An old promise, unkept

School Is In

— As the new school year approaches, it is important to understand something.

In 1996, The New York State Board of Regents implemented an overall plan for raising education standards for all students. The plan was based on three strategies:  set higher learning standards and revise the assessment system, build the capacity of schools to support student learning and develop an institutional accountability system with public reporting.

They’ve definitely done the first and third part of the plan.

There is certainly nothing wrong with setting high standards — as long as they are attainable.  The standards for success in society are found within the education system, so why would we not want high standards?  Likewise, those who do the work — the educators — should be held accountable in their role helping students successfully meet the standards.

But that second strategy is the sticking point. The part about building capacity of schools to support student learning hasn’t worked out so well.

Over this 16-year period, New York has had three commissioners of education: Richard Mills, who from 1995 to 2009 managed to tinker with and mismanage education enough to put the state in the position of being eligible for government funding for under-achieving school systems, but did little in the way of improving the resources for teachers, David Steiner, who made things worse and failed to deliver on any of his promises during his shaky two-year tenure, and new commissioner John King, who at age 36 has four degrees, (bachelor’s, master’s, law and education degrees) but has been in office only since June 15. Note that King served as senior deputy commissioner for P-12 education under Steiner prior to his appointment to commissioner.

In those 16 years, New York has paid many millions of dollars to companies to produce and refine assessment tests (CTB/McGraw Hill, primarily), more millions to out-of-state companies to evaluate the results (mostly in North Carolina), and significant amounts of money on salaries for ineffective assistant commissioners. On top of that, money was spent to bring teachers to the Albany area every year to rubber-stamp the process for SED by serving on committees, task forces, study groups, think tanks and the like.  The teachers’ work in this capacity has always been legitimate, the SED’s application of it, not so.

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