At Charity Panel, Discussion on Future of Ed in New York

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan applauded New York State’s education reform efforts, and encouraged the state to keep on the path. Duncan spoke at the annual Philanthropy New York meeting and expressed his support for the tougher teacher evaluation systems, more rigorous academic standards and regular assessment exams to monitor student progress. To those who might object that the state’s pace of reforms is too fast, he responded that the country is being left behind because it was unable to produce graduates prepared to tackle the new tech-heavy jobs after leaving school.

Also speaking at the meeting were the Superintendent of the New York City Schools, Dennis M. Walcott, and state education commissioner John B. King, who discussed the hot-button education issues facing the state, including the upcoming adoption of the Common Core Learning Standards.

The Common Core focuses on higher-order thinking skills, like problem solving, making effective arguments and thinking creatively. New York City started its transition to the new curriculum last school year, and state math and reading tests are expected to integrate Common Core standards next year.

The new standards will require a new testing regime to make sure the students are meeting and exceeding the new educational benchmarks. Dr. King also noted that it was important that the tests should make use of new technology to make administration and grading easier and quicker. In his remarks, Dr. King foreshadowed the state adoption of new computer-based assessment, scheduled begin rollout in 2014-15.

“That will give us the opportunity to have more innovative items, to ask students to create mathematical models on the screen, to have students type their essays rather than write their essays to be able to make the sort of edits that they’d have to make in the workplace to their writing,” he said.

King also addressed the controversy over this year’s nonsensical test questions, which drew scorn and opprobrium from anti-testing advocates, parents and the news media. King said that the education authorities are committed to applying greater scrutiny to exams, which are designed by Pearson, going forward, but added that the tone of the conversation has gotten really acrimonious since people are using the fracas as an excuse to push their own agendas.

“The tenor of the discourse is so acrimonious, and there is such a sort-of gotcha culture around assessment,” he said, “in part because we are asking more of the assessment system.”

Duncan wrapped up the talk by encouraging the assembled audience to continue giving both generously and intelligently, especially when trying to identify worthy recipients in the academic field.