Experts Agree, Ed Challenges Poise Major Test; Time to Act is Now

"If we're not careful, education reform will collapse under how complicated we’re making it... At the end of the day, it has to be simple - set goals and evaluate goals." 

-Bridgeport Public Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas

“If you’re not helping a school get better, when you go up for tenure, that needs to be called out.”

Sharon Robinson, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, shared those strong words during a conversation on “An Agenda for Public Education: Challenges and Possibilities,” which was recently hosted by the newly-formed CUNY Institute for Education Policy.

Education experts addressed - and offered solutions for - some of the most pressing issues facing New York’s students. Because the challenges are so great, solutions on multiple fronts are required. They all agreed, however, that the time to act is now.

“We need to develop a strong, worthy education workforce – in the Common Core and our commitment to equity. We need to do it faster, cheaper and better and it’s everybody’s job,” said Robinson, whose organization provides professional development for teachers and school leaders.

David Coleman, president of the College Board, also spoke at the event that was moderated by David Steiner, founding director of the Institute. Coleman said the College Board is picking up the slack where others have left off in making sure that high-performing, low-income students have access to rigor and go to college.

“Forty thousand students in the highest quartile of the PSAT and SAT don’t go forward. These students can go forward and they are in our care,” he said. To tackle the problem, the College Board, which works to ensure all students have access to a higher education, is working with students in low-income areas to make sure they apply to at least four colleges “in a thoughtful way,” Coleman said.

Education Commissioner John King said part of the problem is people wanting to wait for reform. “Waiting almost always means never to the disadvantaged. We’re not waiting,” he said.

Of the 74 percent high school seniors who graduated in 2010, only 35 percent were prepared to enroll in a four-year college, he said. King said the answers are improving the Common Core and preparing, training, evaluating and supporting teachers.

Coleman said teachers should also be held accountable. “It doesn’t honor teachers when 98 percent are rated effective and children hold a 70 percent remedial rate. It’s not OK. You can’t have respect without professional responsibility,” he said.

And Bridgeport (Conn.) Public Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas said problems arise when students don’t have access to early childhood education programs. “We will not close the achievement gap until we offer early childhood education,” he said, later adding that school districts need to also focus more on parents.

“We have to train the next generation to be parents. Any program we offer should have early literacy, stronger accountability and a parent component,” Vallas said.

When asked by Steiner if part of the problem is how education reform is perceived in the media, King said, “The challenge is to have a deeper conversation about how to change the outcomes.”

But Vallas warned that the education reform conversation is getting too complicated. “If we’re not careful, education reform will collapse under how complicated we’re making it… At the end of the day, it has to be simple – set goals and evaluate goals.”

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