A commission tasked with finding ways to improve New York's public school system on Wednesday recommended longer teaching days and academic years, teacher competency exams, more pre-kindergarten, district consolidations and the recruitment of top high school and college graduates as educators.
Many of the preliminary recommendations by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's NY Education Reform Commission have been proposed before but have been blocked by politics or lack of funding, obstacles that still remain, Cuomo acknowledged.
Other ideas are already in place to some degree and should be expanded, commissioners said, including using schools to address health, mental health and other social needs.
"The problem New York confronts, we concluded, is how to replicate these examples of excellence in every school district in New York; how do we create a statewide system of public education that ensures that every child will have the opportunity to get an education that will enable them to achieve their true potential?" commission Chairman Richard Parsons wrote in delivering the panel's interim report to Cuomo.
The report was drafted after 11 hearings throughout the state and testimony from more than 300 people.
While the commission's final report isn't expected until September, the governor might back some of the early proposals in his State of the State speech next week. He said he wanted time to study the report before saying which ones.
The commission noted that Finland recruits the top 10 percent of college graduates into teaching, while the U.S. draws from the bottom third or half. New York, the report said, should raise admissions requirements for those pursing education careers and establish an entry exam like those taken by lawyers and doctors.
Richard Iannuzzi, president of the New York State United Teachers union, said the commission's findings are in line with the American Federation of Teachers' recent call for an exam for future teachers as part of a more universal approach to teacher preparation.
"It really starts with a culture in a country," Iannuzzi said. "Finland is a great example of a culture which places such value on education and on teaching as a profession that the best of the best candidates want to be part of it."
Cuomo organized the commission of business leaders, educators and parents in April 2012, noting that New York spends more money per student than any other state but ranks 39th in high school graduation rates. About 73 percent of New York's students graduate from high school.
"I think the management of the system can be improved. I don't think we're getting our money's worth from the current system," Cuomo said Wednesday. "I don't think we measure it. I don't think we've held people accountable."
The findings are in line with the state Board of Regents' ongoing reform agenda and its goal of preparing every high school graduate for college or a career, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said.
The recommendations also drew praise from various advocacy groups, including the Alliance for Quality Education, which singled out the proposal to expand full-day pre-kindergarten programs, and Massachusetts-based Time to Succeed, which backed a recommendation to expand the school day and year to raise student performance.
"This is a huge step for New York and for New York school kids," Luis Ubinas, president of the Ford Foundation and co-chairman of Time to Succeed, said in a statement.
But the New York State Association of School Business Officials worried the report didn't identify ways districts would pay for the expanded learning initiatives. Executive Director Michael Borges said other recommendations would come with added reporting requirements that would increase the burden on school business officials at a time when the report says back office operations should be further consolidated.
Associated Press writer Michael Gormley contributed to this report from Albany.