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Editorial: School reform panel gets an 'incomplete'

Richard Parsons, chairman of the New York Education

Richard Parsons, chairman of the New York Education Reform Commission, speaks during a cabinet meeting on education in the Red Room at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. (Jan. 2, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his New York Education Reform Commission ought to be commended for their initial efforts to improve public schools throughout the state. The commission's preliminary report, published Wednesday, makes some sound suggestions to tackle problems so daunting and complex it's tempting to close the book on them altogether.

Yet despite this progress, the commission, led by former Citigroup chief executive Richard D. Parsons, clearly has more work to do.

The best of the ideas are sure to come with a hefty price tag in a state that already spends more per pupil -- $18,618, on average -- than anywhere else in the country. And despite such spending, 36 percent of students don't even graduate from high school, and significant numbers are not college-ready.

Generating ideas isn't New York's problem. The problem is getting them from preliminary report to classroom, and that includes paying for them.

Among the commission's seven recommendations in this "action plan" are providing more access to full-day prekindergarten, consolidating districts, sharing services, improving technology in the classroom, extending the school day and raising standards for teachers.

The ideas are laudable and some, like consolidating several of the 671 school districts throughout the state -- including 15 in Suffolk County with fewer than 1,000 students, which were highlighted by the commission -- sound familiar. Nonetheless, they haven't gained traction, in part because of a lack of political will and the fact that so many people like their small districts.

The commission, formed in April and made up of 25 governor-appointed members, came up with its suggestions after meeting with hundreds of students, parents, teachers and business leaders across the state.

The members promise a follow-up report in September, but anything short of a path to realistically funding and implementing these ideas won't make the grade.