Cuomo’s Education “Death Penalty” Ideas May Derail His Presidential Ambitions: Fixing Schools Means Fixing Cities.

“Fixing education” has become a political black hole.

The Bush-Kennedy No Child Left Behind law of 2002, hailed as the savior of public education is in shreds. The Obama-Duncan (de)forms are under attack from coast to coast – the recent Gallup Poll pours ice water on federal initiatives. As the Bloomberg era closes out the public gives him high marks – except for schools – a Zogby Poll reports the public trusts teachers more than the mayor (See Sol Stern here),

New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal planned to replace public education with a total choice program with vouchers provided to parents. The court found his plan unconstitutional and his approval ratings have plummeted, what once looked like a potential 2016 presidential run is derailed.

Governor Bush fired his newly hired state commissioner who cheated to make charter schools look better in Indiana – before the voters threw him out.

It is surprising that the strategic governor of New York State seems to be venturing down the same path. Governor Cuomo is extremely cautious, he rarely meets with the press except under totally controlled atmospheres. He never releases his daily schedule except for orchestrated appearances. He swept aside pressures to end layoffs by seniority and gained teacher union support for a teacher evaluation system. He garnered legislative support for a new Tier 6 of the state pension system by supporting a range of legislature supported programs. He effectively arm twisted the marriage equality law and in spite of vigorous opposition from the state teacher union (NYSUT) passed a 2% property tax cap that has effectively sidetracked negotiated salary increases for teachers around the state, not in New York City which does not fall under the 2% cap.

The usually cautious governor seems to be wandering down the same path that has sullied the reputation of the president, governors and mayors across the nation.

Governor Cuomo, in an upstate speech, threatened the “death penalty” for upstate and Long Island low achieving schools.

Speaking to reporters in Lockport, Niagara County, Cuomo said Thursday he plans to craft a plan for dealing with “failing schools” when lawmakers return to the state Capitol in January.

“My position is going to be, we’ll give (the schools) a short window to repair themselves, and then something dramatically has to happen,” Cuomo said late Thursday. “Because we can’t allow these failing schools to continue.”
The Democratic governor laid out a number of possibilities for dealing with underperforming schools, including potentially allowing the state, a local mayor or a charter school to take over. Any of those moves would require approval by state lawmakers.

“There’s going to have to be a death penalty for failing schools, so to speak,” Cuomo said.
(Watch the Cuomo statement here)

The just-released scores on the latest Common Core-based state exams place Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and a few other school districts 20+% below the state proficiency rates – according the state tests staggering numbers in poor, urban, upstate districts “failed” the test.

• In Buffalo, 11.5% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 9.6% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In Yonkers, 16.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 14.5% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In New York City, 26.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 29.6% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In Rochester, 5.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 5% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In Syracuse, 8.7% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 6.9% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard

While the governor is flailing schools he conveniently forgets about the economies in the same cities.

In spite of three years of gubernatorial announcements about economic development in the faltering upstate cities unemployment remains high and the future bleak.

The once booming economies in Rochester and across the northern tier are long gone, and will never return. The promised high tech jobs, if they are created, will not benefit the inner city youth in the hollowed out cities across the state, a situation replicated across the nation.

If you superimpose poverty by zip code, unemployment, poor health, crime, teenage pregnancy, and school achievement, lo and behold, the maps are congruent (See Poverty by zip code here)). From Los Angeles to Phoenix to Denver to Houston to East St Louis to Chicago to Detroit to Philadelphia to New York to Buffalo to Rochester and Syracuse the pattern is the same.

The “standard solution” forced by the feds, closing and reopening schools, charter schools, turnaround or transformation, has churned not resolved the problem of low school achievement.

The “plan,” the successes, and there are success, are plans that are research-based, crafted locally, carefully monitored by the city/state and coupled with a community-wide approach, not just based on school restructuring.

Strong district and school leadership, quality instruction, content rich curriculum, a collaborative partnership, over time, will improve outcomes.

The governor has to do his part: jobs, health care, housing must go hand-in-hand with school improvement plans.

The “takeover” of a school district is not new in New York State; in 2002 the State Education Department received legislative approval to “takeover” the Roosevelt School District, a 2010 Report found “modest gains,” unfortunately very modest. In June, 2012 the commissioner recommended continuing the state takeover due to a lack of gains in pupil achievement (See State Report here)

The governor threatens to support legislation to give the State Education Department the authority to “takeover” school districts, yet eleven years after taking over Roosevelt the district still stumbles academically.

