Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s newly created New York Education Reform Commission met for the first time in Manhattan yesterday to discuss its agenda, though little of substance emerged from the meeting.
Commission Chairman Richard Parsons and 21 of its 25 members attended. The formerly 20-member group was expanded earlier this month to include a parent advocate, a school board member and a superintendent after criticism of its makeup.
Parsons was quick to stress the importance of the commission in shaping education policy in New York State.
“We don’t get this right, everything else is going wrong,” he said.
The commission is focusing on seven priority areas, all of which have been fulfilled successfully in many cases in New York, but not always.
“We’re doing a lot right in New York… but it’s not system wide,” Parsons said. “How do you replicate excellence across the system? That’s really the challenge that we have.”
The seven priority areas were split up among working groups: New York’s public education system; teacher and principal quality and school district leadership; and student achievement and family engagement. The groups will report their findings to the chair and commission.
There was some confusion over the overlap among working groups. Commission members questioned where topics like special education and pre-K programs fall.
But Parsons said it would be too “challenging” not to break up all the work.
“A smaller group can really spend their time and then report back to the large group,” he explained.
Commission members also expressed confusion over the 10-stop “listening tour” they will undertake across the state starting in two weeks and running until October, with the New York City stop on July 26. They have yet to decide on a length and format for the public meetings, although the Governor’s staff said it was their responsibility to choose it.
“Two weeks from now we’re going to have to be ready to go,” said Elizabeth Dickey, president of the Bank Street College of Education and chair of one of the commission’s working groups. “I’m feeling uneasy that we don’t know how we’re going to structure them.”
A three-hour timeframe was suggested, with Senator John Flanagan proposing testimony be submitted ahead of time and not read aloud to streamline the process. However, some members dissented.
“People are yearning to have their voices heard,” AFT president Randi Weingarten said. “I just think there should be a way of hearing them.”
Michael Rebell, executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity, suggested extending the length of the public meetings.
“I suspect in New York City, for instance, you’re not going to be able to accomadate the number of people who will want to speak in three hours, so I think we’ve got to be flexible,” Rebell said. “I hate to have this advertised, have people come out, and feel that they’re being shut out.”
“I want to make these hearings as understandable as possible for the public and for us,” he added.
Rebell’s inclusion on the commission, as a well-known critic of Cuomo’s policies, was applauded by advocacy groups.
“We need more of those really staunch supporters and advocates on the commission,” said Alliance for Quality Education organizer Zakiyah Ansari.
Besides Rebell, the recent addition of school board member Patricia Gallagher, superintendent Jessica Cohen and Parent Power Project Executive Director Carrie Remis to the commission was well-received.
“There’s more balance now than there was in the past, and we’re thankful for that,” said Statewide School Finance Consortium Executive Director Rick Timbs. “We hope this, unlike previous… commissions, will come up with something actually viable.”
–Reported by Nina Goldman
By Cristian Salazar on June 27, 2012, 10:53 am
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