Cultural Education Committee



Carole F. Huxley


Discussion of Need to Fund Museum Curriculum-Related Instruction




June 8, 2006



Goals 1 and 2








Issue for Decision


          Should the Regents propose legislation to fund museums and historical societies to increase standards-based instruction in science, social science and the humanities for K-12 schools?


Reason for Consideration


          Legislation would enlist effective USNY engagement in raising academic performance and in eliminating the academic performance gap.  If enacted, the proposed legislation would recognize the value of museums’ and historical societies’ contributions to K-12 education while strengthening ties between museums and schools.


Proposed Handling


          Review of this proposal as well as approval to develop legislative language for consideration by the full Board at the September meeting.





Procedural History


          At the March 2006 meeting of the Cultural Education Committee, the concept of legislation to fund museums and historical societies to increase standards-based instruction was discussed. The Committee approved developing the conceptual proposal and presenting it for action to the full Board.


          The Regents first supported legislation in 1986 to fund museum curriculum-related instruction, known as MESA.  Legislation was last introduced in 1989 (S.5669-A, A.7479-A) to create ACCESS – Access for Children to Cultural Education Services.  The bills proposed a system of reimbursement for museum programs presented to K-12 students in public and nonpublic schools.  The Senate passage in 1988 was not duplicated in the Assembly. With the recession of the early 1990’s the proposal was not again advanced.


Elements of the Proposal


            The conceptual proposal presented by staff and endorsed by the Cultural Education Committee at the March meeting, called for formula-driven funding based on education service units.  Since that discussion, additional review indicates that this approach alone does not allow sufficient flexibility to target aid to high quality programs that serve the greatest need.  Neither does it provide strategic leadership by directing funds to address the most important educational issues. Accordingly, staff recommends that the Regents propose establishing not only a formula driven funding mechanism but also a competitive grant program.  It would provide incentives for museum, historical societies and certain other cultural institutions to initiate creative new approaches to high-quality, educational services to K-12 educators and students.


          Formula-driven funding would provide support based on certified education service units. The education service unit defined in earlier versions of this legislation was “a period of…curriculum-related instruction associated with an exhibit, collection or research program provided during regular school hours to eight or more students in K-12.” Staff recommends modification of the definition of educational service unit – one based on student contact hours of certified instruction.


          Certification of the instruction as meeting Regents standards is a key element in this proposal. There are several possible ways to obtain it.  The teacher signing off on a form after each museum instructor led program could certify both the contact hours and the quality of the program.  An option that also engages district administrators might be more attractive and, over time, create more support for museum programs. This option could involve museums applying to District or BOCES Superintendents for certification of their programs prior to visits by school groups. This could stimulate collaboration between districts and cultural institutions to provide effective services.



The competitive grants program could fund a variety of services, including but not limited to:



The Commissioner of Education, acting on behalf of the Regents, will be responsible for administering and evaluating the program. The legislation will authorize funding to administer and evaluate the program. An advisory committee composed of educators, SED staff and members of cultural institutions will offer guidance and assist in the selection process. Selection criteria could include weights to reward education services that target high-need students, content areas such as math and science, or other critical needs.


Background Information


Education Law 216 authorizes the Regents to incorporate museums and other educational institutions, and Regents Rules Sec. 3.27 provides standards for chartered museums.  Unlike schools and libraries, however, museums do not benefit from a dedicated funding mechanism or categorical grant program in the Education Department.  To meet Regents standards, museums must largely raise their own funds. 


Educators have long supported the role of museums as educational institutions that inspire curiosity and discovery-based learning.  In the early 20th century, museums such as the Metropolitan Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and the New York State Museum pioneered in bringing school children through their doors and into their halls.  Regent’s policy, most recently expressed in the amended Regents Rule 3.27 for museums voted in February, requires that a museum or historical society holding an Absolute Charter will “ensure that any school programs conducted by the institution shall be based on the appropriate State learning standards, and with input from teachers and/or other educators.” Using objects and exhibits rather than textbooks and lectures, children learn skills in inquiry and analysis. By studying the objects that document scientific discoveries and interpretation of history, they learn the importance of research using primary sources.   Scientists, such as the late Stephen Jay Gould, often credit their museum experience with motivating their entry into their field of work.


According to 2003 annual reports, of those New York museums that had a facility open to the public, 77 percent reported hosting organized groups of students, and 81 percent reported visits by students. 


This level of activity has occurred even though there is no State funding for such programs.  Disadvantaged and at-risk youth, and their families, are not likely to be regular visitors to museums. Such young people may also not feel “welcome” in a museum that may appear intimidating and alien.  But a well-planned and relevant class visit to a museum could open doors to such young people.  It is ironic that the learning gap in the State’s largest cities takes place in the very shadows of some of the world’s foremost science, art and history museums.


Educators in New York Rely on Museums and Other Cultural Institutions to Enrich their Curricula



Museum Programs Improve Student Performance





          Staff recommends that the Cultural Education Committee request that a formal legislative proposal be developed for their review and approval.


Timetable for Implementation


          The formal legislative language would be brought back to the Regents for review in September. It will have been broadly discussed in meetings of senior staff with museum and historical society officials. If approved by the Regents, it would be a part of the Regents legislative package for 2007/8.