Local school superintendents organize education forum at SBU

(Courtesy photo by Stony Brook University)
School superintendents David Gamberg, Steven Cohen and Michael Hynes have scheduled a public forum on March 13 at Stony Brook University’s Wang Center. (Courtesy photo by Stony Brook University)

Speaking out against a recent push in state-mandated education testing just isn’t enough for some local superintendents.

After months of giving New York State’s Regents Reform Agenda a failing grade in the public sphere, three local superintendents have set up a forum to be held next month at SUNY/Stony Brook. There, they plan not only to discuss what’s wrong with the new system, but also to bring in individuals who have studied foreign education and have them speak about how the state can fix what they say went wrong.

Michael Hynes
Michael Hynes

“If I had to narrow down what’s wrong, what needs to be fixed is the idea of standardized testing of students, and the inability of schools allowing teachers to build their capacity within the schools,” said Michael Hynes, superintendent of the Shelter Island School District. “And certainly, how everything is tied into teacher performance.”

Mr. Hynes and superintendents David Gamberg of Southold and Steven Cohen of Shoreham-Wading River have invited professors from, among other institutions, Harvard University, Boston College, New York University and the University of Toronto to participate in a panel discussion at Stony Brook’s Wang Center on Thursday, March 13, at 7:30 p.m.

“We have to look introspectively, as well as globally, to see how we can develop a culture of how we are going to be more effective going forward,” said Mr. Gamberg.

David Gamberg
David Gamberg

Two of those invited professors — Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan — co-wrote “Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School,” which explores “a vision for the future of the teaching profession where we get a high return from teachers and teaching by investing in, accumulating and circulating the professional capital of the teaching profession,” according to Mr. Hargreaves’ website.

NYU professor Diane Ravitch, author of “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” will also attend. Pasi Sahlberg,who hails from Finland and currently teaches at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, is also expected to join the panel.

Mr. Gamberg said both Canada and Finland — where two panelists have studied extensively — routinely find themselves near the top of international student test scores. A report by the Programme for International Student Assessment, which tests 15-year-olds around the globe, showed that in 2012, Finland and Canada ranked 12th and 13th, respectively, in math, reading and science. The United States lagged behind at 36th.

Diane Ravitch
Diane Ravitch

“It would be silly for us not to learn from what they are doing,” said Mr. Hynes.

Mr. Cohen said state legislators will be asked to attend and listen in on the discussion with the visiting professors — one of whom is expected to participate remotely via Skype . All members of the state’s Regents Board, and even Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will also be invited, Mr. Cohen said.

In 2010, the Board of Regents released policies known as the Regents Reform Agenda, designed to prepare students for college and 21st-century careers, close the achievement gap and instill a lifelong love of learning in children.

In recent weeks, the state has responded to public outcry over the rollout over specific parts of the Regents Reform Agenda — most recently delaying by five years Common Core scores required to graduate from high school — but Mr. Gamberg said much more needs to be done, and next month’s forum can help shape that debate.

“It’s insufficient,” he said. “We’re not getting at the core issues we think need to be addressed. They come back with tweaks that don’t deal with the kind of personal development and learning community based on trust and respect that will yield the kind of results we’re not going to achieve under high stakes accountability testing.”

Steven Cohen

While organizing forums aimed at changing state policy might not come to mind as typical of a school superintendent’s responsibilities, Mr. Gamberg said it evolved rather naturally and is something he’s been glad to take on.

“I believe very strongly in the public education system,” he said. “I believe we have to strengthen the public school system, as it’s part of the fabric of our state and nation, and vitally important to the success of our democracy … The way to get there is to build communities that have quality universally. Not to tear them down and wreak havoc.”

About 250 seats will be available for the event, which is free and sponsored by SUNY/Stony Brook, Dowling College, the Suffolk School Superintendents Association and the Long Island Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Individuals interested in attending should email [email protected].

[email protected]