Education policy divides 19th Congressional District candidates
The two major-party candidates in New York’s new 19th Congressional District have significantly different views about what the federal government’s role in education should be.
Both candidates — Democrat Julian Schreibman of Stone Ridge and U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook — criticized the direction of U.S. education policy under the former President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” act and current President Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiative, each of which relies heavily rely on standardized testing to identify issues and reward or punish individuals or school districts.
But the two men disagree about how to move away from those policies.
Schreibman said last week that he supports national standards for student achievement, but he described the direction of the federal government under Bush’s and Obama’s policies as overly bureaucratic, inflexible and inattentive to educational experts.
“We need national standards to ensure kids are getting a good education,” Schreibman said. “We need to know where we need to improve and what’s not working.”
Gibson said the federal government should set goals, provide information about best practices and share data among states that want to conduct standardized testing but that Washington should leave setting standards to states and regions to give different parts of the country flexibility to meet their regions’ economic needs.
“It makes sense to me that a rural county like much of Ulster County, that the curriculum in Ulster would be refined and have some differences from, say, the Bronx,” Gibson said.
The first-term congressman cited a collaboration between Delhi-based Sportsfield Specialties, a manufacturer or sports equipment, and Delaware County BOCES as an example of how a region’s workforce needs can help drive educational programs.
The Sportsfield operation relies heavily on aluminum welding, an expensive program that many BOCES branches no longer can afford. To help the Delaware County BOCES continue to provide the program, the company began donating aluminum scraps to BOCES, then when students graduated from the program, Sportsfield hired them, Gibson said.
Instead of encouraging that type of system, “what we have done is we have created a culture of test taking,” Gibson said. “... (Teachers) feel their work in the classroom is, in many ways, constrained by the requirement of excessive testing. What I want to see us do is recognize that this is not working and to roll it back and to empower our teachers, administrators and parents to get more local control over education.” Continued...
Schreibman said he, too, supports state and local control of schools to gear academic programs to the needs of their home regions, but he believes standardized testing is necessary as a uniform way to measure student progress.
Still, the Democrat said, the system needs to be better balanced to ensure the school experience does not become all about standardized testing and that students do not lose too much instructional time as a result.
Schreibman said policymakers should collaborate with teachers and administrators to strike the right balance.
Gibson said the current reliance on test scores and the new focus on evaluating teachers through their students’ scores on standardized tests have unintended consequences like creating a disincentive for the best and brightest prospective teachers to work in poor, urban districts, where students have greater needs and lower test scores.
Schreibman sees a place for student performance to be used in teacher evaluations, but like everything else, he said test scores need to be balanced with other factors, like classroom observations, to create fair evaluations.
“As a society, we want to know schools are doing their very best for our children, but I’ve never spoken to a teacher that didn’t also want that,” Schreibman said.
Schreibman said he also supports committing an “appropriate” amount of federal money to education, which he said is not the case for his opponent.
According to Schreibman, Gibson supports eliminating the U.S. Department of Education, which Schreibman said would result in the end of popular programs ranging from Head Start to Pell grants.
Gibson’s campaign replied that the congressman is interested in administratively reorganizing federal agencies to find efficiencies but not in eliminating important education programs.
In fact, his campaign said, Gibson has voted to increase funding for Head Start by $400 million, increase support for Pell grants from $14.2 billion in 2008 to $22.8 billion now and keep the interest rates on student loans from doubling.
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