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NY Commissioner Richard Mills and Father of Test Preparation Stanley Kaplan in Great Speaker Series

Developing ways to improve public schools and to measure their progress was the topic of two addresses by guest lecturers in November.

Richard P. Mills, a TC alumnus, said that when he was being considered for New York State Commissioner of Education, he said he decided to get some advice from another alum, Thomas Sobol.

Mills asked Sobol, the former commissioner and now the Christian A. Johnson Professor of Outstanding Educational Practice: "Would you send a friend into this fight?" Sobol gave him a firm "yes," and Mills said he has not regretted his decision to accept the offer.

Mills said that he is trying to raise standards and performance for all students. "A problem I see all the time is very high standards for some children and very low standards for the rest. At some schools," he said, "the quality of the curriculum changes from one room to the next."

The solution, he said, is professional development for teachers and school administrators. "This is about building capacity. The capacity to teach and the capacity to lead."

The "school report cards" issued by the state are one way of applying pressure on schools to improve. "Parents want to know, 'Is the school teaching my child to read; is my child safe,'" he said.

Kaplan also said that testing is a good way to hold schools and teachers accountable.

Kaplan started as a tutor 65 years ago and invented a new industry: preparation for standardized tests. The Stanley H. Kaplan Education Center is one of the world's leading institutions for preparation for standardized entrance and licensure examinations.

Even so, he said that his programs are not an alternative to getting a solid academic background in school. If students are going to succeed, they have to get something out their classroom experience, Kaplan said.

"I feel a national assessment test is very important. It can gauge the performance of the student, of the teacher, and of the school," he said. "To do better on the tests, schools have to do a better job of educating children."

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