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Group lists ideas to improve education

Tuesday, February 19, 2013
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— Raising pay for teachers, offering more early childhood education and increasing spending on poor school districts are among the recommendations a national commission on improving student achievement issued Tuesday.

The Equity and Excellence Commission, which was created by Congress, spent two years reviewing the state of the American education system. Its five major recommendations are: improving the way schools are funded; recruiting talented teachers to the profession; expanding early childhood education; meeting the needs of students in high-poverty communities; and improving the accountability of educators.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who discussed the recommendations in a conference call with reporters, said in far too many communities there is unequal distribution of resources. While money isn’t going to be the sole answer, she said, the federal government has a responsibility to ensure that low-income communities have the resources they need to compete on a level playing field.

Duncan said that students in poor school districts who start off behind in their academic careers need more resources. However, they are often taught by educators of lower quality. The report suggested bumping starting pay to $65,000 and top pay to $150,000 to attract more talented candidates to the profession.

“Talent matters tremendously. Great teachers and great principals make a difference,” Duncan said.

The commission also recommended that teachers pass a bar-type exam similar to lawyers to enter the profession. New York is currently considering that change.

The report also recommended increasing access to preschool, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also seeking to do. Duncan said that is crucial, especially in low-income communities.

“It has to start with high-quality early learning opportunities in disadvantaged communities,” he said.

The fact that there was an entire section on impoverished communities in the report pleased Schenectady City School District Superintendent Laurence Spring, who listened in on the conference call. Spring has been saying that school districts with high concentrations of minority students such as Schenectady are being particularly shortchanged in aid.

“I think these are some of the exact things that we’ve been talking about here — equity and excellence,” he said. “That’s the cornerstone of what we think our work is in this district.”

Spring said he supports the recommendation that the U.S. Department of Education make sure that aid is distributed fairly.

“I’m making the case that that very much is in the purview of the federal government and they should be stepping in to say that’s not OK,” he said.

Some of the report’s other recommendations, such as teacher and principal evaluation and improving teacher training, are already being implemented in New York state, according to Spring. Increasing access to early childhood education programs such as Head Start has also been proved effective in boosting student achievement, he said.

The commission also recommended changing the makeup of districts with a high percentage of disadvantaged students. It did not suggest how to do so, however.

New York State United Teachers is still reviewing the report, according to spokesman Carl Korn.

“At first glance, it appears to dovetail with the solutions we have been advocating for years, including the expansion of quality early childhood education programs and a much greater investment in public education, especially for those students in high-poverty school districts. We agree that ending the achievement gap and providing more equity in school funding should be a top priority,” he said.

 
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