Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Search for NYSED Truth Continues

Dear Regent Tallon
        I am writing to you immediately following a CSE meeting for my 14 year old daughter, and a brief conversation with someone who suggested you as a person who is understanding, responsive and might be willing to lend some insight. I am having an issue with regulations that appear very clear to me, conflicting opinions from NYSED associates, and a school district caught confused and in-between- ending with the apparent NYSED position that districts can choose which regulations to adhere to as if it is a salad bar of options for schools and the state, as opposed to opportunities for students to be "college and career ready".
        Earlier this school year (November-ish), my wife and I began pursuing education options for our very bright daughter (one of only 2 "level 4's" in her grade in our district on last year's 8th grade ELA exam) who has specific struggles with math and foreign language. She has been talking about her future and college for a couple of years, and is motivated to do as well as she can.  Other than foreign language and math, she's an 80s-90s student, and she has been identified as having an isolated disability which allows the extra help to get her on the path she really wants to be on (arts/writing). Our efforts to seek for her a path to a Regents Diploma with an advanced designation through a sequence of high school courses in The Arts (a path described in The Regulations of The Commissioner), have been met with confusion and inconsistency-when the truth in the regulations as they exist seems to be clear.  Following conversations with our district we began research and inquiries with NYSED regarding the regulations and the sequence in The Arts.

  1. All public school districts shall offer students the opportunity to complete a three- or five-unit sequence in each of the following areas:  career and technical education and the arts.
  2. All public school districts shall offer students the opportunity to begin an approved sequence in the arts in grade nine.
 There was contact through email with a NYSED Associate (Leslie Yolen, Arts Education) who verified in emails and over the phone that districts were required to provide students access to a sequence in The Arts as a path to a Regents Diploma with advanced designation. Ms. Yolen also contacted the Superintendent of our school to relay this information (along with the section of regulation above). Shortly after Ms. Yolen's message came another from a different NYSED Associate, Marybeth Casey. Ms. Casey's email contains statements inconsistent with the regulations, and uses a small phrase from the above 100.2(h) out of context to make a point in semantics that  is unsupported by the substance (and we believe spirit and intent) of this section of regulations. Ms. Casey basically denies the obligation of any public school to provide these sequences or a path to a regents diploma with advanced designation.
Her response:

1) "After discussing the question and reviewing the Regulations, Leslie and I agree that the district cannot be compelled to offer a 5 unit sequence in the Arts.  Part 100.2(h) clearly states districts must offer 3 or 5 units of Art" (Ms. Casey's bold on that "or")

2) "This regulation was crafted when sequences were required to earn a Regents diploma and while that is no longer the case, the regulation still exists as written. There is no basis in regulation to compel districts to offer an Arts pathway to a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation.  Part 100.2(e) as Leslie pointed out,  requires that districts offer programs that lead to a Regents diploma.  There is no language with respect to a requirement for a pathway to a Regents with Advanced Designation."

            While I'm not convinced regarding "Leslie and I agree" (I have spoke with Leslie, and it is my impression that she was told and then later "steamrolled" at a meeting regarding this issue), I am concerned at how/why a second associate was sought and empowered to override the opinion of the first (who actually has long experience in the arts). But I have played it by the rules. After a follow up email to Ms. Casey asking what type of Regents Diplomas are available in New York, and what benefits there would be to one over another, Ms. Casey sent a link to a chart describing the types, and a statement that more or less said that the benefit would depend on what the student was choosing to do. The chart she linked to shows that clearly there is language for such a requirement to make the regents with advanced designation available to "All Student Populations", which couldn't be more clear regarding the Regents with Advanced Designation and who it needs to be available to (ALL student populations). In addition, the phrase from 1002.h (1) in each of the following areas:  career and technical education and the arts indicates the requirement to provide opportunities in CTE as well as the arts, not a choice of one or the other.

            In an attempt to find out if the NYSED position truly was that schools could choose which type of students they could make college and career ready, and which path they would provide, I made a phone call on Feb 14th, to the office of Ken Slentz, who at the time was the next step up the "chain of command" (for lack of a better way to put it). I was told that Ken Wagner was the new person to speak to regarding Regents Diplomas, and transferred to his office. When the phone was picked up, and I gave my name, my call was transferred to....Marybeth Casey (not Ken Wagner). Ms. Casey and I had a pleasant conversation where she explained that "all public schools" and "all student populations" really means all schools that want to or can afford to, and all students in schools that do. When I asked her if what she's saying is these opportunities to be "college and career ready" are only available in schools that can afford to provide them, and to students lucky enough to attend them, she sympathetically said that was the state of school funding in our state.

            Mr. Tallon, I am trying to track down the truth. Is NYSED really in the business now of only creating and enforcing policies demanding "accountability" (test/assess/and data gathering), or does Commissioner King also want the regulations that support pathways to success adhered to? Are we supposed to tolerate the rhetoric of a commissioner who doggedly demands cooperation on an accountability path while NYSED itself is weak on the provisions in the regulations? Or is it simply that some of our students are being dismissed as unimportant and not worth those provisions? If you can provide any guidance and or support, I would greatly appreciate it, and my school district will only be made better with some clarity brought to this issue. My daughter cannot be the only bright, capable child who would benefit from the access to this sequence provided for in the regulations.

Thank you,

Dan McConnell

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