Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability

Warmed-Over Reforms Won’t Help Students

By B. Jason Brooks, Buffalo News, January 7, 2013

The report of preliminary recommendations from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s New York Education Reform Commission issued last week started off right, finding that “New York lacks an effective ‘system’ of education.” But the overall package of reform recommended thus far offers little hope of delivering improved academic outcomes for current students. The underwhelming recommendations more accurately reflect the common laundry list of wishes we’ve been hearing at the Capitol for decades from the education establishment, and most are along the lines of what might have been considered cutting-edge policies during the first Cuomo administration a quarter-century ago, but now lack the magnitude of change needed.

Of additional concern is that most of the substantive proposals also will add significant costs to the state’s most-expensive-in-the-nation educational system.

While the commission’s recommendations are all good ideas, most merely tinker around the edges of reform rather than provide a detailed, comprehensive action plan to move the state to where it needs to go. Policies to expand prekindergarten, provide more social services in school buildings and use more technology in the classroom, and attempts to improve teacher preparation would all receive the teachers union’s gold seal of approval, but fail to provide a concrete vision for improving the state’s schools.

Examples of policies that would fulfill what Cuomo described in April 2012 as an “open-ended mandate” for the commission to improve educational system include the following:

•   Mayoral control: Replace dysfunctional boards with a mayoral control form of governance similar to what has worked in Yonkers and New York City.

•   Parent trigger: Empower parents to form “parent unions” with the ability to petition for a redesign of their children’s persistently failing public schools.

•   Opportunity scholarships: Provide publicly funded scholarships to students trapped in failing public schools to transfer to better-performing private schools of their choice.

•   Pension reform: End unsustainable financial commitments to teachers by raising the retirement age, replacing pensions with reasonable 401(k)-style plans and adopting more modest retirement-benefit packages.

•   Teacher performance reviews: Ensure that the state’s teacher evaluation systems are implemented by requiring districts that fail to implement a plan on time to implement an innovative, high-quality state-mandated “default” plan.

The commission’s final report is scheduled for release in the fall, long after this legislative session is expected to end. With that, the commission has a chance to make its final product far more valuable than what New Yorkers saw last week.

B. Jason Brooks is director of research for the Albany-based Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability.