Making standards standard makes a lot of sense.
So says Dick Iannuzzi, New York State United Teachers president, in regard to President Obama's challenge for states to adopt ''world-class standards'' for students to meet instead of the state-specific standards now in place.
''You'll have a child come out of a high school in Mississippi and be an honor student, and a young student having a Regents diploma out of New York state with a B-minus, and there's no question that (the New York student) is a far superior student because of what is required to be defined as a Regents diploma,'' Iannuzzi said Tuesday in an interview with The Post-Journal.
Iannuzzi said that NYSUT would support efforts from the Obama administration to create a national standard for student ability and school competency.
''A really simple statement like 'at what point is a child able to divide by two digits?' is not a terrible thing to codify nationally,'' he said.
Individual state standards are created in consideration of the No Child Left Behind act, which allocates funding based on results of state standardized testing. According to Iannuzzi, states with higher standards see worse results, causing standards to be driven downward in many states and hurting American education as a whole.
Within the context of No Child Left Behind as it is currently structured, according to Iannuzzi, funding is done backward, with schools being punished for not reaching desired results.
''It doesn't make a lot of sense,'' he said
REWARDING THE GOOD, REMOVING THE BAD
Iannuzzi said Obama's proposal to reward teachers for improved student achievement is an intriguing one, but only if the extra money is distributed at a schoolwide level and not to individual teachers.
''Everybody would share in the bonus, including the cafeteria workers who keep the kids happy at lunchtime and the custodians who make sure it's a clean and neat environment for students to learn,'' he said. ''Everybody gets a piece of creating student success. If you're calling that 'performance pay,' it's very different.''
Iannuzzi says the extra pay would be counterproductive if it were to be provided on an individual level, as it might prompt teachers to avoid taking on students who may be difficult to teach. If funding were given on a schoolwide level, he says, it would allow schools to focus their best teachers on the most challenging students.
Of Obama's insistence of states and school districts working harder to remove bad teachers from the classroom, Iannuzzi said the problem is not as widespread as perceived, and that what problem exists needs to be approached from the ground up.
''I don't think the issue of teachers who have to be removed from teaching is as large as we sometimes imagine it to be,'' he said. ''I would say that if we dwell on that, we're not going to move the ball down the field.''
Instead, Iannuzzi says, focus needs to be placed on better transitioning new teachers into the classroom, providing them the support and nurturing they need to become an excellent teacher.
''What we ought to be dwelling on for those who are in education is providing the strong support, professional development, and demanding more of them,'' Iannuzzi said. ''If we do that, those who can't cut it will begin to fall to the wayside.''
THE PROBLEM WITH CHARTER SCHOOLS
Another proposal Obama addressed in his speech involves lifting caps on the number of charter schools allowed in some states. While charter schools can be very effective when properly designed and managed, Iannuzzi said there is a problem at their very core.
''Lifting the cap doesn't address those concerns that he admitted are out there, which is the drain that charter schools have on mainstream public education,'' he said. ''Unless you address the drain issue, lifting the cap is just going to make that drain significantly more of a drain.''
The ''drain,'' according to Iannuzzi, is that charter schools siphon tax money from public schools while many of them are performing at the same level or worse.
''Charter schools were originally designed and supported as places where innovation and experimentation could take place,'' he said. ''You could sort of work around what makes things happen, and if it works you can bring it into the public schools, and then you don't need the charter schools.''
Iannuzzi said that often charter schools are little more than moneymakers for their operators.
''They aren't doing anything different other than, in too many cases, providing to the pocketbook of profit-making institutions,'' he said.
President Obama also called upon the parents of the United States to do their part in keeping students in school and their grades high. Iannuzzi agreed, saying that school districts can only do so much.
''A lot of the leading thinkers in education today are starting to use the one-third, two-thirds formula, that says about one-third of the achievement gap can be totally handled by the schools,'' he said. ''The other two-thirds is the rest of the child's life.''
Iannuzzi says parents play a key role in guiding students down a successful path, as do health care and proper nutrition. Funding to schools, Iannuzzi said, could be used to provide medical care to students within each district.
''In your underachieving schools, where you're going to need kids to be there, having a health and dental clinic where kids get care and don't miss school is one of the things we need to do,'' he said.
All told, Iannuzzi is pleased to see that Obama is focusing on issues that will help the economy from the inside out instead of just focusing on the problem as a whole.
''I am not part of that group of economists who say that the president should only be thinking about the economy and nothing else,'' Iannuzzi said. ''The economy will only move forward if we think about education and think about everything else that makes it possible for us to educate.''