Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Education commission hears local problems and solutions

Posted By on Tue, Oct 23, 2012 at 11:07 AM

Governor Cuomo’s New NY Education Reform Commission ended its statewide listening tour of school district officials, politicians, and community leaders in Rochester yesterday. The commission is charged with gathering information about what is and isn’t working to boost student achievement, and then making recommendations for improvement to Cuomo.

The commission panel, which included state Education Commissioner John King and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, certainly got an earful from local speakers.

Too many mandates, insufficient state aid, and inequitable distribution of funding were among the chief concerns voiced yesterday. Some speakers complained that Rochester teachers have not been rigorously evaluated and held accountable. And that for too long they’ve been permitted to use poverty as an excuse for low student achievement.

Teachers choose to be educators, and they can get a job in a different district if they want to, City Council President Lovely Warren said. But city students often don’t have any options when it comes to their education.

Creating regional high schools, lifting the cap on charter schools, and increasing emphasis on collaboration between schools were some of the recommendations for raising student outcomes. One teacher from Churchville took a small robot to the event and talked about how robotics can interest students in science, math, and engineering through competitions with neighboring schools.

Some of the most compelling ideas had to do with earning college credits while in high school, and increasing online learning opportunities. Monroe Community College President Anne Kress said students who earn 20 college credits are less likely to drop out of high school and nearly twice as likely to complete college.

And online learning, the newest wave in education, offers multiple opportunities for students and educators at every grade level.

The commission members' report to Albany, which is due before the end of the year, will have to compress a lot of information from the state's best performing districts to its worst into a meaningful tool. And even though their work was statewide in scope, there's no mistaking that it's the large urban districts like Rochester's that are facing the biggest challenges. Coming up with solutions that work is not going to be easy considering the state's financial constraints.

But bold recommendations are needed, and they probably won't please everyone. And it seems like the commission could advise Cuomo in one of two ways: move further down the path of increased competition, open more charter schools, and push the union into accepting even more rigorous teacher and principal evaluations.

The commission might even call for a control board’s oversight for failing districts.

Or it could recommend providing the early childhood support that almost every expert agrees is needed to mitigate some of poverty’s impact on poor urban children.

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