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Gary Rubinstein’s Blog: The Suggestions of the New NY Education Reform Commission

In April, 2012, The New NY Education Reform Commission was created by Governor Andrew Cuomo.  The members of the committee are a diverse group ranging from high profile ‘reformers’ like Waiting For Superman hero Geoffrey Canada to low profile ‘reformers’ like Waiting For Superman villian Randi Weingarten.  They released two reports recently, a 92 page ‘Education Action Plan’ and a 70 page ‘Final Action Plan.’

The first thing that was pretty hard not to notice was the title of these reports, ‘Putting Students First.’  Which, I’m not joking, can be accessed at, a domain, I believe, they registered at

I’m disappointed that Randi Weingarten would sign her name to reports with titles borrowed from Michelle Rhee, and which suggest that ‘reform’ is needed because the system up until now has been all about what’s good for the ‘adults’ (to say this word correctly, in this context, you have to sneer when you say it) even though it was generally at the expense of the ‘students.’

Their six recommendations outlined on page 10 of the ‘Final Action Plan’ are:

1.  Expand early education because it is critical for getting students on a path to success.

2.  Expand the use of technology in our schools, especially schools that have not been able to keep pace.

3.  Reward the best and brightest educators, especially in our struggling schools.

4.  Replicate programs that connect high school to college in order to create greater college opportunities, especially for underrepresented students.

5.  Strategically invest in higher education to successfully connect students to the workforce.

6.  Focus on efficiencies to reinvest administrative savings into the classrooms.

While number 3 is clearly going to be a reference to merit pay based on standardized test scores, all the suggestions sound reasonable enough, almost obvious.

The first recommendation for early childhood education is something that pretty much everyone can agree upon, and it serves as a nice way to get everyone in a good state of mind.

The second recommendation about expanding the use of technology is already worrisome.  On page 34 of the ‘Final Action Plan’ it describes a miracle program, which I had never even heard of:

Another example of innovative use of technology in educating students is being pioneered by Classroom, Inc (CI). CI has developed a unique learning program, which uses online game-based learning to improve literacy, critical thinking, and non-cognitive skills while addressing and assessing grade-specific Common Core State Standards in reading and writing.

CI has also seen positive results through their summer programming, when students typically suffer a learning loss. Students in New York City, Chicago, Memphis, and Newark gained an average of three months in reading and seven months in math knowledge after just four to five weeks of Classroom, Inc’s technology-based summer curriculum.

I should mention that I am in favor of some technology.  There is an incredible free program called ‘GeoGebra’ which enables students to explore geometric relations (and an even better, not free but pretty inexpensive, alternative called ‘The Geometer’s Sketchpad’)  I think, though, that most money on technology is wasted on programs like the one described above with their amazing claims of advancing students 7 months in five weeks.

Also on the same page:

Providing open access to instructional material and curricula on the internet “cloud” using the latest hardware technology—tablet computers, interactive software, and online learning—can make a real difference in educating our children. More importantly, these technologies can provide individually-tailored instruction to students.

I wouldn’t mind getting some tablets, actually.  The question is whether or not the cost of these devices is worthwhile.  Perhaps one day a tablet will be $50, but with iPads now and the forthcoming Amplify tablet from Joel Klein, I don’t know that prices are going to be driven down if Apple and News Corp have anything to say about it.

Recommendation 3 is the one that suggests merit pay.  On page 36 of the ‘Final Action Plan’ it says:  “A quality teacher is perhaps the best thing a student can have to be successful in life.”  A few lines later there was an amazing citation “teachers account for one-third of a school’s total impact on student achievement” with to two research reports.  Now I know that some educational research is a bit unscientific, but still this is the first time I’ve seen this quantified.  We so often hear, as is stated on the line before this in the report, “The Commission understands that teachers are the most important influence on our students’ success throughout the education pipeline,” but then they are saying that teachers account for one-third.  So I’d be curious to see some kind of pie chart of what makes up the other two-thirds.  There would have to be a bunch more categories for the one-third teacher slice to truly dominate all the others.

The rest of that section does mention other types of incentives other than test score based merit pay like, for example, paying teachers more to teach at high poverty schools — something I’m not opposed to.  But on page 37 of the ‘Final Action Plan’ we are reminded:

Similarly, the process established in the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR)—New York’s teacher and principal evaluation system—states that the results of a teacher’s review “shall be a significant factor for employment decisions including but not limited to, promotion, retention, tenure determination, termination, and supplemental compensation…”

On page 18 of the ‘Final Action Plan’, in the section about expanding alternative certification programs, it claims “Compared to graduates of traditional teacher preparation programs, alternate route teachers typically have higher individual academic performance” with three sources.  As many of the alternative certification programs have extremely short trainings, like TFA and TNTP with five weeks, I am certain that their first year teachers don’t have very high individual academic performance, at least by any authentic measure.

One last part I wanted to mention is related to mentions of Teach For America in these ‘Putting Students First’ reports.  Page 58 of the ‘Education Action Plan’ says a lot about how TFA serves as a model of something that is working.  It begins with a quote from a TFA staffer:

“Teach For America has been working for over 22 years to recruit, train and support mostly recent college graduates who are both committed to closing the achievement gap for the students they teach during their initial corps member experience and committed to fighting the causes of the achievement gap over their lifetime, as alumni of our program.  TFA’s model successfully identifies teachers who will have a positive impact on student achievement, and also helps to predict who will be most successful from the beginning of their time in the classroom in year one. Several rigorous, external studies demonstrate the positive impact of our corps members, as well as the growing number of our teachers who have had transformational impact on students, garnering national, state, and local teacher awards. We see the evidence of the achievement gap and the need for high quality teachers in low-income communities across the state, and are open to the idea of expanding our program to other regions in New York.” Jemina Bernard, Senior Vice President Regional Operations, Teach For America; New NY Education Reform Commission Hearing, New York City, July 26, 2012

On that same page, the TFA training is described as one that should serve as a model for other alternative training programs, claiming it provides:

250 hours of candidate preparation before first entering the teacher candidate’s full-time classroom placement, such as the NY Teach for America summer institute.

This is a blatant lie.  Honestly, 250 hours isn’t very many, anyway, but it would be quite a stretch to call TFA’s 25 day institute 250 hours of candidate preparation.  While it might be true that they work for 10 hours a day, the amount of time spent in classrooms is generally under 20 hours for the entire summer.  I do think that some new TFAers have good first years, but those are people, I think, who accomplish this ‘in spite’ of the inadequate training they receive.

While these two reports are not completely bogus, like the TNTP ‘research’ which they unfortunately quote from time to time, I suspect that these will get interpreted by most policy makers as a support of corporate reform with more computers to do ‘personalized’ instruction, more common core assessments, and more test based merit pay.  The slogan ‘Putting Students First’ very clearly reveals the predominant point of view.

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Gary Rubinstein

Gary Rubinstein is a high school math teacher. He is the recipient of the 2005 Math for America Master Teacher Fellowship. ...