7 Ways To Fix the Public Education Problems in the State of New York
By Bernard Gassaway
New York, NY — Over the course of his tenure, Governor Cuomo will affect public education in New York State profoundly for over 2 million children. The significance of his influence has not been determined. While he is right to be frustrated with over a decade of no significant progress in education, he is wrong to direct his dissatisfaction toward teachers. Cuomo should resist the temptation to focus only on ineffective teachers. Rather he should focus on how people become teachers and how they are supported.
First, Cuomo should direct his education advisors to examine teacher preparatory programs. They should identify best practices and require them across all New York public colleges and universities. They should do the same after examining the best induction programs around the world, including the medical profession, the military, and police and fire academies. Our current method of recruiting people to teach is fundamentally flawed, contributing to large numbers of ineffective teachers.
Second, Cuomo’s current proposal to hire outside organizations to run so-called failing schools does not seem plausible. It is experimental. I recommend that Cuomo fully embrace the African “it takes a village to raise a child” framework. Joyce Epstein’s (2001, 2010) overlapping spheres of influence, which are rooted in this framework, provide a good place to start. The idea of school, family, and community collaborating to support the whole child is likely the best approach to improve outcomes for children. The outside organization approach, as being proposed, is too risky and may not work—or at least there is no evidence to show it has. Instead, work with schools, families, and communities to develop organic and strategic relationships, which can lead to effectives collaborations.
Third, Cuomo should focus on the work of central and district offices. How does he hold them accountable as he is holding schools accountable? Closing schools alone will not work. Cuomo and others must figure out ways to hold local educational agencies accountable. It is not enough to blame and punish victims of a system that failed to support them. Principals and teachers are trying to redress many of the ills of society. To quote a line from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, “A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser.” Do not allow central and district offices to stay out of harm’s way while scapegoating teachers and principals for the offices’ failure to support them strategically and effectively.
I agree with Cuomo that ineffective teachers must go—immediately! However, a sizeable percentage of their replacements are likely to experience the same fate, unless there is an effort to change how people become teachers and how teachers train and develop once on the job. Who should we blame? Not teachers. They, like the children, are victims of the system. Nevertheless, the harm that ineffective teachers do to children cannot be ignored while we figure out solutions to this most profound problem.
I also agree it is imperative that a fair teacher evaluation system be created that accurately measures teacher effectiveness. However, while we may agree that the current system is flawed, it is illogical to replace it with another flawed and unfair system. Before Cuomo uses student standardized test results to evaluate teachers, he must correct the flawed tests. This cannot be ignored!
I told a group of aspiring administrators recently that it is their responsibility to educate their city and state elected officials, who are largely ignorant of what is happening in city and state schools. This is my attempt to inform anyone who will “listen.”
In short, I recommend Cuomo take the following actions:
1. Establish a state-of-the-art teacher training and development program. Include colleges and universities in the planning. Focus on how people become teachers. Develop the profession. Create an exemplary teacher induction program—on par with the medical profession.
2. Create a fair teacher evaluation system. Invite the best researchers, scholars, business leaders, and education practitioners to a summit and do not leave without a fair evaluation system. Shift from the current political discussion on teacher evaluation to an educational one
3. Revamp the current testing program, because testing has become a large industry driven by greed. Remove the profit incentive from the equation. Focus on ways to improve assessments. Again gather the best thinkers (from our prestigious colleges and universities along with educational practitioners) to devise an accurate and fair assessment that measures the learning and performance of our children.
4. Focus on reforming failing school systems. Focusing on “failing schools” is blaming the victim and enabling abusers to continue abuse.
5. Fix the New York State Education Department. Have an independent evaluator advise how to make it relevant and resourceful. Its staffing and organization do not suffice to support districts and schools.
6. Focus attention on New York City’s Department of Education (DOE). Uncover fiscal mismanagement. I know that an independent auditor can uncover at least $1 billion in waste.
7. Figure out a way to minimize the DOE’s constant changes. Each chancellor changes procedures and policies constantly, seeding chaos and confusion. This does not help students, parents, principals, or community stakeholders who work on improving the school system. I believe that if Governor Cuomo were to follow the above recommendations, he would significantly affect education for millions of children in New York State. For the sake of our children, I hope he listens and responds.
Bernard Gassaway is a former principal at Beach Channel High School and Boys and Girls High School. He is also the former Senior Superintendent of Alternative Schools and Programs in New York City. He can be reached at email@example.com