Education Reform and A Longer School Year
Earlier this month, on NBC’s Today Show, President Obama called for a longer school year, education reform, greater parental involvement, and the firing of incompetent teachers. President Obama also supports extending the school year. Our school year is based on an eighteenth century agrarian economy that America stopped being over 75 years ago. Children no longer have to help their farmer or sharecropper parents with the fall harvest and spring planting. The Japanese school year is 240 days and in India, it’s about 220 days. Our 21st century nation needs a 21st century educational program and academic calendar.
For the past few years, I have sponsored legislation extending the New York school year by two weeks. Both Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein told me that it would be too expensive. President Obama is right to reject that argument. Teachers and administrators are paid an annual salary. Some school buildings may need to be retrofitted for better cooling and air circulation. Summer meals programs can be folded into a longer school year. Those and other short term costs will be offset by the longer term benefits of a better educated and more productive workforce.
Presently, too few American students can handle math and science as well as their European and Asian counterparts. But I strongly suspect that our low-income students outperform their low income Asian peers. Poor Chinese, Indian and Japanese students have limited access to education, especially at the secondary school level. Educational opportunities are limited for rural Chinese and Indian students, especially those from the lower castes. Our challenge is too reduce the achievement gap between black and white students, poor and higher income students, and rural/urban and suburban students. Public charter schools, specialized public high schools, and Catholic schools are doing that, right now. Support for school choice programs, tuition tax credits, and charter schools must increase.
President Obama is on the right track when he calls for incompetent and ineffective teachers to be removed from the classroom. Union contracts and work rules seem to protect those unfit teachers who are able to game the system, thereby insulating themselves from termination. In every respectable profession, incompetent practitioners are weeded out. Why not in our schools? For too long, I was the lone Assembly Democrat urging an end to teacher tenure protections. I sponsored legislation tying teacher evaluation to student performance and ending the practice of “last in, first out” when implementing teacher layoffs. These stances placed me at odds with the state teachers’ unions. But now most New Yorkers have come to support my position. And now, so has the President of the United States.