With the new school year approaching fast, hundreds of public officials, industry experts and educators gathered on Thursday at City & State’s Education in New York summit to discuss the state of New York’s education systems and the issues that plague them.
In the first of five panels, three major players – state Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, New York City Council Education Committee Chairman Mark Treyger, and New York City’s United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew – took the stage to field questions about New York’s education agenda.
The panelists weighed in on a number of local issues, most notably teacher evaluations and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to scrap admissions testing for specialized schools. But first, the officials touched on a national issue that could impact every classroom in the state. Just a day before the panel, it was reported that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was considering allowing states to use federal funds to arm teachers with guns.
“Stupidity knows no bounds,” Mulgrew responded when moderator Alex Zimmerman asked the panelists for their thoughts on the issue. Commissioner Elia and Councilman Treyger shared similar sentiments. Treyger, a former teacher, simplified the proposal to an “out of touch” idea from someone who has never taught in a classroom. Elia unequivocally denounced the idea, saying the funds could be put to better use in a way that wouldn’t be potentially harmful to students and teachers.
“No matter how careful our educators are, accidents happen,” the commissioner said.
The topic that dominated the hour-long panel, however, was teacher evaluations: a topic Mulgrew called “the greatest challenge we face as a state.” Legislation was introduced in the Senate last session to delink students’ performance in standardized tests from teacher evaluations. Teachers argue that test results aren’t a meaningful measurement of students’ progress.
“How do you provide support to people when the rules of the game keep changing?” Treyger added.
The challenge, Mulgrew said, is balancing the need for consistent standards across schools with giving educators the flexibility they need to do their job well.
Elia said that the best way to find a solution is to turn to the people most affected. “Teachers and educators across the state should be the drivers on that decision,” she said, adding that a survey about what to do with the Annual Professional Performance Review was circulated to educators and received 21,000 responses.
When the conversation shifted to what to do with admissions tests for New York City’s specialized schools, all three panelists agreed that a student’s assessment should be based on multiple factors, as opposed to a single test. Both Mulgrew and Elia confirmed they would support de Blasio’s plan to do away with the current test and instead take the top performing students from schools all around the city. “It’s a position the UFT has held for years,” said Mulgrew, although he lamented what he said was the haphazard way the plan was pulled together.
Treyger was similarly unhappy with the way the plan came together. “I’m the chairman of the Committee on Education and I was not consulted,” he said, calling it “the 1.5 percent plan” – a nod to the small fraction of New York students de Blasio’s would actually help. He said he wouldn’t help lobby for the plan as it is.
“I’m waiting for a bigger plan,” he said. “A bigger vision.”
NEXT STORY: How to get to ‘50 by 30’