ALBANY, N.Y. May 9, 2012 - In the latest in a series of success stories about the state's public education system, a national magazine ranks New York second in the nation in the number of "gold medal" high schools that are doing an exemplary job of preparing students for college.
New York State United Teachers, however, said today that deep cuts in state aid to school districts, the new tax cap and a broken state testing system threaten to undermine that high level of student achievement.
U.S. News and World Reports, in its current edition ranking "America's Best High Schools," rated New York second to California with 68 "gold medal" high schools, while awarding 174 high schools "silver medals" and 128 "bronze medals" based on student performance on a wide range of measures, including Advanced Placement exams. Hundreds of additional New York high schools also made the list of 22,000 successful high schools, but did not receive medals in the magazine's rankings.
"This is just another affirmation that dedicated and talented teachers who, every day, put students first provide a winning formula in what truly is an exemplary public education system," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "Of course, that same level of success is not yet in every school district and we still face many challenges, including the question of how long New York can stay at the top in the face of deep state aid cuts; an onerous property tax cap; and a broken testing system that is narrowing the curriculum and hurting children."
Iannuzzi noted that state operating aid for schools in 2012-13 will be $1.1 billion less than in 2008-09, while an undemocratic tax cap is crippling the ability of local communities to raise money to make up the difference by allowing 40 percent of voters to dictate how much is invested in school programs. Advanced Placement courses, which help New York succeed in national rankings, have been chopped in virtually every school district, denying high-achieving students opportunities to demonstrate their academic prowess.
Meanwhile, NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira noted that teachers are increasingly concerned that the unrelenting focus on state tests is having a harmful effect on students while hindering real learning. Delegates to the union's recent Representative Assembly adopted a resolution urging the State Education Department to reduce the focus on questionable standardized tests in favor of other measures of student learning that are more "accurate, fair and appropriate."
Teachers want better tests and the ability to use more of their professional judgment - changes, she said, which would enable them to help even more students show high levels of achievement.
"The State Education Department must do a much better job," Neira said. "Students and teachers deserve tests that are valid, reliable and fair measures of the high level of learning that is taking place in our classrooms."
Still, she noted, the U.S. News and World Reports' rankings underscore the success that dedicated and caring teachers are having despite fiscal challenges. The rankings, she added, are just the latest in a flurry of positive reports about school achievement.
In Education Week's annual "Quality Counts" report released in January, New York schools ranked third in the United States, behind only Maryland and Massachusetts. In each of the six education indicators used for the rankings - chance for success; K-12 achievement; standards, assessments and accountability; teaching profession; school finance analysis; and transitions and alignment - education in New York met or exceeded the national average.
In addition, CNBC issued a report showing that education in New York was tops in the nation in 2011 for what businesses need. More than 100 students from across the state were named semi-finalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search. New York students represent approximately one-third of all the semi-finalists.
"These rankings - presented without the taint of politics or ideology - demonstrate that, despite what some naysayers claim, we're doing a good job and the students in our state are the beneficiaries. It's time we start celebrating our schools," Neira said.
NYSUT, the state's largest union, represents more than 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.