At the 2012 NYS PTA State Convention, Commissioner King spoke about his goals for the department and philosophy with which he guides progress towards those goals. Overriding all of his objectives is the idea that all children need to be college and career ready when they leave school. Today New York State has approximately 75% of its students graduating and far fewer of those meet the definition of college and career ready. Admittedly, this is a pitiful bar for an industrialized nation no less a state with more medical universities than any other in the union.
Commissioner King touted the need for continuous improvement based on a standards map. He argued for professional development, data driven instruction, and increased principal effectiveness. (This mantra should come as a surprise for none, since it has been the statement of the Common Core State Standards, Gates Foundation, federal government and state government for the past couple of years. ) He defended the use of our 3-8 testing program and delayed results as autopsies that may not improve individual health, but may improve the health of the population. He also urged that they be used in tandem with frequent assessment to inform instruction. This philosophy has been the state education department’s defense of testing since NCLB went into place in 2001.
Some things in his speech were more novel. He promoted an improvement in the culture for learning where we protect and advance instruction with the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) as its centerpiece. He advocated for opportunities for the full range of students, both vocational and collegial. He stated that we cannot wait to start until kindergarten. Birth to school age programs need to be in place to help level the playing field for children at risk. Spending money on early childhood initiatives, rather than prisons after children leave school, is good for our society. He argued that we must partner effectively with parents and communities, teachers and principals to meet the needs of our children. When asked how he envisions integrating the various institutions that are part of the department of education with agencies in other departments, however, his response was weak. He commented that NY had not won federal funds to develop improved early childhood initiates so there were very few things that could be done.
In my opinion, if we are going to be dependent upon federal funds to meet the needs of our children, we will also be beholden to federal strings. People argued strongly for Race to the Top moneys and are now complaining about how they do not pay for the initiatives that they mandated, how they require testing and an anticipated narrowing of the curriculum as tests become more important to both teacher and principal ratings, and how administrations are looking at being overwhelmed by the teacher evaluation systems required to be in place. We cannot have it both ways, either we take the money and the rules or we figure out how to work smarter not more expensively to meet the needs the people in our state see for our children.