Gov. Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission returned its report last week that suggested a series of changes to improve schooling of the state’s youth.
Among the idea were: start children in class earlier, keep them longer and hire more prepared teachers to instruct them.
“Get them sooner, keep them longer and do more with them when you’ve got them,” said Richard Parsons, commission chairman and former CEO of Time Warner Inc.
Cuomo met with the commission on Jan. 2 in Albany during a cabinet meeting at the State Capitol. The group’s 92-page report is primarily based on information gathered from 11 hearings around the state. A final report is due out later this year.
“We have failed our students and we have for many, many years,” Cuomo said. “The education bureaucracy has been running the education program and the students got lost.”
The governor said he added some of the commission’s suggestions to his 2013 legislative priorities outlined in Wednesday’s State of the State speech.
The panel suggested the possibility of more in-class time for students, recommending universal pre-kindergarten and restructured schedules to allow for more instruction time for all students, including the possibility of extending the school year by two to three weeks, an idea supported by President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
The commission also suggested utilizing technology in what it termed “innovation zones” that will allow students to use technological advances, such as tablets, to improve learning.
The commission suggested that prospective teachers should pass an exam similar to the bar exam given to prospective lawyers. The test idea got the support of commission member Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
One issue the commission might face is how to fund its ideas. Suggestions like expanded pre-kindergarten and more class time are likely to be expensive. Cuomo said he is completely behind the idea of universal pre-K, but that financing it would be difficult.
“Frankly, it’s going to be a question of money,” Cuomo said at the cabinet meeting. The commission promised to outline ideas for financing in its final report.
He added that he expects extending the school year to be a controversial and expensive issue, but reiterated the need to further study the suggestion.
The commission also suggested combining some school districts outside New York City, which commission members also expect to cause some controversy.
The meeting also turned to the ongoing fight over teacher evaluations. While most of the state’s school districts have reached deals with teachers unions over evaluations, such a deal is still elusive between the UFT and the city’s Department of Education. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said an accord had to be struck by last Dec. 21 in order to meet Gov. Cuomo’s Jan. 17 deadline, otherwise the city risked losing $250 million in funding. The Yonkers school district reached a deal on evaluations last week.
Parsons said the issue with evaluations isn’t disagreement over the idea itself, but over the details.
“There’s no disagreement; teachers need to be evaluated and evaluated fairly. Question is how do we design the program?” he asked.