Education

Good evening everybody and welcome to In the News.  Glad you could be with us again today.  We’re going to talk a little bit about education today.  A NY state commission recently released a report of proposals on how to improve NY’s education system.  NY ranks 38th out of 50 states in high school graduation rates.  And of those students who graduate, only 37% are college ready.  So about a year ago, Governor Cuomo convened this commission and asked it to come up with some proposals on how to improve the overall effectiveness of the system. And the commission recently delivered its findings to the Governor.   

Now strangely enough, NY State spends more money per student than any other state in the nation.  And yet it has these low ranks in high school graduation and college preparedness rates.  So the commission was set up to address some of these concerns.  Specifically it had several goals.  Including finding ways to: Improve student achievement, improve teacher recruitment and performance, and examine education funding, distribution and costs.

The commission was chaired by former Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons.  And had some notable members such as Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers and John King who is the Commissioner of the New York State Education Department. 

The commission had 25 members and that were brought together from across the professional spectrum.  It consisted of leaders from the education sector as well as the business, labor and non-profit sectors.  The commission heard from some 300 students, parents, educators and experts from across the country.  They held 11 public hearings and reviewed thousands of pages of testimony. 

And what the commission found is that NY State’s education system basically functions as disparate mini systems that often lack communication and connection with each other. They found that basically, NY lacked an effective system of education.  There isn’t really a cohesive system of components that communicate and collaborate with each other in order to achieve state-wide goals.  Although some of these different programs and individual components that operate separately perform well, they fail to come together with other components to achieve a greater level of effectiveness.

So the commission tried to come up with solutions that address some of these problems.  They propose building what they call an education “pipeline” that begins for students at the earliest stages of development.  One that nurtures and supports students from every step of development from kindergarten through highschool, through college and then even on to their careers.

The commission divides their proposals into 2 categories: One that focuses on students and one that focuses on teachers and educators. Now for students they propose offering full day pre-Kindergarten classes for highest needs students.  They point out that investing in quality early education has a very positive long term impact.  It helps narrow achievement gaps, and significantly lowers expenses for remedial instruction, social services and even criminal justice down the road.

They propose using schools to offer social, health and other services to improve student performance.  They point out that using schools to provide social services can deliver much needed support for at-risk students and families and can help provide a collective impact on both education and social needs for these students.

They also propose extending learning hours for students to lead to a longer school day and possibly a longer school year.  Especially for students from high needs, and at risk districts. This is an effort to remain competitive with many other nations and States that have increased the number of their school hours.

The second part that the commission’s report deals with is teacher and Principal quality.  The plan makes several proposals aimed at increasing the quality of educators in the system and bringing in the highest quality candidates from other fields. 

For example, the plan proposes raising education requirements for teachers and principals.  Like instituting a statewide test for admission to preparation programs and raising the min. gpa for those programs as well.  This will ensure that all candidates are competitive when it comes to academic performance. 

The plan proposes expanding alternative certification programs to recruit candidates into teaching from other fields.  This would attract the best and brightest professionals in their respective fields who maybe are finding alternative pathways to education. 

The plan also, and this I found interesting, recommends instituting a bar like exam for teachers and principals.  So this would be very similar to the exam that attorneys must take before becoming licensed to practice law and doctors must take before being able to practice medicine.

The thinking here is that by establishing a core set of standards and professional assessments, the State can ensure that only the best prepared teachers are entering the classroom.  So it will be interesting to see how the changes get implemented.

There are also some questions about the funding for the particular aspects of the plan, such as the expanded pre K and school hour suggestions, and where that funding will come from.  The Commission also plans on continuing their work and releasing a final action plan in September of this year.  We’ll be following up on that and letting you know how it develops.

Now, this report deals with New York State schools but I found it interesting because many of the solutions that it proposes are issues that have been talked about in the ongoing education debate on the national level.  For example, the report highlights the need to address issues outside of the school such as poverty and childhood health.  There’s been widespread discussion about the fact that many of these factors dictate a child’s performance in school.

The plan also focuses many of its solutions on teacher quality.  Which has been a major focus of the education debate in recent years.  And has been highlighted by recent attention to former DC school’s chancellor Michelle Rhee, who fought hard on the subject of teacher’s tenure and oversaw the firings of some 100 Washington DC school teachers before resigning from her post as chancellor.  Michelle Rhee of course went on to found StudentsFirst.  Which is a public advocacy organization dedicated to education reform.

And so it would seem that there is a general movement toward solutions that school reformers have been pushing for, for years.  And although this is not necessarily an admission that these solutions are correct, they seem to be an acknowledgment that they are at least worth trying.

I’ve been reading a lot about education in the last several months and it’s an issue that is being very hotly debated, on all sides.  What is heartening is that it seems that the issue has come to the forefront of our national dialogue and small steps and reforms and more importantly experimentation is being implemented.

Our education system is one of the most vital institutions our country (society) has.  The world is much smaller today than it was in years past.  And because it’s smaller, it’s more competitive.  Our kids are not just competing with kids from other towns and states, they’re competing now with kids from other countries.  And education is where our competitiveness lies.  Our kids have to be made ready to compete in a global society.  If we’re actively trying to find the best possible fixes and improvements to our education system, eventually we’re going to find answers that are going to help our country move forward.

That’s our show for this evening.  We hope you enjoyed it.  Remember to keep your comments coming in at comments@itnshow.com.  That’s comments@itnshow.com.  And remember to tune in next week.  Until then everyone, good night.