When most New Yorkers hear the term "The Regents" they think of the state's make-or-break high school exams needed to graduate.
Few truly know about the people behind those ubiquitous exams - or that their policy decisions profoundly affect the state's educational system from pre-K all the way through college.
Regents set graduation requirements, testing regimens and curricula. They also license practitioners in 38 major professions and certify teachers and librarians. Most recently, the Regents approved the timetable for the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the rushed rollout of assessments State Education Commissioner John King proposed.
"It's important that our members know who their Regents are and how they make policy," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, who attends all of the Regents' public deliberations.
"We must make sure the Regents understand how their policy decisions impact the field. And they must be held accountable," she said.
The 17-member board, established in 1784 by the Legislature, has virtually unfettered power on educational issues; hires - and fires - the commissioner of education; and selects a chancellor and vice chancellor. Regents also approve the State Education Department's budget.
Yet, no educational qualifications are required to become a Regent. Rather, the Regents are elected by a joint session of the state Legislature.
The board comprises one Regent from each of the state's 13 judicial districts and four members who serve at-large. They do not receive a salary but they are reimbursed for travel and other expenses.
Despite the Regents' extensive power over public education, the way they are elected has only occasionally come under scrutiny.
The selection process is currently controlled by the Democratic majority in the state Assembly, which interviews applicants beginning in late winter. Preferred candidates are identified and then elected by legislators on the second Tuesday in March.
The following four Regents' terms expire in 2014:
- Christine Cea, Staten Island;
- James Cottrell, at-large;
- James Jackson, Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster; and
- Wade Norwood, at-large.
Typically, Regents nominations sail through the Legislature. Once elected, they are historically not challenged if they seek re-election.
Much of the Regents' debate and review of policy happens in committee meetings, so it's important to know who the committee chairs are. The P-12 Education Committee is co-chaired by Regents Anthony Bottar and Lester Young. The Committee on Professional Practice is chaired by Regent Harry Phillips. The Regents Higher Education Committee is co-chaired by Regents Robert Bennett and Charles Bendit.
"NYSUT members should take an active role in getting to know their local Regent — just as they would monitor the actions of their local school board," Neira said. (See below for action steps.)
Members of NYSUT's Board of Directors did just that with great success this past spring — convincing the Regents to delay adding more weight to student test scores in teacher evaluations.
NYSUT Board members called and emailed their local Regent and invited them to regional meetings with members. On the day of deliberations, many attended the open meetings to ensure their Regents followed through on their commitment.
"For 40 years NYSUT has monitored the Regents' actions. We provide them with a statewide perspective, lobby them and provide recommendations to proposed policies," Neira said. "Collectively, we must hold the Regents accountable for their decisions.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
NYSUT members can take several steps to hold Regents accountable:
- Watch what they do. Regents meet monthly in Albany. Video of the proceedings is streamed from the State Education Department's website - www.regents.nysed.gov - where you'll find the meeting schedule, agenda and videos from past meetings.
- Find the Regent who represents your area by going to the interactive map at www.regents.nysed.gov/members/findrep.html.
- Contact your Regent via email or phone from information listed on www.regents.nysed.gov.
- Invite your Regent for a classroom visit to show first-hand what you do and the impact their decisions have on your students.
- Ask your local leader to invite your Regent to your next membership meeting.
- Keep your legislators updated about the decisions Regents make that affect your school.