Albany’s Educational Alphabet Soup

I believe one of my strengths is understanding structure in organizations. I have to admit it has taken me a while to begin to understand the structure of the New York State Education Department (NYSED). I used to think that NYSED was the main educational system in the state – it is the main educational executive body – but the actual lead organization is the University of the State of New York (USNY). USNY is run by the Board of Regents, who in turn direct NYSED to carry out the mission of USNY.

I feel like I’m writing in circles when I describe it.

Additionally, USNY should not be confused with the State University of New York (SUNY), which is the public higher education system within New York. I guess I would prefer if the USNY title and acronym would just go away and we could have NYSED be the lead group, but that’s just me.

So, to get a handle on what USNY is in charge of, here is the description from the site:

The University of the State of New York (USNY) is the most complete, interconnected system of educational services in the United States. USNY includes:

  • More than 7,000 public and private elementary and secondary schools;
  • 248 public and private colleges and universities;
  • 251 proprietary (for-profit) schools;
  • Nearly 7,000 libraries including the New York State Library;
  • 750 museums;
  • The State Archives;
  • Vocational rehabilitation and other services for adults with disabilities;
  • Special education services for pre-school and school-age children and teenagers;
  • A School for the Blind;
  • A School for the Deaf;
  • 25 public broadcasting facilities, including seven public television stations;
  • More than 750,000 professionals practicing in 48 licensed professions, including, for example, pharmacy, architecture, accounting, and nursing; and
  • 240,000 certified public school teachers, counselors, and administrators.

That is a whopping amount of responsibility for one group – the Board of Regents is in charge of all this. The part I find most interesting as I pick it apart is the next section which describes how all of these agencies work together:

Although these organizations are dedicated to maintaining and improving education, they usually work within their respective sector. Each entity of this educational system is both an official and organic component of the University of the State of New York. The challenge and the opportunity are for the sectors to work together as a whole bringing unmatched resources in people, information, facilities, technology, artifacts, and relationships to face educational issues of the twenty-first century.

The part I highlighted in bold and italics above is the part I am most intrigued by. When you consider that everything from nurse licensing, to public television, to the New York State Library, to public and private schools are governed by the same institution, you start to get a sense of the breadth (and challenge) of USNY.

I bring all of this up as I study some of the curriculum areas I am responsible for. In addition to Art and Music, I coordinate the subject areas of Business Education and Home and Career Skills. Both of these areas fall under the auspices of Career and Technical Education (CTE) at the NYSED website. When you browse the CTE section, it takes a while to understand the site layout, in that there are subject area “tabs” below the heading, as well as specific sub-sections along the left navigation area:

The CTE page is part of the Prekindergarten through Grade 12 (P-12) section of the NYSED site. P-12 Education is one of the main program offices for NYSED. As an aside, the person in charge of the P-12 Education office, John King, was recently promoted to Commissioner of Education and President of USNY.

I hope I’m not sending your brain in circles – I’m just trying to get mine in order :-). At the end of the day, the NYSED website attempts to deliver an incredible amount of information, and it can be very complex to understand.

I will leave you with two items which help me get a handle on NYSED USNY. First, an organization chart showing the big picture setup. Second, a list of acronyms used in NYSED. If you thought I used a lot of them here, check out that list. How’s that for alphabet soup?

The Arts in Education – A Look at the Next Few Years

I am a firm believer in the core role the Arts play in developing critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation (see this report from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills organization). In light of the impending changes due to budgetary issues in New York, a new teacher appraisal process, and the national focus on the Common Core State Standards, three items stand out as a testament to the continuing need for Arts in the schools.

The first item I want to address is the coming Common Core State Standards. In a talk to a group of New York State Education Department (NYSED) stakeholders, Davide Coleman reflected on the role of the Arts:

“Rather than looking at how the Arts can serve literacy, I want to think instead about the special things that the Arts can do that literacy hasn’t been as good at today. You might say what the art teachers can teach the rest of us.”

~David Coleman, Architect of the Common Core State Standards, 28 April 2010

In Coleman’s address to NYSED, he spends a good amount of time outlining what the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) might look like. To see all of his comments related to the Arts, click here. The comments on the Arts begin at 11:00 in the video clip. Click here to see the full video (worth the 2 hours) or here for the full transcript.

Colemean attests to the central role Arts should play in school. I think this is reflected in NYSED’s timeline for implementing the CCSS. The timeline specifically addressees how the standards will be rolled out first in ELA, Math, and the Arts. Click here to see the timeline.

