ALBANY, N.Y. September 6, 2012 - As a new academic year begins, New York State United Teachers today issued a report highlighting impressive gains by New York's public schools and colleges, but said the state's dramatic progress is jeopardized by budget cuts that have wiped out billions of dollars in state support for public education since 2008-09.
NYSUT's report, Taking Stock: A Progress Report on Public Education in New York State (PDF), uses new research as well as national studies to demonstrate that educational success is significantly deeper and far more widespread than has been recognized by policymakers, politicians and the press. The union, however, also emphasizes in its report that celebrating educational success does not mean "ignoring the very real needs of students who are not yet achieving at a level necessary for success in school and in life."
"No one knows better than those in engaged in education how significant the challenges are and how urgently the achievement gap must be addressed to further improve public education at all levels and for all students," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "At the same time, public discourse about New York's public schools and colleges can - and should - recognize that New York's public education system is among the best in the nation."
The NYSUT report underscores that, when the bells ring to start classes this week, New York's public schools will be operating with $1.1 billion less in state aid than in the 2008-09 school year, at a time when academic demands are rising and the property tax cap is undermining the ability of local communities to adequately fund their schools.
NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said New York has reached a critical juncture. "New York is making tremendous strides forward. Our education system stands at the top tier of states, yet the gains students and educators have made have not been adequately recognized," she said. "We hope this report will help serve as a counter-balance and lead to a more balanced discussion of what we are doing well, where our system still needs to improve, and what resources are needed to continue our forward momentum."
Neira noted the report raises an important question: How can the Empire State protect its education gains and retain its place at the top? "The answer is clear: New York must support the momentum students and educators have achieved by making a sustained, significant investment in education," Neira said. "Policymakers and elected leaders must look at public education as a long-term investment in the state's economic future, not as an expense to be pared when times are tough."
Using State Education Department data, as well as national media reports and other studies, NYSUT found that:
New York's graduation rate increased 19.9 points from 1999 to 2009, second-best in the nation. Over the last seven years, 255 school districts increased their graduation rates, many by double-digits. Thirty-one percent of districts - or 195 - had graduation rates of 90 percent or more in June 2011.
The percentage of students graduating with a Regents diploma reached 66.7 percent in June 2011, nearly double the 35 percent of students who earned Regents diplomas in 1988-89. Eighty-seven school districts reported at least 90 percent of their graduates earn Regents diplomas and 141 districts experienced at least a 20-point gain in graduates earning Regents diplomas from June 2004 to June 2011.
New York ranked second in the nation with 26.5 percent of its graduates participating in the Advanced Placement program and scoring at least a 3 on AP exams. Over the last decade, the number of African-American and Latino students taking AP exams has more than doubled.
Eighty-one percent of the June 2011 graduating class entered college, tying for New York's highest mark since 2003 and well above the 63 percent of New York high school graduates reported to enter college in 1980. Many rural and small city school districts are among the 175 which reported at least 90 percent of their June 2011 graduating class enrolled in college.
Six New York community colleges are among the nominees for the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, while SUNY and CUNY campuses continue to rank on "best colleges" lists published by Forbes, Newsweek, Kiplinger's and U.S. News and World Reports.
The full report is available for download in the PDF format.
NYSUT, the state's largest union, represents some 600,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education and health care and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.