July 03, 2013

AQE 'report card:' Albany fails to make the grade

Source: NYSUT Newswire

The Alliance for Quality Education — one of NYSUT’s longtime coalition partners — has released its College and Career Readiness Report Card titled, Are We There Yet? The report card grades Albany on its progress in improving public education in New York state. Click here to read the report.

The report card found that the state was moving in the right direction in the areas of “providing quality pre-K” and “creating community schools.” However, the report card found that the state is moving in the wrong direction in the areas of “expanding learning time,” “providing challenging and engaging curriculum,” “creating a positive school climate and reducing suspensions,” and “investing in equity.” The report card gave the state an “incomplete” in “providing quality teaching Initiatives,” stating that there is not enough evidence to show whether or not the new teacher evaluation is a step in the right or wrong direction yet.

 “We agree with (Governor Cuomo), the state should be investing in full-day pre-K, high-quality curriculum, teacher mentoring, more time for student learning, and improving low-performing schools by creating community schools,” said Billy Easton, AQE’s executive director. “Now that the state is funding these successful educational strategies for less than two percent of New York students, the next step should be for the state to embrace the reality that we have a moral obligation to make these programs available to students throughout the state.”

The report card finds that, overall, New York is moving in the wrong direction because it is failing to provide large portions of students with these successful educational opportunities.  New York has created small grant programs in several of these areas, but those programs each serve less than two percent of students in the state.

 “The way that this state is treating my child’s education is just plain wrong,” said Natasha Capers, parent from Brooklyn. “The bare bones of education is unacceptable, and I’m angry that my child has less opportunities to succeed than other children in this state. The state must do its job, so that schools can do their job to give students an equal opportunity to succeed.”

Laurence Spring, the superintendent of Schenectady City School District who spoke at the June 8 “One Voice United Rally” added: “While the state provides more than 100 districts with more than 100% of their foundation funding, dramatically underfunded districts must compete for grant funding, placing them in the awkward position of cutting base programming but attempting to add experimental initiatives.  Schenectady is eager to embrace expanded early childhood and extended school-year/school-day opportunities. However, given that we receive such a small share of our foundation funding, we are cutting basic services that students need to be successful. 

“We need to do better. The recommendations of the Are We There Yet? report may ruffle some traditionalist feathers, but that is because they emphasize the best interests of the students,” said Patrick Michel, Hamilton Fulton Montgomery BOCES superintendent. “Based on international best practices, AQE’s report card shows the path to student success. The state should not ignore these recommendations if it truly wants to ensure students are college and career ready.”

“People are angry,” said Willie White, an education advocate in Albany. “They are angry that 35,000 teachers have been taken out of classrooms. They are angry that opportunities like art, music, drama and sports are on the chopping block. They are angry that the students who need our help the most are the ones suffering the worst fate with these budget cuts. This report card shows that New York is failing in its commitment to students.”

Since the 2007 court ruling in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, which states that New York has a constitutional obligation to provide all students with a “sound basic education,” the issue of equity and opportunity has been a consistent theme in the educational debate.

David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center in New Jersey, said New York is ranked 43rd in education funding equity and “is well behind the rest of the nation in closing the opportunity gap between high need and low need schools.”

“A system built on equity provides all students with high-quality curriculum and access to quality pre-K. In New Jersey, the opportunity gap is getting smaller because we invest in equity,” Sciarra added. “New York ought to do the same.”

 “There exists an elaborate narrative of denial perpetrated by conservative pundits, and echoed by some people in New York, trying to deny the fact that money actually matters a great deal when it comes to closing the gap in educational opportunity between students in wealthy and poor communities,” said Easton.

NYSUT, working with AQE and other education advocates, has been championing the issue of funding equity for many years and has long held the achievement gap has an organizational priority.