The second item I would like to address is the National Arts Policy Roundtable report, The Role of the Arts in Educating America for Great Leadership and Economic Strength. The group that produced the report represents a diverse international group of artists and thinkers who convene at the Sundance Institute. In the introduction to the report, the co-conveners Robert Lynch and Robert Redford state:

“The arts are not only what is needed to reform education—they can transform it.”

~Robert Lynch & Robert Redford, Co-conveners of the National Arts Policy Roundtable

The report does an excellent job of outlining Arts education forces around the world, including UNESCO. Reference is specifically made to the Seoul Agenda, which was UNESCO’s World Conference on Arts Education in 2010. The section of the report, Your Brain on the Arts, provides specific examples of research on brain development and the Arts.

The third item I would like to address is a report released recently by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools. What I like particularly about this report are the recommendations on how to further promote and integrate Arts in schools, in the face of changing policy and reduced funding. The recommendations are:

1. Build collaborations among different approaches [to Arts education].
2. Develop the field of Arts integration.
3. Expand in-school opportunities for teaching artists.
4. Utilize federal and state policies to reinforce the place of Arts in K-12 education.
5. Widen the focus of evidence gathering about Arts education.

The report goes in-depth in providing specific examples and building the case for the above action steps. I think it is a very concrete road map to focus on what is important in Arts education, and how to support and promote Arts in the schools.

Let me finish by saying that Williamsville has a long-standing tradition of supporting a wide variety of Arts programs, both in and outside the curriculum. The next few years will be challenging to the district, as it will be for all New York State schools, while we implement the Regents’ Reform Agenda and face severe budget issues. Perhaps the recommendations from the President’s Committee can help the conversations as we proceed.

One thing I can say for sure is that I am thrilled to be working in a district that has an exemplary model for Arts education, and am looking forward to working with our great staff as we continue the important work of Arts education.

Fast and Furious – Keeping Up with Changes at NYSED

The New York State Education Department (NYSED), like many other states educational agencies, is undergoing massive restructuring due to the Race to the Top (RTTT) funding initiative. There are many arguments to be made about whether the RTTT program is worth it or just another national political toy. It does not matter which side one falls on – the reality is that there are many changes that are coming down to New York schools beginning this fall.

The amount of information, and the resulting changes, are coming out incredibly fast from NYSED. Law passed last year require NYSED to implement many new programs this fall, including the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and a new evaluation program for teachers and principals. As I have been trying to maintain a handle on what is going on, my personal recommendation for those trying to get their heads around what is going on in NYSED boils down to 2 items:

  1. Take approximately 2 hours to watch the presentation, “Bringing the Common Core to Life,” by David Coleman, a chief architect of the Common Core State Standards.
  2. Read the news updates from NYSED Race to the Top page. You can subscribe to the news updates via a listserv or RSS feed if you like.

Two hours to watch a presentation? Yes that is a long time to recommend you take, but it is worth it. David Coleman is a key player in the CCSS. He is a compelling speaker, and when you listen to him, he really does bring the standards to life. He gives examples of what the CCSS will do differently and better. He takes time to provide one specific example in ELA (Martin Luther King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail) and and one in Mathematics (6th grade fractions). He then extrapolates those specific examples to demonstrate how the CCSS promote deeper learning on less topics, which is a different direction than current New York State Standards.

What watching his presentation has done for me is provide a framework for understanding the CCSS, and how they complement, and then improve on, what we already do. He acknowledges that New York does great work already, but that by shifting the focus, and depth, we can do better. He very eloquently describes how all subjects (Science, History, Technical Subjects the Arts, etc.) play a key role in the CCSS. His presentation is very motivational in investigating the CCSS more deeply.

The news updates that come from the NYSED RTTT page are an easy way to keep up with decisions and issues the State is dealing with right now. For example, a memo from John King, Senior Deputy Commissioner for P-12 Education, was released last week. In it he includes the updated time line for implementation of the CCSS, and asks for model lessons from teachers, with guidelines for submission that are correlated to the new standards. Reading this memo alone, and the accompanying documents, shed a lot of light on where the State is at in terms of the RTTT implementation. The time line for implementation is aggressive. NYSED appears to be pushing for all teachers to introduce CCSS lessons next year, and not just grade 4-8 teachers of ELA and Mathematics.

As I read the news updates, I find it prompting me to keep up with what is going on with the state education governing body, the Board of Regents. Each month, the Board meets for 2 days to govern education policy. Each meeting covers an incredible amount of topics with far reaching scope. The meeting this month on May 16th and 17th deal with multiple topics related to the RTTT initiative (also known as the Regents Reform Agenda) and consideration for revising graduation requirements for high school students.

It is hard to feel the impact of actions at NYSED and the Board of Regents in day-to-day work, but what is going on now at the state level is going to be felt directly by everyone in the very near future.

