January 13, 2012

Iannuzzi on the mission of the education commission

Source: NYSUT Media Relations

Audio of NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi's commentary is available online at

Richard C. Iannuzzi - The Education Commission's Mission

When Governor Cuomo announced in his State of the State address that he would be forming a commission on education reform, it raised as many questions as eyebrows.

In Albany as in Washington, there are commissions - and then there are "commissions."

There are those rooted in research and fact, seeking the truth. And, there are those whose outcome is known 15 minutes after the chair and members are announced.

The September 11th Commission is perhaps the best, most recent example of the former. That commission interviewed 1,200 people and reviewed more than 2.5 million pages of documents to gain a full and complete accounting of the September 11th attacks.

On the other hand, the latter-type of commission is often fine with giving the illusion of objectivity while pursuing a pre-determined political agenda. Imagine, for a moment, the appointment of a special commission to study new regulations governing the New York Yankees - then imagine that it's packed with die-hard Boston Red Sox fans.

You get the idea.

In the coming weeks, we will hear more about the Governor's education commission: its charge and its composition. For now, all we know is what the governor has said - that he is frustrated with what he sees as a lack of progress implementing New York's teacher and principal evaluation system.

Well, I am, too.

New York has an excellent teacher evaluation law. It has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the best in the nation, worthy of a $700 million Race to the Top award. In fact, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan traveled to Albany - and NYSUT headquarters - to learn more, and laud those who helped craft it.

The Governor is also right when he says that implementation has been a challenge. The incredibly complex work of doing it right has been bogged down by education cuts, the impact of a tax cap and the layoffs of thousands of educators.

It hasn't helped, as the US Department of Education has noted, that the State Education Department has failed to provide the data system needed to meet their responsibilities as part of the new plan. Nor has it helped that their own bureaucracy has resulted in the most vulnerable students being denied millions in desperately needed dollars despite districts making every effort to get the work done, and done right.

Ultimately, I welcome a commission that will look at the research and the facts.

I'm confident such a commission will find that educators, their unions and school districts are working hard to ensure that the new evaluation system is comprehensive, fair and rigorous, and that, together, they are striving for a system that improves teacher quality and enhances student learning - and they are taking the time to do it right.

If the commission, however, appears more rooted in ideology and politics - well we'll know soon enough as well.

New York's teachers and parents understand all too well about the pendulum shift toward an over reliance on standardized testing and on blaming teachers for the shortcomings of others.

And, New Yorkers are sophisticated enough to know when, like a commission stacked with Boston fans, the outcome is predetermined.

If that happens, you'll be able to hear the booing - from Buffalo all the way to the Bronx.

Richard C. Iannuzzi is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.


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