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24th November

First Published in The New York Sun, November 24, 2006

By Andrew Wolf

If New Yorkers were hoping that on day one of Governor Spitzer’s first term everything would change, a close inspection of the membership of his transition committees — named last week — will surely quell their hopes, particularly regarding education.

If this education panel emerges as an influence on the new administration, expect education reform in the Empire State to lag. New York spends too much for meager results in its K-12 programs, pays lip service to academic standards, and is home to a state university that barely registers on the national academic radar screen.

The membership of the panel comprises, for the most part, those who have brought the state to the point we are at now. If there were ever to be the equivalent of a trial for the failed educational establishment, many of these individuals would be the defendants.

The four co-chairmen of the committee include a former member of the Board of Regents, Carl Hayden, who served nine years as chairman. Mr. Hayden believes in all the right things, such as high standards and rigorous testing, but under his watch, the state never seemed to get there.

Another is the president of ultra-progressive Bank Street College of Education, Augusta Kappner. The ideas put forth by institutions such as the one Ms. Kappner heads have led the trek to mediocrity. Ms. Kappner’s prior service as a mayoral appointee on the city’s Panel for Educational Policy offers a glimpse into her philosophy. When the mayor and chancellor announced the program to require that third-graders demonstrate minimal skills on standardized tests in order to be promoted to the next grade, Ms. Kappner opposed this effort to end “social promotion.”

A third chairman is the former president of Cornell University, Hunter Rawlings III. While at Cornell, Mr. Rawlings showed little interest in ridding the school of political correctness. Progress at Cornell is now measured by the number of “Diversity Arches” erected on campus. Perhaps his vision for improving the state university is to bring these red arches to SUNY campuses as well.

Rounding out the “diversity” among the chairmen is the superintendent of the Rochester schools, Manuel Rivera, who will assume the top job in the Boston school system next year. Rochester’s schools are not anywhere as good as New York City’s or even those in Yonkers, but better than those in Syracuse or Buffalo. Only 26.3% of eighth-graders in Rochester are reading at grade level, as compared to the awful 36.6% here in Gotham. Good luck to the students in Beantown. If Mr. Rivera’s record in Rochester is any indication, they are on the fast track to nowhere.

Unable to achieve academic progress for Rochester’s students, Mr. Rivera’s vision is to use schools to provide social services. Toward that end, he has established the Rochester Children’s Zone to create “a community network that supports children and families around the clock.” The educational establishment, which will do anything to divert attention from its failures, loves this kind of stuff. The American Association of School Administrators named Mr. Rivera the 2006 National Superintendent of the Year, despite the fact that nearly three-quarters of his eighth-graders are illiterate.

The other members of the committee include Richard Beattie and Robert Hughes, two officials of the group I have often identified as the epicenter of the “permanent government” of New York City’s education system, New Visions for Public Schools. They have exerted a measure of control over the ideological direction of city schools through the administrations of Chancellors Green, Fernandez, Cortines, Crew, Levy, and, yes, Klein.

Another familiar name is that of Anthony Alvarado, the former chancellor and district superintendent who promoted such now discredited, but still utilized, pedagogies as whole language and fuzzy math, before failing dismally with the same agenda in San Diego. It is his mistakes we need to fix.

If there is one man responsible for the mess in the way the state runs the schools, it is James Kadamus, the recently retired state deputy superintendent for elementary, middle, secondary, and continuing education. On his watch, the state’s testing program has deteriorated into a Keystone Kops operation known for it misprints, mistakes, miscalculations, and missed deadlines. This is the office where Mr. Spitzer needs to begin any reform. Bringing in Mr. Kadamus sends the wrong message.

There are some bright persons among the members of the committee, but the common thread is that they are all members of the current establishment. There are few innovative voices for change here.

New ideas are precisely what Mr. Spitzer needs, particularly in light of the fortuitous decision regarding school funding handed down by the Court of Appeals. Rather than simply throwing money at the schools, the new governor now has an opportunity to focus on how that money is spent. Don’t expect any new ideas from this crew.

© 2006 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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