JAMESTOWN – Chautauqua County’s two representatives in Albany don’t want to see New York State moving away from the current traditional teaching model for education.
On May 15, Senator George Borrello and Assemblyman Andy Goodell sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo reaffirming their support for teacher-based classroom education and also expressing their concern over the governor’s call to shift away from the current education model and instead “reimagine” education, based on a greater reliance on computers and distance learning.
The letter was in response to a May 5 announcement by Cuomo that the state was entering a partnership with the Bill & Malinda Gates Foundation to focus on restructuring public education in the sate. The foundation was established in 2000 by Microsoft Founder Bill Gates and his wife, Malinda, with a goal of expanding educational opportunities in the United States and also providing better access to information technology.
“While such a partnership may help multi-billionaire Bill Gates earn even more money at the expense of New York taxpayers, it is not necessarily good for our students,” Borrello said in a media release sent out this week, adding, “Online learning simply does not compare to the quality of the education provided directly to students by highly capable and dedicated teachers and staff. Technology is a valuable educational tool, but it is best used as a supplement and not a replacement for in-person teaching.”
“Nothing beats the learning that occurs when great teachers provide personal attention and guidance to their students,” Goodell said. “Personal attention is especially important for special needs students. Intensive teaching and instruction is critical for any meaningful learning or educational progress to occur.”
Borrello said he’s also already talked with those who work in education and they’ve expressed concerns over the idea of reshaping the education system, based on what they’ve seen during the closing of schools due to the coronavirus.
“The teachers and administrators I’ve spoken with are gravely concerned about the negative impact of the [COVID-19] shutdown on students’ educational progress and retention. Ambitious lesson plans and new concepts had to be shelved as schools were forced to adapt quickly to a remote learning program,” said Senator Borrello.
Borrello also noted that research on the effectiveness of online learning at the K-12 grade levels has consistently found it is less effective in furthering student learning and success. The gap is even more pronounced among lower-performing students, who do significantly worse in online courses than in a traditional classroom setting.
Both Borrello and Goodell are Republicans, but the criticism of the Democratic Governor’s comments about partnering with the Gates Foundation was expressed from both sides of the political aisle.
Deputy State Senate Majority Leader Mike Gianaris (D) said following the announcement, “These are not people who should determine for us how best to provide services to everyday New Yorkers.”
Education advocates have also blasted the Gates Foundation, which has a fraught history among teachers and parent groups over its support for Common Core, a controversial standardized testing program implemented in New York and elsewhere.
“Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation have promoted one failed educational initiative after another, causing huge disaffection in districts throughout the state,” the New York State Allies for Public Education wrote in a letter to Cuomo.
Meanwhile, both Borello and Goodell also underscored what they say are the dangers of the ongoing shutdown for at-risk students.
“Superintendents across my district have reported that once schools were closed, some children effectively ‘dropped off the map’ and were unreachable by email, phone or other means. For these children, their education effectively stopped at that point and concerns about their safety and welfare increased,” said Senator Borrello. “The reality is that school is the safest place in the lives of many young people.”
They stressed the important socialization role that schools perform which “promotes the importance of being an active part of a community.” They also noted that rural districts are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to online learning as the lack of devices in many smaller rural school districts as well as the lack of broadband access in the homes of many students are stumbling blocks to online lessons and assignments.
Senator Borrello and Assemblyman Goodell concluded their letter by urging the Governor to resist movement towards a remote learning model and to return students to the classroom this fall.
Since the May 5 announcement by the Governor, his administration has worked to clarify what he had said.
wants to put your mind at ease about the Reimagining Education initiative announced last week.
“I think as a long-term strategy, you can’t replace face to face education,” Jim Malatras, Cuomo advisor and chair the Reimagining Education initiative, told Spectrum News late last week. “I think there’s an important social connection between an educator and your student.”
However, over the short-term, Maltras did acknowledge the goal is to determine how best to leverage technology while trying to reopen schools during the current pandemic.
“How do you make sure you use technology in a smart way to get at some of those issues, like social distancing?” he said.