On the state of the state

Friday, January 6th, 2012 at 8:23 am by

Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his second annual State of the State address, outlining an ambitious agenda designed to build on the impressive achievements of his first year in office.

In the area of education, the Governor that in his first year he learned the lesson that superintendents, teachers, school boards, maintenance personnel, and bus drivers all have lobbyists, but students do not have a lobbyist.  So he declared he would be taking on a second job in the coming year – students’ lobbyist.

He announced he would appoint a commission on education to recommend reforms in key areas, including teacher accountability and student achievement and management efficiency.

The Governor said, “we need a meaningful teacher evaluation system. The legislation enacted in 2010 to qualify for Race to the Top didn’t work.”

He added, “We must make our schools accountable for the results they achieve and the dollars they spend.”

No details have been provided yet on who will sit on the commission or when it will report.

I was quoted in a New York Times article on the commission and appeared on Time Warner’s statewide Capitol Tonight television show, along with Tim Kremer from the School Boards Association and Nikki Jones from the Alliance for Quality Education.

In the Times article, I said

“There are a lot of people who would disagree with the governor’s rhetoric and parts of his analysis, but would agree with the big picture.  How do we produce more learning for students with the resources our taxpayers can provide?”

On the rhetoric…

There is some grumbling across the education community about the Governor’s assertion that no one advocates for students.  Certainly superintendents see that as central to their work.

Capitol Tonight’s Liz Benjamin asked her guests for their reactions to the Governor’s announcement that he would be the students’ lobbyist.

I gave a two part response.

First, I said “We welcome him,” and added that that is a good perspective for a state leader to take – to be asking how the actions of state government affect student learning.

But I added that everyone working in the schools – teachers, principals, superintendents – got into the business because they wanted to have a positive impact of the lives of children, and that in our surveys superintendents tell us they sought their jobs to be able to affect more children.

On the analysis…

The Governor repeated claims that New York is first in per pupil spending but 38th in graduation rates.

The numbers are what they are.  But using single broad measures overlooks simple facts and over simplifies complex situations.

As I explained on Capitol Tonight, New York is a high cost state across the board.  We have the highest weekly wages for all workers of any state.  Schools are labor intensive.  It should not be a surprise that we would have high per pupil spending.

I also said that we are a hugely diverse state, in ways good and bad.  Our graduation rate problem is concentrated, rather than universal, mostly focused in typically urban districts.

On the bigger picture…

With all the foregoing in mind, it remains that many in education would agree with the Governor on the bigger picture thrust.  I do.  We need to be asking how can our schools produce the learning our students need now with the resources our taxpayers can provide.

A commission can provide the focus for an extended statewide conversation aimed at answering that question.  So pending further details, we can welcome the idea of a commission.

Capitol Tonight’s Liz Benjamin said she had the sense the Governor would look to fill the commission with people from outside the state’s education system.

I said I hoped it would include insiders as well, because they could speak to what is working well now, and what isn’t.

I also said that it would be a mistake to assume that everyone working in schools now is wedded to the status quo.  Again, they entered education to positively affect the lives of young people.

I went on to add that even if some are wedded to the status quo, the status quo is changing – we have had there years of state aid cuts or freezes, now the tax cap, and continuing cost pressures from pensions and health insurance.  Schools have to change.

A commission can’t just point to what schools are doing wrong, however.  A corollary question for it must be what does the state need to change, in order to help schools produce more learning for students with the resources the taxpayers can provide.

A complication for the commission will be how to work with the $700 million worth of promises the state has made to Washington under Race to the Top, which has already defined a significant and demanding reform agenda for the State Education Department and the schools to execute.

Here is the complete prepared text of the Governor’s address (the education section begins on p. 19 and is preceded by a discussion of mandate relief).

Here is the video of the speech.  He discusses education beginning about 38 minutes in.

Here is the passage on education:

Education Commission to Promote Performance and Accountability

As we reimagine government, we must focus on our core values.

The future of our state depends on our public schools. A strong, effective school system is the hallmark of a healthy democracy.

We must make our schools accountable for the results they achieve and the dollars they spend.

I learned my most important lesson in my first year as Governor in the area of public education.  I learned that everyone in public education has his or her own lobbyist.

Superintendents have lobbyists.  Principals have lobbyists.  Teachers have lobbyists.

School boards have lobbyists.  Maintenance personnel have lobbyists.  Bus drivers have lobbyists.

The only group without a lobbyist?

The students.

Well, I learned my lesson. This year, I will take a second job — consider me the lobbyist for the students. I will wage a campaign to put students first, and to remind us that the purpose of public education is to help children grow, not to grow the public education bureaucracy.

Today, we are driven by the business of public education more than the achievement in public education. Maybe that’s why we spend more money than any other state but are 38th in graduation rates.

We have to change the paradigm. We need major reform in two areas:

· Teacher accountability and student achievement. We need a meaningful teacher evaluation system. The legislation enacted in 2010 to qualify for Race to the Top didn’t work.

· Management efficiency. We must make our schools accountable for the results they achieve and the dollars they spend.

We cannot fail in our mission to reform public education, because we simply cannot fail our children.

I will appoint a bipartisan education commission to work with the Legislature to recommend reforms in these key areas.

This entry was posted on Friday, January 6th, 2012 at 8:23 am and is filed under Finance, Leadership, Legislation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.