The New York State Education Department has posted the job of Commissioner of Education. The stated qualifications are boilerplate and underwhelming. I suggest that NYSED’s HR department amend the posting to add the following.
Applicants for the position of Commissioner of Education must demonstrate
- The ability to inspire the state’s professional educators to extraordinary levels of performance.
- Evidence of having eliminated wasteful, bureaucratic burdens on school districts.
- A history of transparency as a leader.
Inspiring a professional workforce
We all know from press accounts, social media and conversations with our neighbors that New York’s K – 12 educators are dispirited, disillusioned, discouraged and in some cases defeated. Yet according to research, “Teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling.”
Clearly, to fulfill our students’ potential, teachers need to be energized, engaged and empowered. Who better to provide that inspiration than the state’s top education leader?
A successful Commissioner of Education will inspire the state’s professional educators to extraordinary levels of performance.
Eliminating wasteful, bureaucratic burdens
NYSED micromanages school districts, regularly imposing onerous requirements that sap their precious local resources. Consider one example: the Local Assistance Plan (LAP).
Any school tagged for under performance by the state’s opaque accountability system is required to complete a LAP that includes a self-evaluation comprised of 20 focus areas called tenants of school reform covering a total of 220 repetitive, sometimes poorly articulated criteria. Because the threshold for “highly effective” is very hard to meet, the majority of ratings are “effective,” “developing,” or “ineffective.” Yet any focus area not achieving a rating of “highly effective” requires an improvement plan including action steps, resources and professional development.
Consequently, a typical LAP requires upwards of 20 separate action plans. Perversely, an area deemed “effective” requires the same attention as an area deemed “ineffective.” This is a stunning waste of time and resources. No rational planning process would treat an area that is rated “effective” with the same resources and attention as an area deemed “ineffective.” Only a cynical or incompetent bureaucracy would impose such a pointless, burdensome requirement.
A successful Commissioner of Education will eliminate wasteful, bureaucratic burdens, thereby freeing up local resources to be directed to student needs.
New York State’s accountability system is opaque. It should be transparent.
Working closely with school superintendents, principals and improvement teams, I have noticed a striking phenomenon. No one understands how the accountability system works any more. For example, schools that are identified as requiring a LAP — or those excused from that requirement — do not clearly understand why. They have no idea what the calculation is that invoked or removed the accountability requirement. This is not surprising. The NYSED’s technical documentation is three pages long and filled with so many algorithms and caveats that it’d make anyone’s head swim.
One of NYSED’s most important metrics relates to “college readiness.” For example, a recent press release states that among 2014 graduates the “percentage of students performing at the college-ready level in English Language Arts and Math increased only slightly from 37.2 percent to 38.1 percent.” These figures are based on calculating the percent of a cohort that has graduated and scored a 75 or above on the English Regents exam and scored 80 or above on a math Regents exam.
This is clearly an unusual metric. Where did it come from?
Many NYSED presentations state that “a score of 75 on Regents English and 80 on a Math Regents … correlates with success in first-year college courses.” But where is the evidence of that correlation? Even with Google’s powerful search, I have failed to find a cogent technical study or white paper on the NYSED website — or anywhere else for that matter — that supports this assertion. An inquiry to NYSED’s Information and Reporting Services produced this explanation: “I believe that study is buried somewhere in Board of Regents minutes.” (A subsequent email to me included a link to a series of one-off memos and presentations none of which rose to the level of a professionally prepared research brief.)
Because so much public policy rides on this controversial “college readiness” calculation, shouldn’t a study or brief demonstrating the correlation be readily available for review and scrutiny?
A successful Commissioner of Education will ensure that the accountability system is transparent. Calculations for accountability will be clear and easily understood. Research defending those calculations will be readily available for scrutiny.
Let us know what you think
What do you expect from a new commissioner of education? What knowledge, skills or other leadership qualities must the new commissioner demonstrate to be considered for the position? What are your threshold qualifications?