This Point of View was submitted by Dr. Patrick Michel, District Superintendent for the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES.
We are at a moment of decision, not just because it is the beginning of a new year, but because the opportunity now exists to embrace a path that insures a bright educational future for all our children.
I recently sat through a presentation from the College Board, the not-for-profit organization that produces the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). They have established a college and career-ready benchmark and are measuring states to see if high schools are producing seniors who are truly college and career ready. They calculated both a national average as well as state-by-state and school district-by-school district breakdowns. This presentation offered the report of their findings.
I will make two observations based on this report.
First, what we are doing now is evidently not working. The current SAT report sadly echoes the same tale that groups such as the ACT achievement test and the New York State Education Department have been telling for years, that students coming out of high school are not adequately prepared for success at college or in a career.
The data presented is shocking to this educator’s conscience. While the United States spends more than most industrialized countries on public education, our results are abysmal. According to the College Board, barely more than 39 percent of students taking the SAT in New York State are equipped to succeed in college or in a career. Nationally, the number is 43 percent, still less than half of the students taking the test.
The numbers for African-Americans and Hispanics are even more discouraging. According to the SAT, only 14.1 percent of New York’s African-American students are prepared to succeed in college or start a new job. Our Hispanic students perform a little better at 19.3 percent.
So, here comes the College Board with their benchmark on college and career readiness. Here is yet another organization—outside of public education—stating essentially that the Emperor has no clothes.
I would like to believe that with all the money we invest in New York State public education, that our students could excel on a test measuring college and career readiness; at least do better than the national average!
How unfortunate. More than half of the high school students looking forward to a college education (more like two-thirds of New York students) do not reach the benchmark indicating they are prepared to succeed at college or at a job.
My second observation is that the SAT has clearly embraced Common Core. Like it or not, if your school district is not using Common Core-aligned curriculum to prepare students, most will not get the SAT scores needed for admission to the college of their choice.
We presently have a public education system conceived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Much teaching still is done with students aligned in rows of desks, and many schools still run as if they are operating in the 1950s and 60s. This report, and others, illustrates the result of such thinking.
For more than a year, I have listened to the steady rant of people and groups objecting to the Common Core and any other attempt to reform public education.
As much as those leading the anti-common core charge would like us to think we should just do it like we used to do it, today’s reality demands change. Technology and progress are redefining the face of business and community life everywhere, and despite the nostalgia, the ways of the “good ol’ days” will not get our students where they need to go to succeed in today’s world.
Granted, the Common Core is not a panacea and, frankly, is already being outpaced by innovative educational reform around the world. However, Common Core is a step toward the goal, and those objecting have yet to produce a viable alternative.
So why is this important?
If you are fair-minded and look at the data coming in from all over the political spectrum and from both the SAT and the ACT, we can draw only one conclusion.
Because the existing public education system in New York State and the United States is not getting us to where we need to be, an effort to raise the standards so more students can be college and career ready is necessary. A coalition of states chose the Common Core as the strategy to achieve that end.
What is also important to point out is that both the SAT and the ACT have embraced the Common Core and that soon all children who take these gateway exams will be exposed to the standards that the Common Core represents.
So, here is the conundrum. The military, industry, higher education, government and now the SAT and the ACT are all saying we must raise standards and we need to teach differently. It is a matter of our standing in the world economy.
However, the only people not listening are the special interest groups in public education. What solution do they offer in the face of overwhelming evidence that the current system is failing?
Where is the comprehensive curriculum and reform ideas that will give our children a fighting chance in today’s global economy? Do the special interests actually believe that going backward to the good old days will better prepare children for the challenges of today’s world?
I see many groups putting an enormous amount of effort into getting more money to maintain their position in the pile. I wonder how much public education would improve if that same level of effort were applied to the real needs of students instead of the needs of adults protecting their turf.
What is most heartrending in this latest report is the fact that minority communities, those that are traditionally most underserved, are being manipulated by special interest groups to protect the status quo. Those most in need of a robust and successful public education system by all data indicators are the least served.
Most people in the education community will agree with me and say, “There’s nothing new in what you say, but what can be done?”
The difference now is that New York State’s Board of Regents is poised to select a new Commissioner of Education. The special interest groups, characterized by the Governor as “the Education Monopoly”, are lobbying hard for a pawn who will bog down forward-thinking change to protect their interests over what benefits the children.
Today is a significant moment of decision, and my sincere hope is that the Board of Regents will have the courage to choose a leader who will move us forward in the best interests of all students and their futures.
To read more from Dr. Michel, click here.