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N.Y. Reform Commission Stresses Teacher Prep, More Learning Time

The N.Y. Education Reform Commission, summoned into existence by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo last April, has released its report containing several recommendations for big changes to New York state's K-12 public schools that include setting a new, higher GPA for admissions to teacher and principal preparation programs, extending the school day, and using educational technology to overcome barriers between high school and higher education.

The commission was set up, according to Cuomo, to identify strategies to help prepare more Empire State students to be "college and career ready," at a time when only 37 percent of students fit that definition.

The 25-member commission is led by former Time Warner boss Richard Parsons, and includes Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, and state Education Commissioner John King. A quick glance at the big K-12 proposals for New York with large pictures and a stylized font is available for those without time to wade through the entire report. The members heard from 300 students, teachers, and others over 11 public hearings conducted during four months.

Throughout the report, there's an emphasis on the concept of a "pipeline," both in the sense of students moving through the public school system, and the idea of identifying good candidates to be teachers and training them for the classroom well. For example, here's what the report says about strong early education for students from difficult economic backgrounds: "The positive effects of quality early education are lost if the student is not continually supported along the education pipeline. In the most disadvantaged communities, students need additional support throughout their education experience in order to ensure their success."

Briefly stated, here's what the commission says should go into the pipeline for students.

• Full-day kindergarten for high-needs students.

• Using community schools to effectively deliver social and health services.

• Extending student learning time using the Massachusetts Extended Learning Time Initiative as a model.

• Using classroom technology to improve post-secondary options, but not merely "for technology's sake."

As for the pipeline that brings teachers to classrooms, the report recommends the following.

• Raise the minimum GPA for admission to teacher and principal preparation programs in the state from 2.75 to 3.0

• Recruit "non-traditional" teacher candidates by expanding alternative certification programs

• Improve curriculum in schools of education to incorporate lessons learned "in the field"

• Create a new leadership academy for principals at the State University of New York and the City University of New York.

• Institute an exam similar to the bar exam aspiring lawyers must take for teachers and principals ready to enter K-12 schools after completing their professional education. (My colleague Stephen Sawchuk wrote about the same idea of a teachers' "bar exam" floated by the AFT last month, and the report gives a hat-tip to the AFT in the section where it discusses this idea.)

In addition, the commission promotes district consolidation and sharing more resources to increase access to quality courses for more students.

If you look at the proposals through the prism of funding, some would seem to require some significant cash on the barrel (extending full-day kindergarten, a new leadership academy, and extending learning time) while others (raising the GPA for prospective teachers, and revamped school of education curriculum) don't seem to. And district consolidation might even save money in the long run.

But however much the state wants to approach these things carefully from a cost perspective, here's a press statement from the "Big 5" districts in the state by enrollment (Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers) on the commission's recommendations: "We are hopeful that the Executive Budget proposal released later this month will include increased funding to advance these initiatives and we stand ready to partner with the State to implement these important programs."

One area where Cuomo can indulge in some satisfaction is in teacher evaluations. The state announced Jan. 2 that 533 school districts in New York had their evaluation plans approved by the New York department, leaving only nine districts that had not submitted plans out of a total of 682 districts (the remaining 140 are still having their plans reviewed by the state). Back in March, when I wrote about teacher evaluations in New York state, only 100 districts had managed to reached evaluation accords with their unions, so in the statistical sense the state has come a long way. But with a Jan. 17 deadline for getting evaluations approved, New York City teachers and the city's officials still don't have a deal.

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