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Shaping tomorrow: Professor's impact on the NYS education reform and graduation measures

High school students holding up graduation caps.
David Hursh contributes to the development of the NYS Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures report

In the pursuit of educational excellence and equity, it is essential to continuously evaluate and refine the metrics by which student success is measured. One significant step in this direction is the recent release of the New York State Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures, which presented its recommendations to the Board of Regents in November. University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education Professor David Hursh, whose expertise and commitment to educational reform have played a pivotal role in shaping the commission's report, was at the forefront of this endeavor.

Hursh brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the field of education. With a focus on equity and social justice, he has been a fierce, vocal advocate for educational policies that prioritize equitable outcomes for all students. For the last 25 years, he has dedicated most of his research and writing efforts to examining the impact of neoliberal economic policies, which prioritize markets, competition, and quantification, alongside the prevalence of high-stakes testing, like the New York State Regents Exams, has undermined the quality of teaching and learning within K-12 public schools.

A longstanding educational activist, Hursh began fighting for democratic schools during his undergraduate years, a significant part of which is detailed in his book High-Stakes Testing: The Decline of Teaching and Learning. He has written over 100 journal articles and book chapters covering diverse topics such as social studies, teaching about environmental health, action research, and higher education. In his most recent collaboration, Hursh worked alongside two Warner School students and two parents actively involved in the New York State opt-out movement to coauthor Opting Out: The Story of Parents’ Grassroots Movement to Achieve Whole-Child Public Schools. The primary goal of this five-chapter volume, awarded the 2020 American Educational Studies Association (AESA) Critics’ Choice Award winner, is to motivate parents to engage as educational activists beyond the realm of standardized testing. 

Appointment to the NYS Blue Ribbon Commission

Hursh's dedication to educational reform was recognized when he was appointed to the New York State Education Department’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures in 2022. The 64-member commission — comprised of educators, administrators, researchers, school counselors, business and higher education professionals, parents, and students — was tasked with exploring what a state diploma should signify to ensure educational excellence and equity for every student in New York State. The goal was to create equity in public education and ensure students gain the skills to succeed. 

Key findings from the report

On November 13, 2023, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures released its much-anticipated report, outlining a series of recommendations to enhance the graduation assessment system in New York State. The report highlights the need for a more holistic approach to position students for successful careers, higher education pursuits, and civic engagement. 

The commission’s recommendations are to:

  1. Replace the three diploma types with one diploma, with the option to add seals and endorsements. 
  2. Include civic responsibility (ethics); cultural competence; financial literacy education; fine and performing arts; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) credit(s); and writing, including writing skills for real-world scenarios in diploma credit requirements. 
  3. Ensure access to career and technical education (CTE), including internships and work-based learning opportunities for all students across New York State. 
  4. Move to a model that organizes credit requirements — including content area credit requirements — into larger categories (e.g., mathematics and science courses could be included in the “STEM” category). 
  5. Reduce and/or modify diploma assessment requirements to allow more assessment options. 
  6. Create state-developed rubric(s) for any performance-based assessments allowed as an option to satisfy the diploma assessment requirements. 
  7. Create more specific, tailored graduation requirements to address the unique circumstances of certain groups of students (e.g., non-compulsory age students, newcomer students, refugee students). 
  8. Provide exemptions from diploma assessment requirements for students with significant cognitive disabilities and major life events and extenuating circumstances (e.g., medical conditions, death of a family member, trauma prior to sitting for a required exam). 
  9. Pursue regulatory changes to allow the discretion to confer high school degrees posthumously. 
  10. Require all New York State teacher preparation programs to provide instruction in culturally responsive-sustaining education (CRSE) practices and pedagogy. 
  11. Require that professional development plans include culturally responsive-sustaining education practices and pedagogy. 
  12. Review and revise the New York State learning standards. 

The release of the Blue Ribbon Commission's report marks a significant milestone in the ongoing dialogue about the future of public education in New York State. The recommendations the commission put forth can shape educational policies that prioritize the development of well-rounded, global citizens in a rapidly changing world. 

“In my decades-long journey in education, being a part of the New York State Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures has been the most rewarding experience,” says Hursh. “Collaborating with diverse minds to reshape educational policies prioritizing equity and excellence has been truly transformative. The impact of this work extends far beyond the pages of this report, setting the stage for a more inclusive, learner-centered educational system in New York State.” 

By advocating for a comprehensive and inclusive approach to measuring student success, Hursh and his fellow commission members are paving the way for a more equitable and forward-thinking educational system in New York State. The impact of this report offers a blueprint for educational policies that prioritize every student's diverse needs and talents.

The report calls for revolutionary changes that will transform education throughout the life cycle. Further, while, accomplishing the goals will be difficult, Hursh says that his experience on the committee demonstrates how education can be reimagined.