The New York State Legislature recently met in joint session to elect four members to the state Board of Regents. The Board of Regents is responsible for the general supervision of all educational activities in the state, including implementation of educational standards such as the much-maligned Common Core standards.
The board consists of 17 members, one elected to represent each of the state’s 13 judicial districts and four at-large members. Each member serves a five-year term and the members’ terms are staggered.
The process for electing Regents is unique in that each state legislator gets one vote. Because there are 213 legislators, in order to get elected, a Regent needs 107 votes. The New York Legislature currently has 131 Democratic members and 70 Republican members, with 12 seats open. Because of the large Democratic majority, if united, the Democrats control who is elected to the Board of Regents. In the past, the Democrats have remained united and accordingly, the election of a Regent was a foregone conclusion.
However, this year, due to the tremendous unpopularity of the Common Core standards in our schools, there was a real question as to whether the Democrats would remain unified and re-nominate and re-elect the incumbent Regents. Indeed, one of the incumbent Regents, at the last minute decided not to run. It was reported that this Regent decided not to run out of concern of his ability to be re-elected.
For our part, the majority of Republicans in the legislature understood that the implementation of the Common Core standards has been badly fumbled by the state Education Department (which is overseen by the Board of Regents) and that changes are needed. Accordingly, we nominated a number of reform-minded candidates that hopefully would have, if elected, placed more urgency on changing the Common Core and its implementation. Unfortunately, the Democrats, for the most part, remained united and voted to keep the status quo by reelecting the three incumbent Regents and one new Regent who has little educational background.
While this was a missed opportunity to bring reform to the Board of Regents, I am pleased that there has been a recognition by some in Albany that the Common Core and its implementation need to be improved. First, in February, the Board of Regents itself announced it would make changes to Common Core by putting a five-year delay on the Common Core-aligned Regents diploma; the first class tasked to graduate under the new standards will be the class of 2022. Previously, today’s ninth graders (Class of 2017) were set to graduate with a Common Core diploma.
Second, this month the Assembly did pass legislation that, if enacted, would also reform the Common Core program. This legislation calls for delaying tying teacher evaluations to student performance until 2015-16. It also would prohibit the state Education Department from sharing student data with third-party vendors, such as inBloom, until 2015. Finally, the bill would prohibit school districts from making any student promotion or placement decision based solely on Common Core-aligned state tests.
In all, this is a good start but we should go further and implement a three-year moratorium on Common Core in order to examine what works and what does not. A moratorium would allow education experts, parents, and communities the chance to weigh in on this implementation. Everyone is for higher standards but the higher standards should be implemented fairly with considered input from all stakeholders, not by fiat from above.
William (Will) A. Barclay is the Republican representative of the 120th New York Assembly District, which encompasses most of Oswego County, including the cities of Oswego and Fulton, as well as the town of Lysander in Onondaga County and town of Ellisburg in Jefferson County. Contact him at email@example.com, or (315) 598-5185.