What is the Real Story? New York State is a High Educational Performer

Saturday, February 5th, 2011 at 2:41 pm by

In his speeches, Governor Andrew Cuomo has said New York is first in per pupil spending, but 34th in performance, based on the proportion of adults with a high school diploma, according to the Census.

Of course, any one measure grossly oversimplifies reality.

New York is remarkably diverse, in ways good and bad.  One recent report concluded that we have the widest disparities in spending between high and low poverty districts.

New York is also home to some of the absolute best public schools in the nation.  For example, nearly a third of the 300 national semi-finalists in the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search attend public high schools In New York State.

One of our members, Dr. Jeffrey Bowen, sent in the piece below drawing on information in Education Week’s latest annual “Quality Counts” report to make the case that New York State is a high performer in education.

Dr. Bowen is Superintendent of the Yorkshire-Pioneer Central School District, serving parts of Erie, Wyoming, Cattaraugus, and Allegany Counties.

What’s The Real Story?

New York State Is A High Educational Performer

On February 1, 2011 our Governor did his best to perpetuate the myth that New York state educationally overspends and underperforms in a pattern that approximates a “death spiral.”   Arguments about state and local spending on education will be ceaseless and contentious over the next few months.

Less expected, and certainly more befuddling, is that our new state leader has so obliviously misreported comparative data about New York public schools’ performance and promise.

Apparently he wants to make the point that we should begin to put kids first – oddly enough by spending less on them.  Therefore, he states that New York schools languish in 34th place among the states on the basis of mysteriously undisclosed measures.

Actually, we do far better.  To be sure, credit goes not only to our schools, but also to our many systems of public service and supports that work in partnership with schools.

According to the latest surveys and analysis conducted by Education Week, while the nation earns a “C” for its educational policy and performance, New York maintains a grade of “B” (84.7), second only to Maryland among the 50 states and D.C.

The real revelations leap out when we look at the performance indicators by which the grades are given.

First, Education Week relies on a “Chance-for-Success” index involving 13 different criteria across three stages from early childhood to adulthood.  As reported, the “driving force” behind all of these criteria is “participation and performance in formal schooling”.

In odds for success, New York rates a “B”, while the national average is a “C+”.   We substantially exceed national averages for family income, parent education, preschool enrollment, proficiency in 4th grade reading and 8th grade math (National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP), high school graduation, young adult education, adult educational attainment, annual income, and steady employment.

The biggest percentage difference between our state and the nation is the percentage of our young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 who are enrolled in postsecondary education or with a degree: 63.6% for NY versus 53.8% for the nation.

This suggests our students are inspired enough by our public schools to want to learn a good deal more and become better wage earners and enlightened citizens.

Next is K-12 achievement.  Although New York’s grade is a “C” at 74.3%, only seven other states are ahead of us (three “B”s and four “C”s.  Yes, the NAEP data show we can all do better.  But given the criteria, which include equity – a big-time demographic challenge for New York – we are performing surprisingly well.

On 4th and 8th grade NAEP proficiency in math and reading, New York outperforms the national average on every indicator – considerably more so in 8th grade math and reading.

Our gains between 2003 and 2009 do fall below the national averages, but signaling our progress is the fact that during this period we have dramatically narrowed the gap between the scores of students in poverty and those who are not.  Our gaps have closed in both 4th and 8th grades.

The margin of closure is by far the largest in the nation!

Other performance indicators reinforce these positive trends.  Our percentage of students with advanced proficiency in NAEP math is above average nationally.  Our high school graduation rate from public schools is 70.6% compared to the national average of 68.8%.  Our improvement in graduation rate between 2000 and 2007 was 10.1 percent – the fourth largest gain nationwide.

Only Virginia and Maryland have larger proportions of students who score three or above on Advanced Placement tests in grades 11 and 12.  In New York, more than 30 of every 100 students who take AP exams score three or better.  Our improvement on this statistic – 13 students per every 100 over the last decade – has exceeded the national average.

Finally, transitions and alignmentEducation Week defines this as a series of measures of “state efforts to better coordinate connections between K-12 schooling and other segments of the educational pipeline, with a particular focus on three stages: early-childhood education, college readiness, and the world of work.”

Our Board of Regents and State Education Department are intently focusing on this topic area with active consideration to change graduation requirements and using the federal Race To The Top mandates as leverage.

Education Week tracks 14 different activities to generate an index with a potential maximum of 100 points.  New York’s current index stands at 89.3 – a “B+” grade that bests the national average of “C+” by 11 points.

Why do we generate such a high ranking?  It is because New York state answers YES to every one of the following questions:

  • Do we have state early-learning standards aligned with elementary grade academic standards?
  • Do we require districts to assess the readiness of entering students?
  • Do we have programs for children not meeting school-readiness expectations?
  • Do we have kindergarten learning expectations aligned with elementary-secondary standards?
  • Have we defined college readiness?
  • Do we require all high school students to take a college preparatory curriculum to earn a diploma?
  • Are course credits required for the diploma aligned with the postsecondary system?  (This does not include assessments)
  • Does our K-12 system have a definition of work readiness?
  • Do we offer a standard high school diploma with career specialization?
  • Do we offer pathways leading to industry-recognized certificates or licenses?
  • Do we offer pathways to earn credits to transfer to postsecondary educational systems?

By whatever performance measures we use —

(1) to predict the chances of life and career success for our children and youth;

(2) to assess the comparative standardized achievement of our students and improvement in those indicators over the last decade;

(3) to evaluate the systems and standards we’ve put in place to ensure smooth and effective transitions from learning in early childhood through college — the data tell a committed, passionate story about the accomplishments of New York public schools.   Without sustained and continuing state AND local funding, our story may deteriorate into a profile of mediocrity.

Financial issues in a severe economic climate will be subject to the bargains and vagaries of politics.  But money has produced far more quality education for our children and adults than political rhetoric, smoke and mirrors might suggest.  It has produced consistently outstanding results that get better every year.

Of course, continuous improvement is imperative.  But make no mistake about this: improvement demands reliable investment, just as it demands reliable performance and standards.

It makes no sense for our governor to misrepresent the performance of our public school systems for political purposes of expediency.

Our story did not just happen.  New York state’s public educational performance and future potential clearly demonstrate that our communities have expected a great deal from our public schools.  They have gotten it.

They will continue to get it if they continue to invest willingly in public education based on data-based proof that public schools are the single best stimulus for New York’s economic and civic future.

Primary Source: Education Week, “Quality Counts.”  Volume 30, Number 16, January 13, 2011.

Dr. Jeffrey M. Bowen


Yorkshire-Pioneer Central School District

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