 

Technology Integration in the New NYS Teaching Standards

New York is a winner of the Race to the Top funding initiative sponsored by the federal government. There is a whole host of passionate conversation about what RTTT means for education. I’m going to skip that part of the dialogue for now and focus on what has been going on in New York, and specifically on what has already happened at the state level and the implications for the very near future.

For the past 2 years during the state’s involvement in applying for and winning a RTTT grant, the Board of Regents has actively been implementing parts of what it calls the Regents Reform Agenda (RRA) (sorry for the multiple acronyms – it’s easier to type). The RRA is essentially the plan in place to carry out the items specified in the RTTT application.

One of the components of the RTTT application is an updated performance review process for teachers and administrators. New York had to change its application, which was rejected in the first round, to reflect a more concrete process in which to demonstrate an updated review process. In May of 2010 new law was passed by the legislature – section 103 of the laws of 2010 specifically addresses teacher and principal performance review. The new section of the education law, 3012-c, can be found here.

The law indicates that teachers and principals must be evaluated on a combination of student performance (40%) and personal performance (60%). Regarding the 60% based on personal performance, the law states, “The remaining percent of the evaluations, ratings and effectiveness scores shall be locally developed, consistent with the standards prescribed in the regulations of the commissioner, through negotiations conducted pursuant to article fourteen of the civil service law.” (Section 3012-c(2)(h))

The standards prescribed in the regulations of the commissioner (as mentioned in the law) were just approved by the Board of Regents at the January 2011 meeting. They come in the form of the New York State Teaching Standards. There are seven standards, with underlying elements and performance indicators, that outline the skills necessary for teachers. These standards were designed so rubrics for performance could be developed. The work group putting together the teaching standards stopped short of developing specific rubrics, as there are other groups working on that right now. For a list of FAQs surrounding the development of the standards, click here: Teaching Standards Q&A

Here is the full document with the newly adopted NYS Teaching Standards: New York State Teaching Standards

So in the age of technology and its use in the classroom, where does New York State stand in terms of what teachers should be doing with technology? One of the questions from the Q&A document provides some light:

Q. Is there a separate standard for a teacher’s use of technology?
A. The ability of educators to use a variety of technological tools, techniques, and  skills to inform and enhance teaching, learning, and other aspects of  professional performance is crucial to their effectiveness in today’s learning environment.  Since technology is such a prevalent factor in today’s world and is included in so many aspects of teaching and student learning, a decision was made to infuse technology throughout all of the Standards rather than to isolate it in a single Standard.  Therefore, references to the use of technological resources, knowledge, and skills are found throughout the Teaching Standards ( e.g. Elements I.6;  II.6;  III.4;  III.5; etc. ).

Technology, or technologies, is referenced 11 times within the standards – below are the specific references. Take a look and see what you think. Please note that I am only showing any mention of technology. Some of the items items are elements within standards, and some are performance indicators within elements.

  • Teachers demonstrate knowledge and understanding of technological and information literacy and how they affect student learning.
  • Teachers use technological tools and a variety of communication strategies to engage each student.
  • Teachers incorporate a knowledge and understanding of technology in their lessons to enhance student learning.
  • Teachers explore and use a variety of instructional approaches, resources, and technologies to meet diverse learning needs, engage students, and promote achievement.
  • Teachers incorporate instructional approaches and technologies to provide students with opportunities to demonstrate mastery of learning outcomes.
  • Teachers engage students in the development of multidisciplinary skills, such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and use of technology.
  • Students utilize technologies and resources to solve real world problems.
  • Teachers organize and utilize available resources (e.g., physical space, time, people, technology) to create a safe and productive learning environment.
  • Teachers ensure that all students have equitable access to available resources and technologies.
  • Teachers use multiple measures and multiple formats, including available technology, to assess and document student performance.
  • Teachers advocate, model, and manage safe, legal, and ethical use of information and technology, including respect for intellectual property and the appropriate documentation of sources.

I like the fact that technology is not a separate standard, as it needs to be used as a tool. I like the fact that ethical use is specifically mentioned. I like the statement, “students utilize technologies and resources to solve real-world problems.” As a matter of fact, I think every statement included in the standards related to technology is excellent.

I wonder how this is going to play out. Since the annual professional performance review (APPR) is a locally-negotiated item, how will these standards come into play when the review document is created? According to the state, there are a number of pilots underway right now to test various types of rubrics to support the standards. As with any measure of professional performance, the meat and value of the review will come with the details of how the measurement is done.

The new New York State Teaching Standards represents a top-down model for improving teaching and learning, motivated by the Race to the Top initiative. We are going to spend a lot of time transforming current systems to this new model – I hope it’s worth the time and effort.