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New York Daily News


Wanted: A Real Education Mayor

June 17, 2013

By Sol Stern

How the candidates can get school reform back on track without buckling to the teachers’ union

When Mayor Bloomberg won control of the schools in 2002, he promised gains in student achievement no mayor could deliver. Eighth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — the single best predictor of kids’ readiness for college — barely budged between 2003 and 2011.

Bloomberg’s overwhelming emphasis on higher test scores caused real damage, including test-score inflation, cheating by educators and demoralization of classroom teachers.

And the public remains dissatisfied with Gotham’s schools. According to a poll of city voters commissioned by the Manhattan Institute, New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor: Almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28% who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

New Yorkers’ skepticism may be useful to the next mayor, finally allowing an honest conversation about how tough it is to overcome gaps in academic achievement between middle-class children and those from economically disadvantaged families. Yet educational improvement is possible, even in the toughest neighborhoods and lowest-performing schools.

The infrastructure for improvement is already in place, thanks to New York’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards. Common Core focuses on the content taught in the classroom, which most reform initiatives to date have ignored, and it is a dramatic educational upgrade.

A broad consensus exists among cognitive scientists that building broad content knowledge in the early grades is the best way to raise reading comprehension for disadvantaged children. A knowledge-based curriculum also provides the most promising long-term strategy for preparing all children, poor and middle-class alike, for success in college or for the 21st-century workplace.

There will be no overnight double-digit leaps in test scores, as were reported in the Bloomberg years and subsequently discredited. It will take time to change the culture of teaching and restore the priority of knowledge acquisition in the classroom. Many educators suspect that the Common Core is yet another fad; who can blame them?

The next mayor’s challenge will be to mobilize teachers, principals and parents to support the dramatic changes in classroom instruction that the curricula require. How?

By compromising on the divisive issue of using improvement in students’ test scores as a major element in individual teachers’ evaluations. Even education researchers who support the evaluations concede that they retain a substantial margin of error. Further, test-based evaluations encourage educators to cheat to get better scores for their students. Teachers also waste valuable time on test preparation — teaching children how to game the multiple-choice tests.

The next mayor should ask state Education Commissioner John King to allow for a moratorium on test-based teacher rankings in New York City, as American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten recently suggested. In exchange for that moratorium, the administration should ask the union to agree to some long-overdue reforms to the teachers’ contract — changes that would improve teacher quality and classroom instruction while also cutting costs in these tough fiscal times.

Here are two such reforms:

The contract has an irrational and wasteful pay schedule. Teachers enjoy substantial salary bumps for “educational attainment” based on no academic content at all. This has become a racket, with many teachers qualifying for salary increases by taking fluff courses from a host of providers. Teachers should qualify for extra pay only by passing rigorous academic courses that expand their knowledge.

A second absurdity in the contract is that it has nothing to say about teacher productivity. The only reference to teachers’ time on the job merely notes the length of the school day: six hours and 50 minutes.

Obviously, a teacher who works less than seven hours a day for the 180 days of the school year isn’t making much of an effort. Yet principals can’t hold teachers accountable for choosing to work the contractual minimum.

Teaching is labor-intensive and will become even more so with higher instructional expectations. So a top priority should be to set a higher minimum number of hours that teachers must work.

The next mayor must follow the evidence about the best education policies and refuse to become beholden to any interest group. The children of the city deserve nothing less.

Original Source:



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