For the second summer in a row, the body that’s helping Gov. Andrew Cuomo form his education agenda visited New York City. But unlike last year, which drew a crowd and Campbell Brown, Tuesday’s meeting happened with little fanfare and much more focus.
It’s been a little more than a year since Cuomo assembled the Education Reform Commission, a 25-member body made up of businessmen, government officials, union leaders, researchers, lawmakers and nonprofit executives. The commission was created to recommend wholesale reforms to improve the state’s expensive school system.
It’s too soon to measure the commission’s impact, but the handful of first-year recommendations that Cuomo adopted — the commission recommended 12 — will only affect a small percentage of schools. Cuomo used an allocated $75 million in the budget to create competitive grants, available by design to limited number of districts, to launch longer school days, expand prekindergarten and create schools that offer more nonacademic services to low-income students.
Cuomo also allocated $11 million in stipends for “master teachers,” to fulfill another recommendation, which aims to recruit and retain top teachers for in-demand subjects. Cuomo announced that teachers can begin applying for the program this week.
It’s unclear what the commission will recommend in its second year, but the possibilities seem more narrow. Last summer’s meeting resembled more of a City Council hearing, with 17 speaker testimonies and a public comment period that covered a spectrum of education policies. It was also the place where Campbell Brown first launched her cause célèbre, to make it easier to fire teachers who’ve acted inappropriately in school.
By contrast, Tuesday’s event, held in a dimly lit performance arts theater inside the Borough of Manhattan Community College, featured lengthy PowerPoint presentations from five people who honed in on a few issues.
The meeting centered on ways to transform the way teaching and learning happens at school and, predominantly, teacher preparation policies.
The meeting included a presentation from Norm Atkins, founder of the Relay Graduate School of Education, a master’s degree program for teachers who are working fulltime. The program, which recently received an “absolute charter” to operate as a higher education institution in New York from the Board of Regents, is unique in part because it is one of the few education schools in the country that uses student learning data to measure how well its own student teachers are doing.
“There is a huge opportunity in this country and the state to invite all sorts of people who have deep content knowledge and care about education to go into teaching,” said Atkins, who called on creating a massive college loan forgiveness incentive for people who made long term teaching commitments. He said a five-year commitment, rather than the two-year commitment, would be a good exchange for loan forgiveness. Many alternative certification programs, such as Teach For America and Teaching Fellows, require two-year commitments from their participants to receive subsidized tuition.
Former State Education Commissioner David Steiner suggested that the next generation of controversial school closures could happen in higher education. Steiner urged the commission to consider that ultimatum if schools aren’t producing quality graduates even after they’ve been given an opportunity to adopt reforms.
“It is extremely difficult politically to close a college. It’s almost as difficult to close a program,” Steiner said. “But we all know the dirty secret, which is that there are programs in this country churning out teachers who are not effective with our students and that’s a tragedy.”
“There’s no point in having data if you don’t act on it,” he added.
In fact, the commission already had recommended some changes to teacher preparation in the state, including using data to monitor graduate programs.
It also recommended that students must have a 3.o grade point average or better in order to be accepted. That’s outdated advice, however, since the city’s university system already adhered to the 3.0 standard and State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, a member of the commission, said today that the 17 SUNY education programs will soon use those standards as well.
Other presenters were Joel Rose, who founded the city’s School of One model for schools, Melanie Mullan, a vice president of Turnaround for Children, and Julie Doppler, coordinator of the Community Learning Center of Cincinnati Public Schools.
The commission has one more meeting planned for later this summer before issuing a new set of recommendations to Cuomo.