student achievement.  District Superintendents work with SED and its regional structure to help districts build their own capacity to improve teaching and learning.


              As a policy-making board, the Regents adopt standards and systems to implement them.  The Regents see to the periodic renewal of rigorous learning standards, oversee and renew assessment policy and implementation, and approve the framework for curricula sufficient to prepare all students to meet the standards.  The Regents adopt accountability systems to support judgments about the capacity and performance of school districts and schools, and approve systems to enable districts to improve student performance.  The Board adopts teacher preparation standards to ensure that all students have an adequate supply of highly qualified teachers.  The Regents recommend state aid systems and the amounts needed to assure fair and adequate funding to educate all children to the standards.  In doing this, the Regents study and share national and international best practices; consult national research and New York practitioners and advocates; and develop capacity-building strategies such as pre-kindergarten.  The Regents focus public attention on standards, performance and the need to improve; and the Board recognizes rapidly improving districts and schools.  The Regents build public commitment to a world class education system that enables all children to reach high standards.

This definition of “instructional core” is based on the work of Richard F. Elmore of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.

The term “backward mapping” as used in this paper is attributed to Richard F. Elmore of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.