State of the State - Education

01.10.13 | Ralph Kerr | Comments[0]

State of the State – Education

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York has delivered his Annual State of the State address. As usual it is long on words, promises and rhetoric and short on details and specifics. For those interested in the portion of the speech related to education there must be huge disappointment. Nothing on the long anticipated and needed mandate relief, lots of old ideas, few of which will take hold in the legislature. Most of his comments and ideas were taken from the recommendations of the Education Reform Commission he created last year. Unfortunately there are no new bold ideas contained in the Commission Report or Governor Cuomo’s speech. There was an acknowledgement that the cost of education in New York State is the highest in the Nation, but no ideas to contain or reduce costs, just programs and ideas that would cost even more. 

New York State has a diverse and widely varied public school system. There are 676 school districts spread across the State plus the Big Five City Schools. Unfortunately when any Statewide Commission looks at our schools they lump all types and sizes together. This simply cannot present a workable foundation for dealing with the issues in our schools. The Big Five City Districts have 42% of all the students in the State. The graduation rate in these schools hovers around 50%. There are 496 school districts that have 2000 students or less.  Graduation rates in these school districts probably range between 85% and 98%. These differences alone make statewide comparisions and remedies unworkable but this is the tact most commissions take. Regardless, let’s look at the recommendations, the Governors acceptance of the recommendations, and my reactions to them.

1.      Extend learning time, either through a longer teaching day or longer academic year.

Most people would agree the current education system has failing aspects to it which result in the unacceptable outcomes in some places. Why would anyone want to continue these same practices, only for a longer period of time, without addressing the issues that cause failure? The State is even offering to pay for the extended period of time. The only ones to benefit from these time extensions, without substantial program changes, would be the members of the teachers unions. That is if they would agree to work longer hours or more days.

2.      Invest in full-day pre-kindergarten program.

Research has shown such a program can be beneficial but only if the ensuing elementary grades programs are redesigned to foster growth of skills, not just a duplication of skills learned previously. Increased cost is a major factor to adding this program. No ideas about funding were proposed by the Governor.

3.      Recruitment of top high school and college graduates as educators.

While a very high level of academic achievement is very important additional skills and personality traits are needed as well. Let’s consider the ability to relate to children, content knowledge, teaching skill, classroom management and common sense.

4.      Creation of “bar-like” examinations for prospective teachers.

College graduates entering the teaching profession are already faced with very comprehensive and demanding examinations which have proven worthwhile. No new exams are necessary. The cost of development and administration of these new exams was not addressed.

5.      Consolidation of school districts and development of regional high schools.

There are 241 school districts in the State with 1000 students or less. Consolidation of many of these school districts would prove advantageous for the students and could save a significant amount of money over the long term. Consolidation could also enhance student learning and offer a larger variety of academic courses to students. Currently the only way consolidation can take place is by a majority of voters in the impacted school districts approving such a consolidation. Having gone through this effort personally such a route to consolidation is highly unlikely. District residents, while concerned about the rising cost of education, as reflected in their increasing taxes, often seem more concerned about school colors and retaining their school mascot. State Legislators need to have the courage to either mandate consolidation or not fund building reconstruction for districts which fail to at least attempt consolidation. Perhaps the creation of regional high schools is a more realistic approach. This idea has worked successfully in other states including Pennsylvania. I applaud the efforts of the school leaders who are currently exploring this option. Action by the Legislature is needed now to authorize the creation and funding of these regional high schools.

            No one said improving our education system, while controlling costs would be easy but these proposals, at least in their present form, will not work.


Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)