EDITORIAL: New York's new education commissioner

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The New York Board of Regents' choice of a new education commissioner, David Steiner, says a lot about where leaders want to take public education.

Better classroom instruction is at the top of the list, and Steiner - currently dean of the Hunter College School of Education - indicates that he will look at changing teacher certification as a means to that goal. More emphasis on the arts, a commitment to closing achievement gaps, better use of testing, and raising graduation standards - these are all excellent ambitions.

Steiner's first public statements also acknowledged a need to change the culture at the state Education Department, from high-stakes regulator to a service organization that helps schools. Another fine goal.

While Steiner's background appears to have prepared him well for those challenges, he will, after all, be heading a bureaucracy in the state of New York. So he'll need strong political skills, too. We hope he'll walk across the street to the State Capitol to build relationships. School funding, a major budget item in our deficit-challenged state, is the opposite side of the coin to much-needed property tax relief. The previous commissioner, Richard Mills, didn't involve himself in such matters. We need a commissioner who lets us know where the department stands.

Yesterday, Steiner twice ducked a question about tying teacher tenure to student test scores - an astute response. His political skills may be surfacing already. hN


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