One of the most intriguing proposals in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s State of the State address centered on a subject to which he has devoted significant attention over the past two years: education.
Cuomo wants the school day or the school year – or both – to be longer, and he suggested a way that it could be done. The only questions are whether the money and the will exist to do the job.
The need is beyond dispute. As Cuomo noted in his speech, New York’s school schedule is tied to an agrarian society, where kids helped out on the farm after school and during the summer. It was a scheduling necessity. But there’s no 11th commandment that says, “Thou shalt have 180 school days and be sure the kiddies are home by 3:30.”
Cuomo had a number of other proposals to improve education. He wants full-day prekindergarten classes in the state’s poorest districts, a “bar exam” type of test for all new public school teachers and $15,000 stipends for top teachers to instruct other teachers.
Students in this state and across the country are falling behind their peers in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. Not only do other cultures seem to value education more than Americans do, but they put their money where their mouths are.
In Australia, students attend school for 200 days. In China, summer vacation extends from the middle of July to the beginning of September, and even that time off is usually spent learning. In Denmark, the school year starts in early to mid-August and ends in late June.
That may not have been important a generation or two ago, when the American economy was more insulated from the rest of the world. But things have changed. Competition for jobs is more acute with companies’ ability to move their facilities and to leverage the power of the Internet.
American students are starting out at a disadvantage because they can’t compete well with students from countries that place a higher value on education.
Cuomo wants to change that. His idea is general at this point, proposing to extend the school day or school year or both in districts that want to do that. The big stumbling block, of course, is money, since extending the school year will cost more in teacher time, administration, maintenance and so on.
Last week Cuomo took that objection off the table, saying the state would pay 100 percent of the additional costs. Exactly how a state facing serious money problems will do that is, at this point, unknown. Cuomo has also wisely promised not to raise taxes, and the state is already facing an estimated budget deficit of at least $1 billion, and likely more in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
But the goal is correct, the direction urgent. Schools around the state have a lot of work to do to meet the needs of their students. That includes all of Western New York, and especially Buffalo.
If we want our students to be able to compete in an ever-shrinking world, then Cuomo’s proposal, or something like it, will have to be adopted.