Albany Should Be Suspended from Schools
New York state’s centralized education policies are expensive, mandatory, . . . and not working.
by Dan Smith
Every year, Albany grabs more power over New York’s pre K-12 schools. Every year, costs go up. Every year, student performance remains stagnate or declines.
Why must it be this way?
New York State’s Education Department (NYS ED) gets many things backwards. Instead of empowering teachers, they box them in with more rules and more testing. Instead of decreasing the state education budget to match New York’s declining population, they increase their spending every year.
The facts are clear. According to the US Census Bureau, New York state spends more per pupil than any other state on K-12 public education—more than $21,200 per pupil. We have 12.7 students per teacher (which is eighth best in the country); and we’re paying our teachers most, at an average salary of $79,200. Yet, despite these high costs and small class sizes, New Yorkers are getting a poor value. US News & World Report/McKinsey consultants say New York’s K-12 education ranked 33rd in both math and reading, 31st overall.
Money Wasted, Children and Taxpayers Suffer
The problems stem from Albany’s ever-growing centralized control, which requires too much testing and enforces too many silly, one-size-fits-all rules through unfunded mandates which give Albany unchecked power and an unlimited checkbook. That’s because all of the costs and obligations get pushed onto local school districts.
Costs go up and innovation is destroyed.
Our teachers are highly educated (including degrees in education and Master’s degrees) and trained. We’re paying our great teachers the most in the nation. So why not set these talented professionals free to address their classrooms’ unique needs?
The waste is seen most clearly in the amount of testing Albany requires, despite the lack of evidence that such testing improves students’ learning, much less prepares them for work and life.
The NYS ED requires seemingly endless testing of children in grades 3 – 8 and requires the Regents exams for high school students. This contradicts studies cited by education experts and President Obama himself that students are vastly over-tested and studies and experts which conclude that such testing doesn’t measure educational quality.
The NYS ED require the controversial Common Core education standards, despite New York parents leading the national charge to opt-out of its rigorous testing program. NYS ED tweaked its program slightly, but largely ignored the pleas of several hundred thousand New York parents, and kept the tests and Common Core program rolling along.
New York’s huge volume of testing yet low performance should clearly demonstrate that there’s a real problem. But nothing ever changes.
Perhaps the worst feature of centralized school control in Albany is unfunded mandates—expensive rules which Albany requires of local schools, but for which no funding is provided from the state budget. Unfunded mandates’ power creates all kinds of perverse incentives—Albany pays no price for the rules they require local schools to fulfill.
One school district compiled a list of the many dozens of unfunded requirements—the list is astounding.
With loads of rules and unfunded mandates, the amount of administrative spending at schools has grown dramatically. This answers a mystery which has confounded people for decades: if school spending has risen so sharply, why have class sizes not come way down and/or teacher pay risen sharply? It’s because the money doesn’t make it to the classroom–centralized rulemaking increases the need for overhead in the form of administrators who push around paper.
Worse, the spending always goes up, despite our population going down. The budget for the NYS ED is $35.7 billion in 2018—its sixth straight year of increases, despite seven years in a row of New York state losing about 100,000 people per year.
Time to Send Albany Home from School
We’ve all heard countless proposals to fix the existing education system. But you can’t fix the system when having the system IS the problem.
The best way to stop the madness is by eliminating the centralized rulemaking.
We need much more (if not all) control at the local level. Local school boards can address local needs—something Albany cannot possibly do. Local school boards can look try new things and pass the best ideas on to other districts, while quickly abandoning bad ideas—something which Albany has proven it cannot do, either. Better yet, each teacher can adapt their plans to fit the children in his or her classroom. After all, who knows the children better than a teacher working with that child and his or her parents?
Decentralization allows parents to have a greater voice in their children’s education and allows taxpayers to better hold local officials accountable. Local school boards will no longer be able to hide behind the excuse of a draconian Albany rules. If local schools are performing poorly, parents will vote with their feet, as well, sending a signal to local government that they need to change or get voted out.
When you pin down teachers and administrators, they express extreme frustration with the divergence between what they know they should be doing and what Albany requires them to do. They’re frustrated, which has led to teacher shortages. Several high school guidance counselors recently admitted to me that they were certain that New York’s Regents exams were an utter waste of time and money. When I asked why they still exist, they shrugged and said it’s always been this way—that you can’t change Albany.
But we can change Albany:
- We can elect state officials who put more control back to the local level.
- We can eliminate unfunded mandates—and require Albany to fund all of its rules and requirements themselves, thereby incentivizing fewer rules.
- We can foster innovation in teaching and encourage sharing of ideas of what works and what doesn’t—and allow those changes to be implemented.
The best way to make Albany more effective is to reduce the number of things it’s doing poorly. Mismanaging education has got to be near the top of that list.