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Karen Magee: The Next Chapter For Education

  The resignation of John King as New York State Education Commissioner has the potential to be a significant turning point for public education.

King’s departure presents a real opportunity – an opportunity NOT to criticize anew but to, instead, hit the “reset” button  and steer public education in a more positive direction.  

Teachers want a serious conversation about what’s needed in this next chapter for the state’s public education system.  And, they want to be a part of that conversation with the Regents and other stakeholders.

The sharp disagreements between parents, teachers and students and Commissioner King and his Department are well-documented – the rushed and flawed implementation of the Common Core… the over-reliance on standardized testing… and a broken teacher evaluation system that mistakenly boils all that a teacher does inside and outside the classroom into a single – and often inaccurate – number.

Rather than dwell on the past, however, it’s time to look forward.  For that, I think about my experiences teaching in Harrison, in Westchester County, and everything I know about public education.

In successful public schools, there is always a nurturing environment built on respect, trust and true collaboration.  The voices of all the stakeholders are carefully considered. The goal is true consensus – buy-in, if you will – from parents, teachers, students and the community.

In vetting the next education commissioner, we want the Regents to, first and foremost, select an impassioned advocate for children and what they –and our public schools – need most.

The next education commissioner should be a heralded educator who respects parents, teachers and students.

And, New York State needs an education commissioner who listens carefully… who is willing to learn from others and compromise… and who understands that successful school communities – an entire public education systems – are built on a foundation of collaboration, consensus and compromise.

New York already has a very strong public education system.  Objective rankings regularly put New York’s public schools in the top tier of states, despite a grinding cycle of poverty that afflicts too many students and too many schools.

NYSUT wants to work with the next education commissioner to build on New York’s many strengths and wipe out any weaknesses – among them a stubborn achievement gap that hinders too many from being positive contributors to our state’s economy.

It all starts with respect… trust… partnerships… and meaningful collaboration.

Turning the page and moving the entire public education system forward requires a State Education commissioner who understands it, lives it and breathes it. Without that in place, I fear our efforts to improve New York’s already strong public schools will be in vain.

Karen Magee is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

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