New York Daily News

An assignment for Gov. Cuomo

Spearhead a bold redesign of the teaching profession

- BY MICAH LASHER Lasher is executive director of StudentsFi­rstny, an education advocacy organizati­on.

Gov. Cuomo has said he wants to be the “students’ lobbyist,” and Tuesday, his Education Reform Commission met for the first time. Headed by Richard Parsons, it is composed of 25 members, all committed to fixing public schools but with widely different views on what that will take.

Tuesday’s meeting was mostly introducti­ons and discussion of a forthcomin­g “listening tour,” after which the commission will aim to form “consensus” around an action plan.

Uh-oh. Consensus, particular­ly in education, favors incrementa­l and uncontrove­rsial change.

Incrementa­l change won’t help the countless children in New York State who aren’t getting a quality education. Our graduation rate is 39th in the nation; our per-pupil spending is tops. New York’s students need Cuomo and this commission to boldly confront problems that have gone unaddresse­d for years precisely because they are controvers­ial.

Chief among these: teacher quality. Both common sense and extensive research tell us that the quality of the classroom teacher matters more than anything else that goes on in schools. Of course, the poverty facing many students makes the job of their teachers much harder. We should acknowledg­e this — and also ac- knowledge that we owe it to those kids to help them overcome their circumstan­ces.

A new framework for teacher evaluation­s that passed this year, factoring in both student achievemen­t gains and classroom evaluation­s, was a commendabl­e first step, though its implementa­tion may be blocked in New York City — home to 38% of the state’s students — by the teachers union.

But even where new evaluation­s start happening, it’s what you do with them that will matter. And the entire structure of the teaching profession in New York — in law, in regulation and in union contracts — remains set up as though difference­s in teacher quality don’t exist or matter.

The $43.6 billion we spend annually on salaries, benefits and pensions is driven by longevity, not effectiven­ess. We spend an additional $11.9 billion on noninstruc­tional expenses — with way too many school districts, 694, for one state. We don’t spend money on starting teacher salaries that are competitiv­e with other profession­s, or on rewarding our most effective teachers in order to retain them, or on a school day long enough to teach our kids what they need to learn.

In other words, we waste precious re- sources on things that don’t help kids at the expense of things that do.

Meanwhile, we lack a strategy to recruit top college graduates into teaching, as countries with the best school systems do. We have onerous state-mandated certificat­ion requiremen­ts, with little correlatio­n to student achievemen­t and no flexibilit­y for districts.

We effectivel­y guarantee employment through tenure after just three years, well before we really know how good a teacher is. We haven’t thought enough about pathways for career advancemen­t for our best teachers, and we turn a blind eye to those who are ineffectiv­e, at great consequenc­e to their students, whom we ask to wait while the adults, well, try harder.

Increasing­ly, the phrase “teacher-bashing” gets thrown around to discourage considerat­ion of reform. But a serious and respectful discussion about how to elevate the profession to an honored, sought-after craft with high standards and rewards is the opposite of teacher-bashing.

In fact, what we do now — which is, in effect, to tell good teachers that their efforts are futile and undeservin­g of recognitio­n, then negate them by sending students on into other classrooms where little learning may take place — devalues the work of our best educators and discourage­s talented people from entering and staying in the profession.

The governor’s commission has laudably devoted a subcommitt­ee to teacher quality. But the absence from that group of both the panel’s most outspoken voice for reform, Geoffrey Canada (a member of the board of Students firstny, an organizati­on I run), and of American Federation of Teachers head, Randi Weingarten, raises questions about whether the commission is too focused on comity.

The commission must design a broad overhaul of the structures that impede the transforma­tion and elevation of the teaching profession in New York State. Then the governor should use his formidable political skills to bring this transforma­tion to fruition.

Cuomo can make New York a national model by ensuring that a quality teacher stands at the front of every classroom. That, more than anything else, would make him the most effective lobbyist that students in our state have had in a long time.

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States