On Monday, the New York State Board of Regents appointed David M. Steiner as Education Commissioner and President of the University of the State of New York. With this appointment comes great opportunity. Dr. Steiner must bring with him his wealth of knowledge and spirit of innovation. These are precisely the skills required to navigate our state’s education system through challenges such as excessive spending, mediocre student achievement, and unnecessary bureaucratic regulations.
The U.S. Census released state-by-state education spending figures earlier this week. For the third straight year, New York led the nation in per-pupil spending in 2007 – the latest year in which data is available. New York spent approximately $16,000 for each student in the system, which represents a 7.3% increase from the previous year. Education spending is crucial. However, in return for the highest per-pupil spending in the nation, the public should demand the best results.
The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test results indicate New York is far from the best. The most recent scores, in 2007, show New York finished 33rd on the 8th grade math proficiency exam, 23rd on 8th grade reading, 17th in 4th grade math, and 15th on 4th grade reading. Because NAEP offers the same test to students in all states, the scores offer valuable insight into New York’s student performance.
The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, recently announced the availability of $4.35 billion in education funding for states committed to education improvement. Although this is an exceptional opportunity, New York must change the way it operates. To be eligible for federal funds, New York must not disqualify test scores from teacher and principal evaluations, must stop lowering state test standards, must not cap the number of charter schools, and must stop limiting the pathway for teacher and principal certification.
During his tenure as dean of Hunter College, Dr. Steiner launched a “Teacher U” initiative. This evidence-based program was one inventive measure he introduced to maximize teacher performance and thus boost student performance. This is the mindset he must bring to New York’s current education system that has allowed state and local spending to skyrocket, accepted mediocrity, and prevented reform.
Here in Monroe County, I have listened to parents that want the best future for their kids, students that want to learn, and hardworking teachers and administrators that want to be free of unnecessary bureaucratic red tape. As a member of the Committee on Education, I understand the challenges facing our state’s educational system and look forward to working with the new commissioner. Together – parents, school officials, public officials – we must transform New York education to meet the needs of 21st Century students and employers. Cutting costs, demanding accountability, and empowering schools is a difficult, but achievable, goal.
Bill Reilich is a New York State Assemblyman from Greece and a member of the Assembly Committee on Education.