I guess I should give credit to the Times Union for running an editorial today about the retirement of state Education Commissioner Richard Mills, even if this bit doesn't make much sense. "The high school graduation rate has risen, but the rate for minority and disabled students lags, as does that for boys compared with girls. Many students take five or six years to graduate from high school." Educators can't win. If students are having difficulty learning, you can either socially promote them and confer meaningless degrees, or not, and if not then they may take a bit longer to graduate, which should not result in criticism from editorial writers.
The federal No Child Left Behind law has given everyone some very useful data about school results, mostly through increased testing (which Mills also pushed). But NCLB's drawbacks are implicit in its ridiculously sentimental title, along with the provisions in every big education law (much like decrees by the Supreme Soviet regarding five-year agricultural plans) that by a certain year all students (or at least an ever higher percentage) will do ever more wonderfully. Mills' decrees abolishing local diplomas and requiring all students to pass the Regents exams to get a meaningful high school graduation certificate had a distinctly Soviet flavor, and led him and his department to dumb down the content and scoring of Regents exams to make them easier to pass.
The Obama administration's big domestic issues are the economy, health care and energy, not education, which seems even more neglected by state politicians. A big current issue is whether the state Legislature will restore Mayor Mike Bloomberg's power over the NYC schools, but no politician or pundit seems interested in the statewide school system, witness the complete lack of public discussion about who will or should succeed Mills. It does not inspire confidence that the decision lies in the hands of the Board of Regents, who are all in effect appointees of the Assembly speaker but accountable to nobody (which would be a good topic for a state constitutional convention if we ever get one).
There has been public interest in restraining school spending and property taxes, with the Suozzi commission producing a sound report that was put on the shelf. But the lack of interest in education policy at this time of transition is a sign of the decadence of New York public life.