Better Schools Begin At Home

Gov. Andrew Cuomo isn’t the first New York governor to try to “fix” the state’s schools. He surely won’t be the last.

New York spends the most money on education, per student, than any state in the country. That investment buys an education system that graduates roughly 75 percent of students in four years and produced a 2011 graduating class in which only one out of three students were considered college or career ready.

If this all sounds familiar, consider New York’s recent history with education reform.

The 1980s saw the Regents Action Plan, a plan to provide all students with the opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge they would need for “their 21st century lifetime.” The Action Plan increased academic course loads and required high school graduates to demonstrate competency in English, mathematics, science, global studies, and U.S. history and government. Students who failed in these subjects received remedial instruction.

The New Compact for Learning, implemented in 1994, built on the Regents Action Plan. It embraced a number of themes, including: statewide goals for schools; a challenging program for all students; mutual responsibility of local school administrators, teachers, parents, and the community for school and pupil performance; Education Department support for school initiatives, and intervention when schools were in danger of failing.

When that didn’t work as well as education officials hoped, the focus changed. In the 2000s, state education efforts began to focus on increased testing, phasing out the focus on foreign languages and increasing emphasis on science and math while trying to prepare every student for college. When that didn’t work, it was time for the Common Core Standards, a movement backed by educators from dozens of states that focuses on a national alignment of standards for English language arts and mathematics in kindergarten through 12th grades. The Common Core standards are internationally benchmarked, aligned with work and post-secondary education expectations and include the skills students need for a 21st century economy.

In more than 30 years, under a score of different names and with dozens of action steps, the state has failed to improve schools. Students still aren’t ready for a 21st century economy.

So, there is some skepticism in our review of the Education Reform Commission’s recommendations, which include longer school days, full day pre-kindergarten, teacher training bar exams and a community schools initiative to use schools as community hubs to focus all available resources on student success, ranging from academics to health, nutrition, safety and counseling services.

The Education Reform Commission’s recommendations may drag test scores up a little bit. They may even bump the state’s graduation rate by a few percentage points. But they likely won’t solve the bigger issue affecting education – a student’s home life.

Spending more time in school won’t make students do their homework or read a book when they’re at home. Making teachers pass a bar exam-type test won’t change a society that says it’s fine to play video games instead of studying. Making schools a community hub for services doesn’t put food on a table or a consistent roof over a child’s head. Trying to prepare high school graduates for the job market is tough when there are few jobs to be had.

If the governor can solve those problems, he will have fixed New York’s school system.