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Equity Campaign Submits Comments on NY's Draft Regulations for Contracts for Excellence

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Published: 4/18/2007 4:16:00 PM

Comments submitted to the New York State Education Department on April 17, 2007.

The Contract for Excellence Program and Reporting Requirements are a vitally important accountability policy to ensure that the additional funds appropriated to implement the CFE decision are used effectively and for their intended purposes. We have the following specific comments, by section.        

General Requirements for All Allowable Programs

Perhaps most critical in the requirements for the Contract for Excellence is their mandate that the funds be used for programs and services that "predominately benefit students with the greatest educational needs" and that districts "shall give priority to students with the greatest need who attend Schools Under Registration Review, and schools in restructuring, corrective action, improvement, or requiring academic progress status." We are pleased that you have emphasized this requirement, which is consistent with the Court of Appeals' constitutional mandate that funding should follow need.

Reporting Requirements

In addition to the academic performance indicator and cost data, the regulations should require sufficient and appropriate input data to assess the extent to which resource adequacy has been achieved and to demonstrate how changes in academic progress were implemented and how academic improvement was achieved. We are concerned that insufficient input data is required for each of the programs areas.

Class Size Reduction (New York City)

It is essential that the requirement to reduce average class sizes not jeopardize efforts to improve school quality and student performance in the city's lowest performing schools. Initial class size reduction efforts must be targeted exclusively to the lowest performing schools and must be implemented only after a sufficiently high quality corps of teachers has been recruited to ensure that teaching quality rises, even as the class sizes are reduced. NCLB requires the state to ensure that poor and minority schools are not staffed disproportionately by unqualified or inexperienced teachers. Reporting requirements must also include data about teacher qualifications and experience to ensure that class size reduction efforts do not violate the teacher quality distribution/equity requirements of NCLB. Class size reduction should also be calibrated to the availability of adequate space in the buildings targeted for this reform; specialized spaces such as libraries and laboratories must not be sacrificed to reduce class size.

We are strongly opposed to the proposal for convening a "panel of experts" to make recommendations on class size reduction. The record in the CFE litigation and the available literature provide ample information on class size reduction issues. There is no real controversy on what desirable class size levels should be. The main issue facing New York City at this time is how to phase in a class size reduction plan without reducing teacher quality in low performing schools. A report by a panel of experts identifying in the abstract certain desirable class size levels may be misleading and may increase political pressure to lower class sizes across the board without regard to teacher quality and space availability.

Data reported to the state education department concerning class size reduction must include information on teacher quality indicators as well as on numbers of new teachers. These indicators should emphasize proven ability to instruct effectively students from diverse backgrounds in academic content required by the Regents' standards and not just meeting minimal state certification requirements.

Increased Time on Task

Lengthened school day option: Research demonstrates that many students benefit from after-school programs that include both academic content and related recreational, health, and family support activities. The regulations should be clarified to ensure that the instructional elements in the lengthened school day option may be provided in comprehensive services setting. The options that allow programs to extend beyond the full school day to meet the needs of children and families and to allow collaboration with community agencies are particularly important for children from backgrounds of concentrated poverty and we strongly support the inclusion of such provisions.

Experimental Programs

It is important to emphasize that the education community does not yet have all the answers and that more research needs to be done on what works and how to improve academic achievement of low performing students. This provision will strengthen districts ability to document and sustain promising practices. It is especially critical in this regard that, for experimental programs, sufficient and appropriate data be required on program inputs and implementation as well as costs and outcomes to demonstrate how changes in academic performance were achieved.

We hope that your further guidance will recommend that districts use this option to create programs that promote comprehensive educational equity by partnering with other agencies and community organizations to ensure that out-of-school resources that are necessary to succeed in school (like health care, after-school, and family support programs) are provided,  particularly to students from poverty backgrounds.

Public Input

To be effective, development of the Contracts for Excellence must be a transparent process that provides meaningful opportunities for broad public input from the range of stakeholders with an interest in educational improvement. Existing laws and regulations contain a number of mechanisms for parent, teacher, and community involvement in educational planning, but, with a few notable exceptions, these public participation requirements generally are honored more in form than in substance. The Contracts for Excellence can provide an important vehicle for reinvigorating teacher, parent, and public participation in educational planning, especially in large urban districts.

The need for expanded and improved public engagement is most acute in New York City. Despite efforts by the mayor and the chancellor to sponsor public engagement forums at the beginning of the Children First initiative, and the establishment of parent support offices and parent coordinators in every school, centralization of virtually all major policy-making authority and the elimination of the Board of Education and the community school boards and the effective elimination of community school district have detrimentally affected the flow of parent, teacher, and community input into educational policy-making process. The development of the Contracts for Excellence will provide an important opportunity to establish meaningful, regular channels for serious consideration of parent, teacher, and community views and perspectives.

Therefore, we recommend that, for New York City, a series of interactive forums be required to be held this spring to allow meaningful "consultation" on the city's Contract for Excellence plans for 2007-08. For 2008-09 and thereafter, the Contract for Excellence public engagement procedures should require both initial public engagement forums to gauge community sentiment on basic priorities as well as opportunities for follow-up forums on drafts of plans. In addition, draft plans should be posted on the New York City Department of Education's website during a public comment period, and the final plan should be accompanied by a detailed discussion of community comments. Final plans should be made available to the public via the internet, as well. Although, ultimately, the Contract for Excellence must reflect the priorities and decisions of the mayor and the chancellor, to be effective these plans must be cognizant of parent, teacher, and community concerns and obtain the understanding and support of these stakeholders.

With these revisions, the Contract for Excellence will provide important public transparency and should ensure that all relevant input is considered and used to strengthen the district plans.

Additional Resources:

Overview of the Contract for Excellence (http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/attachb.htm)

Proposed Commissioner Regulations (http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/C4E-4-9-07-guidance.mht) (MS Internet Explorer Required)