Regents focus on equity, civic readiness

On Board Online • July 23, 2018

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

The state Board of Regents dedicated much of their July meeting to a series of free-form "public retreat" discussions in which they sought to better define some ambitious priorities that have emerged from their work over the last three years - improving "equity" and ensuring students receive education leading to "civic readiness."

The Regents also mulled next steps for pursuing other initiatives stressed in the state's Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, which include creating systems for measuring school climate.

"We have not really defined what we mean by equity," Regent Judith Johnson acknowledged before handing out a homework assignment asking the other Regents to help establish a shared vision of equity.

"We have struggled with the issues of integration, diversity and equity," she said. "We have arrived at the determination that there are questions that need to be answered before we can define equity."

"Is it that our role with ESSA is to close the opportunity-to-learn and achievement gaps? Or is our goal to integrate our schools, and are there intersections between both?" she asked the board. "Now, I will tell you, it took us a year to be brave enough to say those are actually two separate sentences."

Johnson and Nan Mead, her co-chair of the Regents Research Work Group, asked board members to review the description of equity that appears in the ESSA plan and help to launch a process for producing a clearer vision of what "equity" should look like in New York's education system. They asked the Regents to lead regional conversations on equity as part of their work.

"Every member of the board will have to find time to work with community members so we are in agreement across the state as to what we mean by equity," Johnson said.

As part of the work to achieve consensus on equity initiatives and goals, Mead also asked each Regent to nominate three prospective members for an advisory group.

The concept of "civic readiness" also is on the Regents' agenda for a better definition. As part of the state plan to comply with ESSA, the Regents pledged to create a civic readiness index to measure schools' success in preparing students to become well-informed participants in a democratic society.

The Regents discussed what school-level actions and programs they wanted to encourage. In the areas of curriculum, certification and assessment related to civic engagement, options include: capstone projects, a state "seal of civic engagement," active citizenship portfolios, service learning and voter registration awareness.

They talked about preparing students for behaviors such as community service, voter registration and voting, and jury service, as well as helping them understand concepts and issues involving criminal justice, racial bias, bigotry, rule of lawand freedom of the press.

The next step in the civic readiness initiative will be to establish an advisory committee of practitioners, including teachers, parents, school librarians, curriculum specialists, administrators and college professors to define civic readiness and to recommend mechanisms for teaching and measuring civic engagement skills. Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said the committee will not convene before autumn.

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