Conditions in New York:
Like many states across the nation, New York State is raising its educational standards. The state has adopted the Regents' Learning Standards, a detailed set of academic requirements that spell out the knowledge and skills that students are expected to learn in the state's schools. These standards are based on the idea that virtually all students can achieve at high levels if given the proper resources.
By 2001, all incoming high school students will be required to pass new Regents exams in five subject areas in order to earn a high school diploma. Currently, 44% of New York State's high school students earn a Regents diploma; only 22% do so in New York City.
The issue of standards is central to CFE v. State. A sound basic education must include the skills students need to meet the state's own Learning Standards and earn a high school diploma. Although these standards are demanding, CFE agrees with the State Board of Regents that virtually all students can meet them if given the proper supports.
In its 1995 preliminary ruling in CFE v. State, the state's highest court issued a template definition of a "sound basic education". The court also indicated that it expected the parties to further develop this definition when the case goes to trial. CFE intends to present a detailed definition of a sound basic education that would provide students with skills in analyzing problems, proposing solutions, communicating and working collaboratively – skills that graduates will need in any meaningful employment in the global economy.
New York State's funding system does not give all students a real chance to meet current standards, let alone higher standards. A recent national study by Education Week ranked New York State #1 in the nation in the quality of its standards, but #48 in the equity of its school finance system. In 1998, only 63% of New York City's sixth graders met the minimum standard on the state's pupil evaluation test in reading -- 96% met that standard in low-need districts. If New York State plans to hold its students to a high standard, it must give all students the trained teachers, textbooks, classroom space and other resources they need to meet that standard.
Witnesses for plaintiffs:
Thomas Sobol, Teachers College, Columbia University and Former Commissioner of Education, New York State
Richard Mills, Commissioner of Education, New York State
Carl Hayden, Chancellor, New York State Board of Regents
Robert Schwartz, President, Achieve, Inc.
Education Commissioner Richard Mills, former Commissioner Thomas Sobol and Chancellor of the State Board of Regents Carl Hayden all testified this week about the significance of the state's new Learning Standards. All three agreed that the state's new standards are not lofty, "aspirational" goals (as State attorneys have argued) but the basic skills and knowledge that all students need to be prepared for work, further education, and their duties as participants in a democracy. "It is of absolutely critical importance that all students have these skills," said Mr. Mills.
Commissioner Mills, Chancellor Hayden and Dr. Sobol also stated that more resources need to be made available in order for students in high-needs areas to meet the state's new standards. Mr. Mills said that the test scores of students in New York City demonstrated "systemic deficiencies," and he voiced support for additional resources for City schools as a way to close the gap in achievement by City students and those in the suburbs.
State's anticipated position:
In its opening statements and trial brief, State attorneys have suggested that New York's Learning Standards are "aspirational" – in other words, "cutting edge educational policy" but not a standard the State is legally obligated to meet. During the trial, they will likely argue that the Learning Standards aim at an "optimal" education that goes beyond the "minimally adequate" education the State is required to provide.
Defining a "Sound Basic Education"
Professor Thomas Sobol, former Commissioner of Education for New York State, is expected to present the following definition of a sound basic education at trial. Dr. Sobol's definition is based on his expertise in the field, and it builds on and enhances the template definition offered by the New York Court of Appeals in 1995.
A sound basic education should consist of the skills students need to sustain competitive employment and function productively as civic participants capable of voting and serving on a jury. Development of those skills requires the provision of certain educational essentials, including:
Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
CFE v. State of New York
In 2006, after 13 years in the Courts, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed the right of every public school student in New York to the opportunity for a sound basic education and the state’s responsibility to adequately fund this right, but deferred to the Governor and the Legislature to determine the appropriate amount. more >