Report: consolidate districts, extend school days

NYS EXECUTIVE CHAMBER COURTESY PHOTO | Governor Andrew Cuomo in Albany Wednesday during his first cabinet meeting of the new year where the New NY Education Commission released its preliminary action plan.

Consolidate small school districts, develop a “bar-like” teacher exam and extend the school day and year are some of the recommendations a commission convened by Governor Andrew Cuomo has made in a report released last week.

Mr. Cuomo has said there’s a need for education reform because New York graduation rates lag behind most states, even though it spends more per pupil than any other state. Although New York spends over $18,600 on average per student, about 74 percent of students graduate from high school and nearly 36 percent are college ready, according to the 92-page report titled, “The Preliminary Education Action Plan.”

While the commission recommends that small school districts consider consolidation in order to increase savings and services, it recognizes the pitfalls of such a move.

“More than half of New York’s nearly 700 school districts educate fewer than 2,000 students, and yet many have their own administration and back office functions, often leading to unnecessary and expensive duplication of services,” the report states. “However, there are obstacles that stand in the way of school district consolidation, including potentially different tax rates between communities and the desire to maintain a sense of identity in small communities.”

Prospective teachers looking to enroll in preparation programs will need at least a 3.0 GPA and would have to pass a “bar-like” exam before entering into the education profession under the state’s preliminary plan. The new standards aim to ensure educators are ready to teach the Common Core Standards, which is a program that integrates learning in different subject areas while focusing on the literacy and mathematics skills needed for problem solving throughout educational settings.

As for the school day and year, the commission found New York should no longer operate its schools on agrarian and factory traditions.

“We must fundamentally rethink whether students need six months off from school every year,” the report states. “New York can, and must, do better to ensure that we are supporting students by providing quality, extended learning time in order to improve student achievement.”

The report also stresses the importance of providing pre-kindergarten programs and creating community hubs in school facilities by integrating local health and social services.

In addition, the commission recommends the state create more competitive grants for technology investments. The monies would be award to school districts that propose innovative ways to use technology, according to the report.

In April, the governor established the “New NY Education Reform Commission,” comprised of education, community and business leaders, tasked with developing an education plan from pre-kindergarten through college and career. Since then, officials said the commission has held public hearings throughout the state and has received thousands of written comments from students, parents, educators and residents.

The 25-member commission includes state Senator John Flanagan (R-East Northport), senate education committee chairman; John King, state education department commissioner; and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. The commission is chaired by Richard Parsons, former chief executive of Time Warner Corp.

Officials said the commission plans to further develop its recommendations and is expected to submit a final version of the reform plan this fall.

Scroll down to view the complete report. Read more in the Jan. 10 issue of The Suffolk Times in both our print and electronic editions.

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NYS Education Action Plan, 2013