Friday, May 27, 2011

The Regents

I attended the annual CNYSBA dinner last night in Auburn, and one message that came through from speakers Charles Szuberla (Assistant Commissioner from State Ed)and Rick Timbs (Executive Director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium) was that we should be talking to the Regents as well as to our legislators. The implication was that the Regents didn't know what was going on at the grassroots level any more than the legislators did. (Rick Timbs asked, "What have your legislators done for you in the last two years? Well, why the heck are you so polite to them?")

Which got me wondering--who are those Regents that run education in the Empire State? I know that they're political appointees, and I know that they're unpaid, and I know that they wield a rather alarming amount of power.

Their website is actually pretty fascinating, especially the part about the history of school oversight in NYS. But the Regents themselves? They're high-powered and highly educated and fairly diverse (a gay man! a Puerto Rican woman!), and a handful of them have actually taught in public schools, but for the most part, they are pretty far removed from the down-and-dirty work of education--no more connected, really, than your average school board member, although they have more money and far more impressive degrees. One Regent remarks that he's the first Regent in 200 years to have visited every school district in his jurisdiction. That's probably true, but it's a little disturbing.

Due to lack of funds, NYS is getting rid of January Regents Exams and all Regents in foreign languages. Maybe it's time to think about rethinking the way we oversee education in this state. Does this relic of the 1700s still make sense today?

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