CRREO releases eighth Discussion Brief, “Federal Mandates on Local Education: Costs and Consequences – Yes, it’s a Race, But is it in the Right Direction?”

NEW PALTZ – The Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO) at SUNY New Paltz has released its eighth discussion brief, “Federal Mandates on Local Education: Costs and Consequences – Yes, it’s a Race, But is it in the Right Direction?”

The author, Kenneth Mitchell, district superintendent of South Orangetown School District in Rockland County and executive committee member of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents, reports that “There are serious challenges to (the Race to the Top) federal program’s validity, and the research upon which it is based. Without substantive validation, New York State and U.S. taxpayers are funding a grand and costly experiment that has the potential to take public education in the wrong direction at a time when we need to be more competitive than ever before.”

Mitchell details the extensive statutory and regulatory commitments made by New York State to be a Race to the Top winner. As a result of its adoption, every school district in the state, no matter how well students and teachers in the district had performed in the past, must revise curriculum, restructure assessment systems, reopen union contracts, adjust ongoing strategic planning, modify long-term budget plans, and fund new mandates. Mitchell also shows that the cost of implementing Race to the Top mandates well exceed the funding.

Much is being sacrificed to meet this expensive mandate in the context of the state’s newly enacted tax cap. Consequences include: teacher and staff cuts resulting in increased class sizes; redirected priorities and unmet facilities needs; diminishing professional development; narrowing of curriculum; and sacrificed leadership in curriculum development and non-traditional approaches.

The author concludes that New York’s leaders still have the opportunity to change course before the state’s school systems are radically and unalterably changed at a great short- and long-term financial cost to all taxpayers. Recommendations include: a mid-course assessment to determine progress for achieving real return on this costly investment; greater local flexibility in evaluation processes; more careful consideration of the technology infrastructure and testing cost implications; and better planning, especially concerning teachers and principals who may receive poor evaluations.

Gerald Benjamin, CRREO director and associate vice president for regional engagement, stated, “Education is our most important locally delivered service. As New York bends every effort to improve the results we achieve with and for our children in the classroom, this locally rooted, interesting and provocative essay promises to add an important dimension to the regional and statewide policy discourse.”

CRREO was established in 2007 to further engage SUNY New Paltz and its people with communities, governments, not-for-profits, and businesses across our region. CRREO conducts and publicizes research on regional topics; creates and directs select institutes focusing on specific topics of regional interest; connects and partners with local governments, not-for-profits, and businesses to initiate reforms and advocate for best practices; contracts to assess the performance of public and not-for-profit agencies and programs; and works to foster intergovernmental collaboration and community engagement.