Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York Education Commission recently issued its first report, and it is laughable at best. The work of this commission is rivaled only by the work done by most legislators when it comes to providing simplistic answers to very complex problems. It also shows the lack of understanding the members of the commission have about the intricacies of public education and the history of education in New York state.
According to the commission’s report, “The Preliminary Action Plan presents immediate opportunities to begin developing a world-class education system in New York state.” It goes on to say that, “The commission is committed to continuing its work in the weeks and months ahead and will issue a final report in fall 2013.” While that all sounds very noble, my recommendation is for them to disband, rather than waste more time on an exercise that will be as fruitless as their initial offering.
The commission offered up eight recommendations for immediate improvement of public education in New York. The funny part is not one of them is a new idea. Further, none of these recommendations will do a thing to improve education in New York state because we either cannot afford them or simply do not want them.
Below is a list of the recommendations with my commentary after each:
1. Implement full-day pre-kindergarten for highest-needs students.
Most educators would agree that “the earlier, the better” when it comes to education. Ironically, with the recent cuts in funding to education in New York state, not only do we not offer enough early education for our children, many school districts have actually had to make cuts in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs. (Note: Kindergarten is not mandated in New York state. Thus, children do not have to begin attendance in school until grade one or 6 years of age.)
2. Streamline services and resources through “Community Schools.”
Providing health services, family support services and other related services through the schools is an excellent idea. I have tried it. It works. However, it will not work in the long run due to “turf issues” unless it is mandated by law and school personnel take the lead. Simply put, other agencies do not want to “play nice” with the schools.
3. Transform and extend the school day and year to expand quality learning time.
The longer school day and longer school year have a great deal of potential, and they have been bandied about for years with little or no results. I am sure the business experts on the commission understand if we increase the workday and the workyear of employees, we would need to increase their salaries or add more workers to cover the extended work time. This recommendation comes at a time when state aid to schools has been slashed by an unprecedented amount by the state. Thousands of teachers, support personnel and administrators have been cut across the state in the past three years. Simply put: If you want to do this, show me the money. People, including school personnel, do not work for free.
4. Improve the teacher and principal pipeline to recruit and retain better educators.
The commission wants to get the best and the brightest into education. They also want them to pass an examination similar to the BAR exam in law. Currently, New York state teachers need at least a master’s degree and ongoing professional development every year in order to keep a teaching certificate in New York state. One might wonder why they want to be in the profession in light of the continual bashing they take from politicians, but, thankfully, many of them do. From my perspective, we already have enough good teachers in New York. We need to support them and let them do their jobs.
5. Build better bridges from high school to college and careers with Early College High Schools and Career Technical Education.
Teachers and other school personnel have concentrated on moving students from high school to college and careers since schools opened. While this sounds nice, it is just rhetoric. Just take it off the list.
6. Incentivize the smart and innovative use of technology to improve teaching and learning.
I could not agree more. Every student in every school should have instant access to technology. My 3-year-old grandson carries around a teddy bear and an iPad most of the day. Unfortunately, when he starts school, he will have to give up both. That is too bad. Again, commission, show me the money for this fantastic idea.
7. Pursue efficiencies such as district consolidation, high school regionalization and shared services to increase student access to educational opportunities.
Schools should be encouraged to work together and to share whenever possible. Many do this already, and with direction, they could do even more. However, school districts will not be bullied into consolidation and bigger is not always better. Additionally, facing unfunded mandates does not help.
8. Increase transparency and accountability of district leadership by creating a performance management system.
The financial system in pubic education in New York is more transparent than in any other endeavor in the state bar none. District budgets are developed in public, presented in public and voted on by the public. (I wish the state budget was.) The budgets are also audited by internal and eternal auditors on a regular basis. There is already more accountability here than in any other area of public service. From employee salaries to student grades, the system is wide open.
In spite of their being well-meaning, the members of the commission have missed the mark. Some of the ideas above are all good ones, and they have all been raised before, and they have also gone nowhere before as they will go nowhere this time. Additionally, the commission addresses only the stakeholders of school personnel while ignoring other very important players in the education game: the community, the families and the students themselves.
Education in New York will never improve until we get everyone in the game. Schools cannot and will not do it alone.
John Metallo, of Slingerlands, is a former Gloversville High School teacher, coach and athletic director.