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The most powerful group you don't know 

Many parents and teachers are familiar with their local school board members. But most probably couldn't tell you what the New York Board of Regents is or what it does, says Eric Mihelbergel, a founder of New York Allies for Public Education, a coalition of 45 education-advocacy organizations with 25,000 members across the state.

NYSAPE says the public should be better informed about the board and get more involved in the selection of Regents because, Mihelbergel says, the board has become less responsive to the concerns of parents and teachers. To raise public attention about the Board of Regents, NYSAPE has endorsed three candidates for four open seats on the board.

Though unpaid, the Regents wield enormous power and influence since they supervise the New York State Education Department and the State University of New York education system. There are 17 Regents, four of them at large, and they help to set education policy. And they appoint the state education commissioner.

NYSAPE has several major concerns with the Regents, Mihelbergel says. NYSAPE doesn't support using student scores on standardized tests to evaluate teachers; it questions the value of the Common Core curriculum and says someone should be held accountable for its faulty roll out; and it challenges the need for massive data collection of students and parents.

"We're concerned about the amount of data, the sensitivity of that information, which includes a student's entire personal history, and the security of that information," Mihelbergel says.

NYSAPE has endorsed Helen "Regina" Rose, Audrey Marie Baker, and Michael Reilly. Rose, a former teacher, and Reilly, a former police officer and community leader, are from the New York City area. Baker is a former principal from the Albany area. More information about the candidates can be found at www.nysape.org.

Regents are appointed by the Legislature to five-year terms, which is why NYSAPE is encouraging the public to contact their representative about the appointments before the State Legislature's February 11 meeting. The appointments will be announced in mid-March.

Former Rochester City Council member and mayoral candidate Wade Norwood has served one term as a Regent at large and is seeking reappointment. T. Andrew Brown, corporation counsel for the City of Rochester, is the Regent for the Rochester district.

Norwood says he's not surprised by the increased interest in the positions. There's a heightened sense of importance concerning the problems with public education at this time, he says, and a diverse set of opinions about what needs to be done to solve them.

Norwood says he understands why some people may think the Board of Regents is not as transparent or as accessible as it should be, but that's because it's a statewide body that isn't locally elected. But that's also what has allowed for more divergent views to come forward, he says, rather than get sidelined by politics.

The biggest challenge facing the Regents, Norwood says, is closing the gap in life experiences and educational opportunities for the state's poorest children.

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