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If new regent wants to help children, she can’t oppose education reforms

It wasn’t the best of starts for Catherine Fisher Collins, whose unenviable task is to succeed Robert M. Bennett, one of the most able and committed members ever likely to serve on the New York State Board of Regents. The Buffalo woman had barely been confirmed by the State Legislature when she said her goals include slowing down some of the reforms in the state’s education system.

Practically in the same breath, though, she contradicted herself by saying that she intended to be a “voice for the voiceless” – the poor children in New York State. That’s a worthy goal, to be sure, and one we hope she will pursue. But the best thing she can do for them is to lay out an educational path that leads out of poverty. That’s her bailiwick and it is not possible without educational reform.

Whether she means it or not, by slowing down reforms she will be doing the bidding of the teachers unions, which despise the notion of being evaluated and in their opposition to them, have seized upon the Common Core Learning Standards as their straw man.

And whether Collins knew it or not, her legislative sponsor, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, surely did and so did her powerful new friend, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. And in that knowledge, they have sided with the unions and their insistence on the status quo over the voiceless students and their crying need for education reform.

Particularly troubling is Collins’ approach to the Common Core Learning Standards, which are not a state creation, but one fashioned six years ago by governors and education commissioners from 48 states, the District of Columbia and two territories. More to the point, the standards have been usefully and successfully adopted in school districts that made an effort to do so. They include the Sweet Home, Amherst and Jamestown districts in Western New York. It’s even happening in individual schools, including Buffalo’s Grabiarz School of Excellence.

What many critics fail to understand – and we hope Collins is not one of them – is that children want to meet the expectations of adults. If expectations are low – as the unions seem to favor – then students will achieve them, but with almost no chance to thrive. With high standards and high expectations, though, students have a chance to learn not only their academics, but to learn that they have it within themselves to excel.

For that to happen teachers need to be evaluated, fairly and accurately. Teachers don’t want that and neither do their servants in the State Legislature.

It is also disappointing, but hardly surprising, that Heastie made his decision to support Collins based only on input from three Democratic Assembly members. In that, he has adopted the dysfunctional processes of the past, a decision that augurs poorly for other necessary reforms in Albany.

Indeed, the only good sign to come of this legislative surrender is that Peoples-Stokes has the ear of the new Assembly speaker. That could produce good things for Buffalo, but only if she and Heastie are interested in pursuing good things. This week, at least, they weren’t.

People can surprise you and we remain hopeful that Collins truly does want to be a champion of New York’s students, but that wasn’t the goal of Heastie and Peoples-Stokes.

They just wanted to soothe the teachers unions and we suspect that even in that, they failed. All they did was show they can be pushed around.