State education reform commission gets an earful in Syracuse

Aug 15, 2012

The state commission that is supposed to come up with answers to the problems in public education in New York is in the midst of a statewide fact-finding tour.  They are getting an earful about how to improve schools, including when they came through central New York Tuesday.

Expanding pre-kindergarten and spreading resources evenly among schools around the state are some of the major suggestions.

Chidlcare Solutions Executive Director Peggy Liuizzi says pre-K is  a proven way to boost education results.

"When we have good quality childhood experiences, it lasts through being ready for kindergarten, being able to read in third grade, it's really the foundation children need to succeed," said Liuizzi.  "And we really want to see that investment in New York state expanded. There's not enough services, not enough programs."

Parent Talahna Jones sees the proof first hand. Her son Kareem Tajay has Down syndrome and is flourishing in third grade in the Syracuse City School District -- success she pins on his experience in a pre-K program.  

"We know without early intervention, without pre-school, he wouldn't be where he is today.  He's just a different boy," said Jones.

Jones and others emphasized the need for pre-K if the state is going to turn around it's educational ranking.  

Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed the New York State Education Reform Commission to try to turn around statistics that place New York 34th in test results, but first in education spending among states nationwide.  

The commission, appointed by Cuomo, is supposed to come up with a series of proposals to do that by the end of the year.  

So far commission Chairman Dick Parsons says hearings have pointed to a need for more pre-K programs, as well as a need to more equitably reallocate resources.  He admits their final plan could be controversial.  

"Somebody's ox has gotta get gored, and to those who's ox gets gored, they'll be controversial," Parsons said. "But what we gotta do, is what the slogan says, 'putting students first.'"

Will they be able to do that?   Margaret Diehl of Parents for Public Schools of Syracuse says the commission may have good intentions, but that may not be enough.

"A lot of this, especially the funding, is with our elected officials, and that is such a hot potato.  And that's where I see the problem," said Dahl.

School funding was effected this year by the state's new mandated property tax cap. It is one of many factors that have caused some to call for more equitable distribution of funding to schools across the state.

Among those testifying at the hearing, Kari Eger Brecht, a Spanish teacher in the Syracuse City School District, wonders if another mandate -- the state teacher evaluations -- tell the whole story.

"In the system we are presently in, with all the focus on evaluation and test scores and data, everything seems to boil down to numbers," said Brecht. "And when it comes to evaluating a good teacher, you need to look at more than a score on a sheet, you have to look at the whole teacher."

The preliminary recommendations from the commission are due by the end of the year.