Cuomo ed panel recommends more pre-K, skips Common Core
ALBANY—A long-awaited report released by an education panel appointed by the governor may be as notable for what's not in it as for what is.
Two members of the panel argued that the group's final report, released Tuesday, neglected several controversial issues facing public education, such as the state's implementation of new, rigorous academic standards known as Common Core.
Michael Rebell, an attorney who won a landmark case requiring the state to fund school districts more equitably, and Randi Weingarten, president of a national teachers' union, wrote in appendices to the report that they agree with much of the group's findings, including recommendations for increased access to pre-kindergarten, technology and learning models that connect high school and college, and merit pay for teachers.
But the panel ignored much of the written and spoken testimony it received at public hearings throughout the state, the critics wrote.
“I do not believe ... that this document fulfills the commission’s charge or deals adequately with the major educational issues currently facing the State of New York,” Rebell wrote in an essay attached to the group's final report. “The basic purpose of this commission, according to the governor’s charge, was to 'comprehensively review and assess New York State’s education system, including its structure, operation and processes....' In failing to deal at all with such major issues as funding, special education, the lack of appropriate supports for English language learners, as well as ignoring major current controversies such as implementation of [teacher evaluations] and common core systems, the commission has ill-served students, parents, and the public at large.”
Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, did not criticize the commission as harshly, arguing that “while no education panel can ever address every issue, there are two issues — the need for greater investment and the transition to the Common Core standards — that call for more attention,” she wrote.
She echoed the union's concerted push for more school aid and a moratorium on using students scores on Common Core-aligned exams for “high stakes” decisions, such as teacher evaluations.
Rebell and Weingarten were chosen by Governor Andrew Cuomo to serve on the 25-member Education Reform Commission, a group he tasked in April 2012 with studying how to improve student performance in the state. New York spends more money per student than any other state in the country, and yet its schools yield mediocre education outcomes, such as test scores and graduation rates.
The group also includes several of the state's top education leaders, including state education commissioner John King, SUNY chancellor Nancy Zimpher and the chairs of the Legislature's education committees: Senator John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, a Queens Democrat.
Reacting to Rebell and Weingarten's supplemental comments, Flanagan said Tuesday it would be “foolhardy” to expect any panel, “particularly one of this size and this duration” to agree on everything.
“I embrace what's been advanced, and at the same time, I don't think it's appropriate to pick apart what may not have been done,” he continued. “This moves the ball down the field. It advances very important issues.”
The group discussed the Common Core and a variety of other controversial education issues in the report, in some cases suggesting that the state convene other panels to look at those specific areas.
"Within a Commission as diverse as ours, there were many different voices and perspectives to take into consideration," according to the report. "Not everyone felt we went far enough or were prescriptive enough to satisfy their particular points of view. The overwhelming majority of Commission Members felt, however, that it was not our job to re-design the entire education delivery system, to specify funding levels, or to weigh in on every controversy surrounding the implementation of current law. Rather, we felt our charge was to recommend a set of tangible actions the Governor and Legislature could undertake to improve the current system of public education in New York so as to produce better outcomes for our children."
Cuomo borrowed heavily from the panel's recommendations for his education agendas last year and this year, outlining the group's “final action plan” in his State of the State address last week, although he had not yet released the report to the public. Cuomo released the report Tuesday after Capital reported that it was four months late.
Cuomo's push for full-day pre-K follows the commission's suggestions. Last year, he announced $25 million in competitive grants to fund pre-K in some schools. In this year's speech, he proposed taking the program statewide.
The panel addressed some of the obstacles Cuomo will face in trying to bring full-day pre-K to scale.
“The impediments to expanding the state’s commitment are numerous — most notably an inadequate supply of certified teachers and effective providers, a lack of systems of accountability to ensure the quality of programs, the need for capital and infrastructure enhancements to accommodate such programs, and the economic reality of funding a statewide program in times of fiscal constraints,” according to the report. “But the benefits of quality early education are too great not to embark on this task, particularly in our high-need, low-income communities.”
In the section of the report that pushes for pre-K, the panel offered a more specific suggestion: that the state support charter schools' early childhood programs.
“There is untapped potential to increase access to pre-kindergarten in high-need communities through public charter schools, which serve many high-need students,” according to the report. “However, current law does not authorize charter schools to offer state supported pre-kindergarten programs, thereby preventing children from accessing potentially high-quality providers.”
Another of Cuomo's big education proposals in his State of the State was for a $2 billion bond act to boost technology in schools. His proposal, which would need voter approval, stems from the panel's argument that students' access to high-tech devices is crucial for long-term success.
The group stressed that the state should provide support for high-tech devices as well as upgrading the technological infrastructure in schools—and even in homes.
“Many of our schools do not have the capacity to use technology in a transformative way,” the report says. “To succeed, schools need more interactive whiteboards, not chalkboards. To succeed, students need tablets, not notepads. And we must connect students by investing in our schools and our homes so high-speed broadband wiring can be installed, allowing for wireless schools and other technological improvements to better engage students.
“Investments in computers and other technology can be used to close the achievement gap by bringing the technology of today and tomorrow into the classroom,” the report says.