Luckily for us New Yorkers, the who-will-Obama-pick-on-education guessing game is just the tip of the speculation iceberg here. That’s thanks to Commissioner Richard Mills, who recently announced he intends to retire from his job as head of the state Education Department, opening the question of who will replace him.
One big job the next commissioner, whoever he or she is, will face is what to do about the growing storm of concern that the state’s educational standards are slipping. New York’s state tests have been criticized as giving an inflated sense of what students know; having big variations in difficulty level from year to year; and publishing optimistic reports on student progress — even when national tests show flat performance. These concerns have come from people as high up as the Board of Regents, which appoints the commissioner, and a top testing adviser to the State Education Department, so it’s hard to imagine they won’t have to be addressed.
Andy Wolf, once-upon-a-newspaper-time New York Sun columnist and Bronx newspaper publisher, is pushing a strategy for how to do this: replicate Massachusetts. Here’s what he says on his new blog (which makes him by my count the second New York City education pundit to move to the blogosphere):
Now is a good time to look at what was done in Massachusetts. Their education board raised standards, and aligned their tests with the federal yardstick. And there was some pain early on. But their strategy has paid off. Now Massachusetts posts the highest scores in the nation on the NAEP tests.
We need a State Education Commissioner who will put the interests of children first, even if it means that local educrats get some unpleasant news. We need a Commissioner who will emulate the Massachusetts model, one who will restore integrity to the Empire State’s compromised educational system, something Richard Mills never had the courage to do.