New York State School Boards Association

NYS public education: Better than you think

On Board Online • February 21, 2011

By Jeffrey M. Bowen, Ed.D  

When presenting his state budget on Feb. 1, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed that we should begin to put kids first – oddly enough by spending less on them. He did his best to make the case that New York State both overspends and underperforms in education. This is either a misreading or misreporting of comparative data.

Based on the percentage of adults with high school diplomas, the governor said New York schools languish in 34th place among the states. But if we look at a variety of statistics, New York looks far better.

The Jan. 13 “Quality Counts” special section of Education Week provides excellent metrics. These measures: (1) predict the chances of life and career success for our children and youth (2) assess the comparative standardized achievement of our students and improvement in those indicators over the last decade and (3) evaluate the systems and standards we’ve put in place to ensure smooth and effective transitions from learning in early childhood through college.

A rundown:

Educational policy and performance. While the nation earns a grade of C for its educational policy and performance according to the latest surveys and analysis conducted by Education Week, New York maintains a grade of B (84.7) – second only to Maryland among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

High school graduation rate. Our high school graduation rate from public schools is 70.6 percent compared to the national average of 68.8 percent. Our improvement in graduation rate between 2000 and 2007 was 10.1 percent – the fourth largest gain nationwide.

AP scores. Only Virginia and Maryland have larger proportions of students who score three or above on Advanced Placement tests in grades 11 and 12. In New York, more than 30 of every 100 students who take AP exams score three or better. Our improvement on this statistic – 13 students per every 100 over the last decade – has exceeded the national average.

Pursuit of higher education. The biggest percentage difference between our state and the nation is the percentage of our young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 who are enrolled in postsecondary education or with a degree: 63.6 percent for New York versus 53.8 percent for the nation.  This suggests our students are inspired enough by our public schools to want to learn a good deal more and become better wage earners and enlightened citizens.

NAEP scores. Although New York’s grade is a C at 74.3 percent, only seven other states are ahead of us (three Bs and four Cs. Yes, the NAEP data show we can all do better. But given the criteria, which include equity – a big-time demographic challenge for New York – we are performing surprisingly well. On fourth-  and eighth-grade NAEP proficiency in math and reading, New York outperforms the national average on every indicator – considerably more so in eighth-grade math and reading.

Closing performance gaps. Our NAEP gains between 2003 and 2009 fall below the national averages, but signaling our progress is the fact that during this period we have dramatically narrowed the gap between the scores of students in poverty and those who are not. Our gaps have closed in both fourth and eighth grades. The margin of closure is by far the largest in the nation!  

Advanced proficiency on NAEP. Our percentage of students with advanced proficiency in NAEP math is above average nationally.

“Chance for Success.” Education Week has a “Chance-for-Success” index involving 13 different criteria across three stages from early childhood to adulthood. New York rates a B, while the national average is a C+. We substantially exceed national averages for family income, parent education, preschool enrollment, proficiency in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math (as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP), high school graduation, young adult education, adult educational attainment, annual income, and steady employment.   

Transitions and alignment

Education Week assesses “state efforts to better coordinate connections between K-12 schooling and other segments of the educational pipeline, with a particular focus on three stages: early-childhood education, college readiness, and the world of work.”

Education Week tracks 14 different activities to generate an index with a potential maximum of 100 points. New York’s current index stands at 89.3 – a B+ grade that bests the national average of C+ by 11 points.

Why do we generate such a high ranking? Credit the state Board of Regents and State Education Department, which have been focusing on this area. For New York, the answer is YES to every one of the following questions designed to assess transitions and alignment: 

  •  Do we have state early-learning standards aligned with elementary grade academic standards?
  •  Do we require districts to assess the readiness of entering students?
  •  Do we have programs for children not meeting school-readiness expectations?
  •  Do we have kindergarten learning expectations aligned with elementary-secondary standards?
  •  Have we defined college readiness?
  •  Do we require all high school students to take a college preparatory curriculum to earn a diploma?
  •  Are course credits required for the diploma aligned with the postsecondary system? (This does not include assessments.)
  •  Does our K-12 system have a definition of work readiness?
  •  Do we offer a standard high school diploma with career specialization?
  •  Do we offer pathways leading to industry-recognized certificates or licenses?
  •  Do we offer pathways to earn credits to transfer to postsecondary educational systems?

The data tell a committed, passionate story about the accomplishments of New York public schools.  Without sustained and continuing state AND local funding, our story may deteriorate into a profile of mediocrity. 

Financial issues in a severe economic climate will be subject to the bargains and vagaries of politics. But money has produced far more quality education for our children and adults than political rhetoric, smoke and mirrors might suggest. It has produced consistently outstanding results that get better every year.  Of course, continuous improvement is imperative. But make no mistake about this: improvement demands reliable investment, just as it demands reliable performance and standards.

It makes no sense for our governor to misrepresent the performance of our public school systems for political purposes of expediency. Our story did not just happen. Our communities have expected a great deal from our public schools, and they have gotten it. The good news will continue as long as we invest in public education, based on data-based proof that public schools are the single best stimulus for New York’s economic and civic future.  

Jeffrey M. Bowen is superintendent of the Yorkshire-Pioneer Central School District in Yorkshire, N.Y.

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