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New York Asks Tech Leaders to Re-Imagine Education

As New York develops a plan to reopen schools and colleges, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week that the state has asked the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to consider what education should look like in the future.

by Rachel Silberstein, Times Union / May 7, 2020
Shutterstock/fizkes

(TNS) — New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is tapping technology executives to help the state develop a blueprint to "reimagine education" after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

As New York begins to develop plans to reopen K-12 schools and colleges, Cuomo announced this week that the state has asked the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to consider what education should look like in the future.

"Let's take this experience and really learn how we can do differently and better with our education system in terms of technology and virtual education, et cetera," Cuomo said during his daily briefing on Tuesday. "That's something we're actively working on through this process. It's not about just reopening schools. When we reopen schools, let's open a better school and let's open a smarter education system."

The Gates Foundation will explore how to harness digital technologies used during the school closures to create a more enriching classroom experience at colleges and K-12 institutions. It will consider how some of these software programs used for remote instruction during the crisis can be used to support students with disabilities or who are no proficient in English.

On Wednesday, Cuomo announced that Google CEO Eric Schmidt has been asked to lead a Blue Ribbon taskforce which will devise tech-forward solutions to rebooting healthcare and expand broadband access in New York.

Schools have been closed in New York since March 15 and will remain closed through the end of the school year.

New York has worked with the foundation set up by the Microsoft founders on previous educational initiatives, with mixed results. The Gates Foundation was instrumental in the Common Core curriculum and the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.

The short-lived Common Core push drew opposition from parents, teachers, and the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), which on Tuesday released a statement objecting to the notion that remote instruction could replace the in-classroom experience and criticized what he sees as the state's disinvestment in public schools.

“NYSUT believes in the education of the whole child," NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. "Remote learning, in any form, will never replace the important personal connection between teachers and their students that is built in the classroom and is a critical part of the teaching and learning process — which is why we’ve seen educators work so hard during this pandemic to maintain those connections through video chats, phone calls and socially distant in-person meetings."

Rather, outcomes can be improved by expanding state and federal revenues for schools in order to  "address the need for social workers, mental health counselors, school nurses, enriching arts courses, advanced courses and smaller class sizes in school districts across the state," Pallotta said.

The 2020-21 state budget freezes aid to schools and localities at current amounts, which has created budget gaps in school districts throughout the state as officials work to finalize their own school spending plans. Some $1.2 billion in federal stimulus money intended for high poverty districts was deducted from Foundation Aid allowances, holding school aid flat.

State lawmakers also questioned why K-12 educators and parents have been left out of the governor’s re-entry task force.

“I commend the governor for his efforts to keep New Yorkers safe, but our state is entering a slippery slope as he continues to use his executive power to make decisions unilaterally. Checks and balances are necessary, especially when it comes to how fundamental systems, like education, within our state are run,” said Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston.

Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa in a tweet addressed the critics saying that the task force was not intended to undercut teachers, but to harness technologies that to better reach at risk-student populations.

"Teachers are heroes & nothing could ever replace in-person learning--COVID has reinforced that," DeRosa wrote. "The re-imagine education task force focuses on using technology most effectively while schools are closed & to provide more opportunities to students no matter where they are"

Cuomo officials clarified that the task force will be informed by teachers, parents and other stakeholders.

Last week, Cuomo announced a partnership with former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, another billionaire philanthropist, to create three apps to enable the state to aggressively trace people who have come in contact with a person infected with COVID-19.

The State Education Department and the Board of Regents have said they will convene their own taskforce to devise recommendations on reopening schools to the governor.

©2020 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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