Archive for August, 2009

Rx: Common Sense — from Commissioner-Elect David Steiner

August 31st, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Incoming State Education Commissioner David Steiner has a column in the New York Post today entitled, Rx:  Common Sense.

He begins, “As I prepare to become New York’s next commissioner of education, I submit that in too many cases, we are engaged in educational practices that make little or no sense.”

Getting to specifics, Dr. Steiner says, “Common sense demands that we do more to prepare new teachers before putting them alone in a classroom, that we do more to reward, support and train excellent teachers and that our educators work together to ensure that each and every child achieves the knowledge and skills they truly need in our increasingly interdependent, information rich, global environment.”

The Commissioner-to-be is particularly pointed in discussing state tests.  He recounts a recent experience with a class of novice teachers who were convinced that using Cliff notes was the best way to prepare their students for literature tests.

He observes,

Surely rich learning is more than just jumping through the hoops. If the use of Cliff notes is the optimal strategy then we should surely reconsider our tests.

Moreover, tests only do their job if they provide accurate information: a student’s success on a test should mean that she or he is truly ready to advance to the next stage of their education.

Common sense suggests that we test the truly important knowledge and skills, that the tests are fair, the results accurate and that teachers use the results to improve what they do in the classroom.

Tough questions are being asked about our tests — about their validity, reliability and rigor, and those questions deserve straightforward answers as well as appropriate action.

The Post is an interesting venue for an opening message from the next Commissioner.  The Times has been a popular choice for state leaders.

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New Commissioner to speak at Council’s Fall Conference — Updated

August 20th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Big news — incoming State Education Commissioner David Steiner has agreed to speak at the Council’s Fall Conference in October in Rochester.

The time for Dr. Steiner’s presentation is 3:30 3:00 pm on Monday, October 5.  Coming just days after he assumes office, it will probably be his first appearance before a statewide audience.

We also have the Chancellor (chair) of the State Board of Regents participating in our conference.  Dr. Merryl Tisch will speak during the Conference’s Sunday luncheon.

For more about the Conference, check here.

The lead article of our July/August newsletter profiles Commissioner-elect Steiner.

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Gates Foundation boosting NYS application to Race to the Top

August 19th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Assertions that New York State might be barred from receiving a slice of the federal government’s $4.3 billion Race to the Top (RT3) fund haven’t dissuaded the Gates Foundation from helping the state develop a winning proposal.

Education Week reports that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded grants to 15 states to help them hire consultants to develop their RT3 proposals.  New York is to receive $250,000.

Ed Week explains, “These states represent either those in which Gates is already invested-or that the foundation thinks are on the right path to reform.”

Elsewhere, the paper also reported that states will find completing the phase 1applications very demanding.  The U.S. Education Department estimates a minimum of 642 hours to complete the application.

For more on efforts to de-rail New York’s application, see my last post directly below.

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Is NYS cut out of race for federal reform aid?

August 18th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Yesterday’s New York Times ran an article on the Obama Administration’s efforts to use the federal “Race to the Top” fund to push states to change their laws governing charter schools and the use of student test data in teacher evaluation.

Our Board of Regents is understandably determined to ensure that New York receives a share of the $4.3 billion fund.  For the foreseeable future, it is the only plausible source of any significant funding to support education reform initiatives.

But there has been a determined – and mostly off-base – effort to portray New York as ineligible, because of a 2008 law governing the use of student test data in tenure decisions, and a cap on the number of charter schools which may be approved to operate in the state. Read the rest of this entry »

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CNY school districts look to team up to save money

August 18th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Last month, Tim Kremer of the School Boards Association and I were invited to speak to superintendents in the Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES.  Afterward, we listened to a discussion of the districts’ efforts to develop a “regional operations center” that might consolidate their food service, transportation, and purchasing functions, and expand upon the existing central business office managed by their BOCES.

Today’s Auburn Citizen reports on their progress.

This is one one example of the impressive level energy being applied by school district leaders around the state in looking at different ways to streamline non-instructional functions.  Here is another.

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More criticism of state tests…

August 14th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

On Wednesday, the New York Daily News reported that “City students are passing state tests by guessing. Thursday, the New York Post had a column by education scholar Diane Ravitch urging that incoming State Education Commissioner Commissioner David Steiner to make toughening state tests an early priority.  Dr. Ravitch expresses optimism that he will:  “Brilliant and well-educated, he’s unlikely to tolerate the way New York’s standards have declined in response to federal pressure.”

Dr. Ravitch contends that state tests — in New York and elsewhere — have gotten easier, as states have sought to have more students deemed proficient in their quest to satisfy the No Child Left Behind Act’s requirement that all students be proficient by 2014.  She derides this worthy but lofty objective as “a utopian goal that no state or nation has ever accomplished.”

I don’t have the expertise to judge whether or not our state tests have gotten easier, and I’ve heard differing perspectives from superintendents.  But, as explained below, both critiques over-simplify how state tests are scored.

What do readers think — have Regents Exams, or the grades 3 through 8 state assessments gotten easier over time?

Read the rest of this entry »

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School mainstays — buses, textbooks — disappearing?

August 12th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

On Sunday, the New York Times ran a pair of articles on two mainstays of public schools — buses and textbooks — which are becoming less common.

Read the rest of this entry »

Category: Finance | 2 Comments »

New guidance for schools on H1N1 (swine flu)

August 11th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released new guidance for schools and other local officials on handling outbreaks of the H1N1 virus, also referred to as swine flu.

The guidance is available here.

The CDC also has a communications toolkit for school leaders here.

The Council is planning a webinar for the first week of September to provide district leaders with the latest advice on dealing with flu outbreaks.  Details on logistics will be provided soon.

Newspaper reporting on the guidance has focused on a shift in the government’s advice on school closings.  For example, the Associated Press noted,

The government is urging school officials to stay calm when swine flu strikes this fall, closing buildings only in drastic cases and allowing sick students to return as soon as 24 hours after their fever is gone.

States and schools should also be planning now for the possibility of schoolwide vaccinations beginning in mid-October.

Federal officials know more now about swine flu than they did last spring, when alarm and confusion led hundreds of schools to temporarily shut down. New guidance issued Friday reflects what the officials have learned.

Closing schools is rarely warranted, even if students or teachers have swine flu, said Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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SUNY dean responds to new Commissioner’s teacher preparation critique

August 10th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Incoming State Education Commissioner David Steiner gained notice for a 2003 research paper criticizing teacher preparation programs for being short on practical preparation.  Since becoming dean of the Hunter College School of Education in 2005, he has been able to convert his critique into practice.

The dean of education at the State University College at Fredonia challenges some of his criticisms, the Jamestown Post-Journal reports.

Read the rest of this entry »

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SED receives Gates funding to support high school-college partnerships

August 4th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

The State Education Department is announcing that it has received $6 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to establish a network of “early college high schools” across the state.

SED advises, “The goal is to systemically create early college high school partnerships through which students will have an opportunity to take an accelerated program of study to complete a high school diploma while earning college credits.”  Also, “A typical award may range from $300,000 to $500,000, contingent on the number of successful applicants.”  The Department anticipates awarding approximately 11 grants.

Read the rest of this entry »

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