Q&A: David M. Steiner

Innovative Hunter Dean Takes On Statewide Challenges

Hunter College School of Education Dean David M. Steiner became the New York State commissioner of education on Oct. 1. CUNY Matters spoke with him, shortly before he assumed his new post, about his goals and priorities.

Dean David M. Steiner

Q: What are your biggest challenges?

DEAN STEINER: Nothing makes a greater difference in a child's education than the quality of her teacher; that is a primary responsibility that I will undertake. We must offer students a world-class curriculum, and assess the knowledge and skills they need for success in college and for meaningful employment. As commissioner of education I am responsible for what is known as the University of the State of New York, which encompasses our K-12 school system, over 240 colleges and universities, some 25 public broadcasting stations, as well as museums, libraries and the professions. It is an extraordinary responsibility, but also an opportunity to think about education in a deeper and broader sense.

Q: How do you see yourself facilitating collaborations between public and private institutions of higher education?

A: We must work across both groups of institutions to ensure world-class teacher preparation. We also must be imaginative about inviting libraries, museums, cultural institutions and the media to think about new forms of delivering instruction and educational resources.

Q: What were your major accomplishments in four years as dean of Hunter's School of Education?

A: They really belong to the faculty who worked with me to investigate what was worth changing. For example, we have a new video component whereby all student teachers are videotaped in their student teaching. . . . We analyze the video one-on-one, and almost 800 video clips are searchable by faculty and students.

Q: So students are able to change their practice based on what they see themselves doing?

A: Absolutely. Nothing reaches you as immediately as watching yourself teach. We also made a major partnership with Teacher U at Hunter College, in order to rethink together teacher preparation. We have a 100 percent pass record on teacher tests, and almost a third of the faculty arrived since I became dean four years ago. They come from top institutions throughout the U.S., and from abroad.

Q: In setting up Teacher U, you partnered with organizations that operate charter schools. Are charter schools doing things that are not being done in traditional public schools?

A: We've also partnered with New Visions for Public Schools to design one of New York's first major residency programs for teacher training. So it's not just about charter schools. However, charter schools do have certain freedoms to experiment. . . .

Q: How does teacher residency differ from the traditional student teacher program?

A: The residency model offers the best of both worlds: You are in the schools, learning about the culture of education and teaching, but you're not yet a teacher of record.

Q: Should the state raise entry requirements into the teaching profession?

A: The pass rates on most statewide teacher tests are about 92 percent. Is there a relationship between the skills and knowledge tested and the actual skills and knowledge that make a difference in teaching? We need to find out.

Q: What about the training of principals?

A: We know that if you have a good school, you're going to find a good principal. So we really have to take a look at the whole structure of principal preparation.

Q: Should academic standards be raised for K-12 students?

A: Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch, who heads the Board of Regents, has said so. There is evidence that, even with a Regents diploma, students may not be fully prepared for success in college or employment in meaningful jobs. This is deeply challenging because we also have problems getting all of our students to reach the current Regents level.

Q: As a former Director of Arts Education at the National Endowment for the Arts, what do you think should be done to invigorate support for the arts in our schools?

A: An educated human being should have a broad and deep exposure to the arts, which are a precious part of our cultural legacy. We must work with cultural institutions, teaching artists and schools of education to increase support for the arts.

Q: Is there something important that hasn't been asked?

A: The key underlying question is what do we consider to be an educated human being? I hope that I and my colleagues never lose sight of that question, and that we never stop asking it.