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NYSNYS NEWS: Schools the focus in Albany Tuesday as educators call for better teachers, higher standards with less emphasis on testing. Video included of Corinth principal Meade.

NYSNYS NEWS: Schools the focus in Albany Tuesday as educators call for better teachers, higher standards with less emphasis on testing. Video included of Corinth principal Meade.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (December 15) — New York’s costly and chronically underperforming public schools must do more to improve teachers, educate students, and reduce the need for remedial classes for students unprepared for college level work, educators said Tuesday.

The calls for higher standards for both teachers and students came as the Board of Regents voted to recommend a $2.4 billion increase in state aid to education, driving more money to districts “with special needs, English language learners, and those from low income homes,” Regents Chancellor Merry Tisch said.

The proposal would raise General Support for schools from the current $23.1 billion to a new high of $25.2 billion, and provide $345 million on top of that to expand pre-Kindergarten and fund other support programs. The most recent figures from 2013 show New York spends $19,818 per pupil on public schools, the highest in the U.S. and almost twice the $10,700 national average. Utah spends the least, at $6,555 per student, according to Census Bureau figures out this past summer.

At the same time, the graduation rate in New York was 76.8 percent, among the lowest in the nation. The national average is 81.4 percent, with New Jersey and Texas both in the upper 80s. New York’s rate is even lower for poor students, 67.5, compared to 73.3 nationally.

“Obviously, the problem is poverty,” Assemblyman Phil Steck (R-Bethlehem) said at a press conference held by United University Professions, the union representing SUNY staff. UUP wants the state to create a new program to recruit minorities and low-income college students to study to become teachers.

UUP President Frederick Kowal said more teachers are needed who come from the poor communities that need the most help. A recruitment program “is meant to increased the diversity in New York’s teaching ranks. It will also create a pipeline of energetic qualified young teachers to districts facing teacher shortages.”

He said the number of students studying to become teachers has dropped by 40 percent since 2008. The state is also facing a shrinking student population as the baby boom has gone away. The Empire Center has reported that the student enrollment in public schools has dropped by more than 300,000 in the past decade.

At the UPP press conference, Assemblyman Phil Steck (D-Colonie) blasted standardized tests and paying for-profit companies to prepare the exams. “Testing, testing, testing … makes effective teaching virtually impossible especially with all the paperwork associated with that,” Steck said.

At at later press conference held by the group Educators 4 Excellence, teachers said the state’s evaluation system must be changed. The Regents voted Monday to decouple student test results from teacher evaluations, a longtime goal of the NYSUT teachers union.

Lisa Meade, the principal of the Corinth Middle School in Saratoga County, said there was an overemphasis on both testing and the new Common Core standards that are intended to set annual learning goals for each grade.

“Teachers are not afraid to be evaluated and they are not afraid of tests,” she said. “They just want tests to be implemented correctly and for evaluations to be meaningful.” Putting more emphasis on principal’s evaluations and less on test results would be helpful, she said.

After testifying at a hearing Tuesday on changing demographics in higher education, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said it was important to pursue higher learning standards but decoupling it from the issue of teacher evaluations was a good idea.

“Our commitment to high standards is intact, and our commitment to getting the best, most appropriate assessments is our next degree of work,” she said.

Because many students are unprepared for college level work, SUNY has recently announced a new math remediation instructional program for all community colleges and four-year colleges that request it. The math tutoring comes as SUNY spends $70 million annually on remedial English classes for community college students who can’t do college work.

The remedial courses are intended to prepare students to take actual college credit courses. SUNY requires all students to pass courses in math and other subjects in order to be eligible to graduate from a four year college.