At the recent “Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce: Preparing Students to Compete in the 21st Century Economy” forum in Albany, New York, State Commissioner of Education John King joined education and industry leaders to discuss what New York and the nation need to do to connect education more directly to jobs. Below, Commissioner King speaks with Citizen IBM about his vision for education reform.
Citizen IBM: The November 2011 Center for an Urban Future Mobility Makers study indicated that only 28 percent of New York’s community college students complete their two-year associate’s degrees within six years. Meanwhile, 80 percent of students in The City University of New York (CUNY) require remedial work – courses that cost college tuition to catch them up on learning they should have received in high school. What guidance can the New York State Education Department offer to districts around the state to help their schools improve their graduates’ preparation for college and career?
Commissioner King: It has never been more critical for students to be college and career ready when they graduate high school. To secure the long-term success of New York and the country, we need to better ensure that students are provided a world class education to compete in the 21st Century global economy. Far too many students require remediation once they get to college, and we know that the more remedial courses a student takes, the less likely it is that the student will stay in college and finish his or her degree.
The Board of Regents Reform Agenda is a direct response to this challenge, and focuses on what matters most: what teachers teach and how they teach it. Specifically, the Reform Agenda focuses on:
- College and career readiness standards – the Common Core State Standards adopted by 45 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Department of Defense schools – that are backmapped grade-by-grade from the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college all the way back to kindergarten;
- Comprehensive assessments;
- Data-driven instruction so that educators can tailor instruction on a real-time basis to meet the needs of their students;
- Recruiting, retaining and rewarding effective educators; and
- Turning around our lowest performing schools.
In addition, the Regents have taken comprehensive action to strengthen standards and increase rigor. For example, over the past several years, graduation requirements have become more rigorous and general education Local Diplomas have been phased out. In addition, the Regents raised the “cut scores” on grades 3 – 8 English language arts and mathematics exams to more accurately measure proficiency. Even with these actions, graduation rates have continued to steadily increase, and stand at 74 percent.
The Regents also have established Aspirational Performance Measures to better measure College and Career Readiness, and results for two such measures – Advanced Regents Diploma percentage, and the percentage of students who graduate and earn a 75 or greater on their English Regents, and an 80 or greater on a mathematics Regents – are reported for all school districts.
We have made significant progress towards meeting our challenge, but the improvements have not been fast enough. As we continue to implement the Regents Reform Agenda, more and more students will be in classrooms led by effective teachers and in schools led by effective principals. These changes will better ensure that students who graduate high school and enroll in college have opportunities to be successful and complete their degrees.
Citizen IBM: In Brooklyn, New York, the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) – a public-private partnership among the New York City Department of Education, the New York City College of Technology (City Tech), The City University of New York (CUNY), and IBM – has achieved breakthrough results in attendance, retention and promotion rates. Many in P-TECH’s inaugural class (currently in 10th grade) already are taking college-level STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) courses, and are meeting New York Regents’ and other standards for advanced competency. What is the best approach to replicating P-TECH’s success throughout New York State?
Commissioner King: P-TECH is truly a model for public-private partnership and the Regents and I are committed to being partners in the replication of similar schools statewide. The early success of P-TECH, I believe, is due in large part to the quality planning that occurred before the school even opened its doors, the sustained commitment and involvement of IBM to help shape the school, and the vision and leadership of the principal, Rashid Ferrod Davis, who has been able to take the vision of the school and implement it so well.
While it would be easy to focus on the barriers to replicating a school like P-TECH, the fact that it exists and is already achieving important results suggests that the barriers can be overcome. Schools like P-TECH require investments of both human capital and financial resources. That is why the Regents have proposed legislation to provide ongoing and sustainable funding for Early College High Schools such as P-TECH through the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). Enactment of this legislation would go a long way towards enabling schools like P-TECH to develop in other areas of the state. Beyond this legislative proposal, it is also important to note that there are several grant programs supported by Race to the Top funds that could be leveraged on programming similar to P-TECH.
Perhaps a more challenging barrier, however, is the development of the partnerships that are required for programs like P-TECH to thrive statewide. The incredible partnership between the New York City Department of Education, The City University of New York, and IBM requires significant time, effort, commitment, and resources. That is why Chancellor Merryl Tisch and I were pleased to co-host a conference of school district, higher education and business leaders with our partners at IBM and The Business Council of New York State, Inc. to help bring these key stakeholders together so these partnerships can begin to develop.
Citizen IBM: What are some of the “best practices” that you are seeing throughout various school districts in New York State, and how can these practices be shared across the system?
Commissioner King: As I travel the state, I am always pleased to be able to visit principals and teachers who are wholly committed and working incredibly hard every day to better ensure that students are college and career ready when they graduate high school. Generally, those schools that are performing at high levels understand and demonstrate a sense of urgency around getting the work right for the benefit of their students. These schools are implementing Common Core lessons – whether of their own creation or based on our modules – and are incredibly focused on data and its analysis so that they can learn from what they have done thus far.
Another common characteristic is that these schools have colleagues learning from each other, both from team meetings and from peer coaching. There is undoubtedly a school principal initiating and supporting discussions around good instruction and providing concrete, actionable feedback from classroom observations.
A couple of my recent visits come to mind: I was impressed at East Syracuse Minoa Central High School last year by how committed the staff was to finding a “hook” for every student to inspire, challenge and engage their student body. Teachers and administrators in the Webster Central School District are leveraging the Common Core and the new evaluation system to deepen a culture of reflection and drive improvements in instruction. And the East Greenbush Central School District uses a 21st Century distance learning lab to provide high-achieving students with access to AP European history classes. Of course, I’ve also had the opportunity to visit P-TECH, and as you can imagine, I was thoroughly impressed with the work being done in those classrooms.
As we continue to implement the Regents Reform Agenda, we have an incredible opportunity to provide turnkey training and share best practices with districts through the Network Team Institute. We are also sharing incredible resources with districts on EngageNY.org.
As New York State Education Commissioner, Dr. John B. King, Jr. oversees more than 7,000 public and independent elementary and secondary schools (serving 3.1 million students), and hundreds of other educational institutions across New York State including higher education, libraries, and museums. Commissioner King is a strong voice for education reform, and he was a driving force in New York’s successful Race to the Top application. A former high school teacher and middle school principal, Commissioner King has earned a national reputation for his vision and commitment to education reform.