The Future of K-12 Education is in Teacher Training and High Standards

The Future of K-12 Education is in Teacher Training and High Standards

by New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia

The global economy is changing the nature of work and the kinds of careers our children will pursue. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the fastest-growing occupations will require highly educated, highly skilled workers. Many of these careers will be in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

It is more important than ever that we provide all students with the knowledge and skills they'll need to succeed in an ever-more competitive global environment. In New York, we continue to take important steps to help ensure that students are prepared for success after high school.

We recently updated our English language arts and mathematics learning standards — that is, what we expect students to know and do in the various subject areas at each grade level. The process was deliberate, transparent and collaborative; expert educators were involved every step of the way. The result will be improved teaching and learning in New York's classrooms, with a greater emphasis on supporting English language learners, students with disabilities and other special populations.

At the same time, using the nationally-developed Next Generation Science Standards as a starting point, we utilized the expertise of science education stakeholders to draft a rigorous new set of science learning standards. Our vision for the future of science education is now contained in the New York State P-12 Science Learning Standards. These new standards provide endless possibilities for teachers to engage students in science learning experiences that explore, advance and deepen their understanding of natural phenomena.

The process of establishing learning standards cannot be a static one; we must continually review and renew the standards to ensure our children can keep pace with a world that is evolving rapidly and continuously.

Studies show that the quality of a child's teacher is the single most important school-based factor in that student's educational success. So, we have put a great deal of effort into the way we train and support teachers. For the past two years, I have worked closely with my good friend, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, on the TeachNY campaign. TeachNY is a movement to lift-up the teaching profession and ensure that New York and the nation will have the high-quality educators needed for the future. This includes updating the curriculum used in schools of education, so that teachers are prepared to deliver the new, more rigorous learning standards.

Teachers — especially those who teach at the elementary level — must be prepared to give our youngest learners a solid base of knowledge in the STEM areas. And we must support and encourage them to engage in "hands-on" teaching, both inside and outside of the classroom. Those kinds of hands-on experiences are often the most meaningful for children, and instill in them an early love for scientific exploration and discovery.

It is sometimes hard to imagine just how quickly and radically technology has changed our lives. Smart phones have been commercially available for only 10 years, but we already take for granted the awesome computing power we now all carry in our pockets. So, our students need an education that will prepare them to use (and maybe even help develop) the new technologies that will solve the world's ever-more complex problems.

Success in the future will also require us to do a much better job of ensuring equity, diversity and integration throughout our educational systems. Research shows that socioeconomic and racial integration leads to better academic outcomes for all students, while at the same time reducing the achievement gap among students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. As well, we must continue to work to ensure that schools are safe havens where students are free and empowered to learn without fear of discrimination, harassment or intimidation because of their race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other basis. Every school must provide a learning environment where all students feel safe and welcome, and where parents and families are encouraged to take an active role in their children's education.

I believe strongly that education holds the key to our future success. I am encouraged and optimistic that here in New York we are taking the right steps to provide the kinds of educational opportunities that will lift-up our society for generations to come.