Friday, April 8, 2011

Season of Change for New York Education

New York is abuzz this week with news of significant changes to the educational leadership at both the city and state levels. First came a series of resignations over the last few weeks from the New York City Department of Education following the controversial appointment of Cathleen Black, a magazine executive with no teaching experience and no ties to the public schools, as Chancellor of the city's almost 1,700 hundred schools, serving over 1.1 million students. These resignations included deputy chancellors who managed such crucial areas as decentralization, admissions and school choice, finances, and community engagement.

Then, on Thursday of this week, came word that Ms. Black had resigned (at the request of the Mayor). Finally, later that same day, an announcement was made that the State Commissioner of Education, David Steiner, who had been in the position for only two years and who had grudgingly approved the Mayor's choice of Ms. Black (a requirement for her appointment) was leaving his position at the end of the year. Mr. Steiner stated that the occurrence of both resignations on the same day was simply a coincidence.

While the new State Commissioner of Education will be selected some time in the future by the New York State Board of Regents, the resignation of Chancellor Black was immediately followed by the appointment of Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott as her replacement. Mr. Walcott has a graduate degree in education, attended the New York City Public Schools, as did his children and, currently, his grandchild. He taught for two years and his responsibilities as Deputy Mayor included Education. Still, Mr. Walcott will require a waiver from the State Education Commissioner since he does not have the credentials in educational leadership that are required for the job.

Time will tell what these changes mean for the children and families of New York. But this might be a good time to set forth a short wish-list of things that can mean a great deal of difference to the children that are served by the City and State of New York.

  • We'd like to see real transition planning for students with learning and other issues, as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and New York law. All too often, planning for the transition from high school to the workplace, or post-secondary education, is cursory and leaves out many meaningful life skills. Students need to learn about their rights under education laws, and should prepare for  adult responsibilities such as money management, travel, and how to find a job. Students who intend to continue their education are particularly likely to graduate without these crucial competencies.

  • We'd like to see the diploma system modified and clarified for parents and students. The long-standing Regents diploma, New York's goal for high school graduates, may not be accessible for some students with learning and other disabilities. Right now there is a stop-gap diploma available to some students with a lower passing grade. But as that is being phased out, students who cannot pass Regents exams will be relegated to IEP "diplomas" which are not diplomas at all. We believe that it is important to maintain standards for all students and to help them reach as high as their abilities permit. But when  students are cut off from a real diploma it can be a serious impediment to their future endeavors. There should be a permanent, real diploma alternative available for these students.

  • We'd like to see schools provide excellence in special education services. Right now the City of New York is trying hard to keep students with learning and other difficulties in public school programs to save the substantial expense of paying for these students' education in private schools. But the services offered in New York City Public Schools often fall short of meeting students' needs, forcing parents to place their children in private settings and seek tuition reimbursements or to leave them to struggle with inadequate IEPs or IEPs that are not followed. It is a "penny-wise and pound-foolish" policy.

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