Press-Republican

In My Opinion

June 13, 2012

In My Opinion: State of confusion in public schools

Whether you feel that New York’s public-school reform agenda is necessary or not, there is much to be concerned about regarding its rationale, how it is being pursued and its potential, negative impact on student achievement.

New York public schools are ranked third nationally in the comprehensive, annual study by Education Week. They were second last year, an excellent record.

Gov. Cuomo justifies rushing into reforms by stating that New York is “38th in the nation in education.” This census data referred to graduation rates for all adult New York residents over age 25 in 2007. It has nothing to do with current graduation rates or the quality, and effectiveness, of public-school instruction.

Most of the Governor’s Education Reform Commission members have backgrounds in business, politics, think-tanks, charter schools, labor and universities. Public-school parents, educators, administrators and board members are conspicuously missing. Reforms from this group will be better suited for scoring political points and ensuring higher profits for education-related corporations, not a better education for our students.

It’s hard to see how Albany’s efforts to this point will produce higher-quality schools, quite to the contrary. Overall, state aid to public schools is at the same level it was five years ago. The tax cap and a significant increase in the number, and cost, of state-mandated services, are squeezing school budgets. More than 30,000 teachers have been laid off over the last three years, with more to come. Crucial academic, athletic and extra-curricular programs have been gutted or eliminated.

In the meantime, Albany politicians and the State Education Department spent only half of the $700 million from the federal Race to the Top grants on public schools, covering a small fraction of the program’s mandated costs to districts. For example, a study by the Fordham Institute estimates that new Common Core curriculum mandates for math and English language arts alone could cost New York public schools $583 million over current spending for instructional materials.

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In My Opinion