to Chancellor: Get into the Middle of Education
Assemblyman Steven Sanders
Joel Klein, a person of extraordinary accomplishment, will have
his hands full if approved by State Education Commissioner Richard
Mills. Mr. Klein’s credentials as a manager and as a person able
to oversee a large government bureaucracy are without question,
but his appointment by Mayor Bloomberg nevertheless requires a
waiver by Mills (as did the designation of outgoing Chancellor
Harold Levy) because he lacks the legal requisite educational
Assuming Commissioner Mills does grant the waiver, Mr. Klein can
then take charge as the first Mayor-designated Chancellor of the
New York City public schools.
Once in office, the new Chancellor will have to tackle many difficult
issues, but here are a few that he cannot wait on, if he is to
First, he must recruit the finest and most experienced educational
minds into his administration, especially in the key roles
of his top deputies. Education isn’t just another business; obviously
he understands this. But he needs the right people around him
who can work as a team to assist him in developing an education
vision and a strategy to move this system forward.
Additionally, the new Chancellor must heed the meaning of the
fourth- and eighth grade test scores in English and math.
Without any question, the middle school grades—sixth, seventh
and eighth—must be the focus.
It is clear that the State Assembly’s strategy of concentrating
resources in the early grades is paying off. In New York City
we have established a Pre-K program that has created 50,000 new
slots for our four-year-olds, giving them a good head start. And
we have supplemented this Pre-K program with a significant investment
in class size reduction in grades K-3, with a goal of reducing
those class sizes to no more than 20 pupils per class.
These efforts are paying off. All of the test scores in the last
several years have indicated that we are experiencing significant
improvement in the elementary grades across the board. The number
of pupils in level 1, the poorest performing level, has been reduced
Of deep concern, and a real warning sign of what’s to come, however,
is the fact that there is also a noticeable decline in
test scores after these kids graduate from elementary school and
have entered either middle school or junior high school. This
means that we must concentrate our efforts and marshall new
resources for an all-out effort to improve learning and results
in the middle grades. We can do this, in part by focusing
on professional development and up-to-date learning technology
for these grades.
There are probably another dozen things that the new Chancellor
can do in these middle grades, and do them he must if these students
will be able to emerge from the middle grades prepared for the
increasing rigors of high school and beyond.
But there is really no choice here. Either we will succeed in
the middle grades or we will continue to see an escalating dropout
rate in high schools and unsatisfactory Regents exam scores. Failure
is not an option. Go to it, Mr. Chancellor.
Sanders is chairman of the New York State Assembly Education Committee.
You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (212)
979-9696. His mailing address is 201 East 16th Street, New York
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