Press-Republican

January 18, 2013

State Education head discusses initiatives with local educators

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Fewer than 35 percent of high-school graduates in New York state are ready to take credit-bearing community-college courses.

That statistic, Commissioner of Education Dr. John King Jr. told North Country school officials in Plattsburgh recently, comes despite of a statewide graduation rate of 74 percent.

During his presentation at a meeting of the Clinton-Essex-Warren-Washington School Boards Association at West Side Ballroom, King told attendees that a greater effort needs to be made in public schools to ensure students’ success after high school.

“There’s no question that there are schools and districts in this room that are producing incredible graduates who go on to achieve great things ... but at the same time, we have to acknowledge that, as a state and as a country, to be successful in the 21st-century economy, we’ve got to improve on our results,” King said. 

“We’ve got to figure out ways to have more students graduate, not just ready to enter college but actually graduate from college, (and) to have more students, not just ready to enter the workforce but to be successful in the workforce.”

FISCAL RECOVERY

But employers, King told his audience, say there are “not enough workers who are ready for the jobs of the 21st century, and that ranges from the companies that need welders to the companies that need coders.”

The goal in implementing the state-mandated Common Core Learning Standards, which involves changes to the way math, English language arts and literacy are taught in schools, and the new annual Professional Performance Reviews of teachers and principals, King said, is to produce better student outcomes and, in turn, create economic growth.

“The reality is, economic growth follows educational attainment. Economic growth follows a prepared workforce ... and so college and career readiness, college and career preparation (and) ensuring that we have a workforce that is ready for 21st-century jobs — that is our path to solving our fiscal problems.”

DIFFICULT CHOICES

Given the current economic climate, the commissioner said, taking the necessary measures to better prepare students for success after high school will require schools to regionalize more than they have been and make difficult choices about where they invest their limited resources. 

Following his presentation, King responded to questions and comments from the audience, including concerns that some regionalization efforts, such as establishing regional high schools, are impractical in the North Country because of the length of time students would spend on buses.

“I would not suggest that regionalization is the right answer for every region of the state,” King said. “It’s not the right answer for every district.

“That said, you could have a fair amount of distance between two districts and have it make sense for them to participate in a shared business office, and that is a place where we can save money.”

Schools should also look to technology, he added, to find ways to share student learning opportunities with other districts.  

Regionalization is not the answer to saving all of the money needed to cover districts’ costs, but, King said, schools must look for every place where they can better leverage resources.  

“The reality is I don’t think we’re going to have new resources, and we’re going to have to make hard choices about how we organize ourselves.”

INEQUITABLE FUNDING

Asked what would be done to eliminate inequity in the way school districts are funded throughout the state, King replied that his department advocates, and will continue to advocate, for the equitable distribution of state funding to districts.  

However, the challenge of attaining such equity is less about needing the support of political leaders, he said, and more about needing that of citizens. 

“At the end of the day, unless we can persuade all of our fellow citizens about the value of investing in young people in the rest of the state, we’re not going to make progress.

“If the only people talking about the needs of students in this community are the people in this community, we will not get there,” King said. 

“When the superintendents in Westchester and Long Island are talking about how we need to do more for kids in the North Country, then we’ll have some progress.”

MANDATE FRUSTRATIONS

Questions were also raised about possible mandate-relief legislation, and the commissioner said that also depends largely on the citizens.

In his experience, King said, everyone is for mandate relief in a general sense, but no one supports it in the specific.

“When you get to any actual proposal for mandate relief, what you get is a response from the people who are affected by that specific mandate, (saying), ‘No, please don’t change that mandate,’ and silence from the broader community,” he said.  

The commissioner added that he understands the feelings of audience members who expressed frustration with the mandates and financial constraints faced by school districts but noted that the Department of Education doesn’t make decisions about how the state distributes its money.  

“At the end of the day, the thing we most control is our ability to drive instructional outcomes that prepare students for college and career success so that we have the employers of tomorrow and the employees of tomorrow,” King said. 

Email Ashleigh Livingston:

alivingston@pressrepublican.com