The commissioner is also currently battling the Buffalo School Board and superintendent, threatening to revoke the registration of the schools as well as “suspending or terminating” School Improvement Grant (SIG) dollars. (See King letter here)

The recent history of governor’s taking over school districts has not been positive – the heralded creation of a governor’s district in Connecticut – the taking over of low performing schools and school districts (See glossy description here) has fallen on hard times in Bridgeport. An excellent Washington Post article dissects the failed premises of the “sprinter” turnaround experts – a superb read here.

The governor’s flippant “death penalty” threat can easily come back to haunt him. Has the unemployment rate fallen in Buffalo, or Rochester or Syracuse? Have grandiose plans and pronouncements in State of the State messages come to fruition?

Communities are organic and schools are part of the organism – you cannot separate the school from the community – you must “cure” the ills of the community. Yes, strong district and school leadership, an engaged staff, a jointly-arrived at plan along with the creation of jobs can resuscitate a city.

To expect that schools will thrive without considering the zip code is illusory.

To expect that the state education departments have a magic wands and fairy dust is ludicrous. Why is Roosevelt, after eleven years, still under state management?

Maybe the governor’s inner circle should take a look at his counterparts in Indiana and Florida and Wisconsin and Louisiana…. quick fix efforts have dragged down careers.

Gavin Newsom, the Lt Governor of California, in October, 2012 laid out the challenges of cities in a time of fiscal austerity; thirty to fifty cities across the nation may be on the road to bankruptcy, Newsom offers some possible paths in a speech at the Milano Institute at the New School University (Worthwhile listening to here).

Andrew’s road to the White House might be derailed in Buffalo and Rochester and Syracuse.

10 responses to “Cuomo’s Education “Death Penalty” Ideas May Derail His Presidential Ambitions: Fixing Schools Means Fixing Cities.

  1. “we’ll give (the schools) a short window to repair themselves”

    That is where the fallacy lies; if the schools could improve themselves overnight, they would. No one wants to work in a failing school and no teacher goes to work every day to help students fail.

    Ed points to the other factors that make it hard for schools to succeed and correctly criticizes the Governor for his failure to stimulate the economy and bring good paying jobs back to the urban centers in New York. Criticizing the Governor for that failure is just as fair as criticizing the teachers for having students who fail.

    If the Governor seriously wants to reform education, then he should start with things the legislature and his office can control. Reduce the number of school districts to generate administrative cost savings and help to further integrate schools across class lines. Eliminate the 2% property tax cap and encourage localities to invest in education. Change the education funding formula so that poorer school districts get more funds from the state leaving the richest districts to rely on their property taxes alone. See that NYC gets the full funding promised in the CFE legislation. Finally revise the Mayoral control law so that NYC has real educators running the system.

    Leave finding ways to improve what happens in classrooms to educators who work in classrooms. No Gubernatorial or Legislative decree will help a child learn to read or to think critically. Only those who spend time in classrooms appreciate the complexity and difficulty of this work and have ideas about how to do it better.


  2. Right on Mark Korashan!
    And Ed in the Apple showing the correlation between economics and how schools are “failing” is right on.
    It is very frustrating that elected leaders keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Perhaps we educators have failed them, they do not seem to learn!!
    Unfortunately I don’t think they read a column like yours, nor would they probably not listen if Mark had the opportunity to sit down and talk with them.


  3. To suggest that we need to end poverty before we can improve results for poor children is an abrogation of our professional responsibility as educators. It is what got us here, not where we need to go next.

    When we suggest that Obama, Duncan, and Cuomo are all misguided and don’t understand what we and our students are up against, then we’re talking to ourselves and selling our children short.


    • No one said we have to end poverty before we can “improve results” for all students. What Ed said and I and others echoed is that we have to be cognizant of the direct relationship between class and achievement on tests, especially when they are used to measure teacher performance. It has often been noted that these tests measure what students brought to school on their first day and that this is the achievement gap that remains despite our best efforts.

      I hear the educational deformers say that noting this relationship is an excuse all the time, and politicians like to echo it, but the results in most charter schools does not offer evidence that the deformers have decoupled poverty and achievement.

      I don’;t know of any teachers who come to work to help students fail, but I know many teachers who do not have access to the resources they need to help them succeed. My comments were to suggest that this is a better use of political capital than trying to dictate to teachers what and how to teach.

      Pacing calendars and lock-step curricula, mandates to use a workshop model with a time-limited mini-lecture followed by group work, or checklists of good teaching practices are not the answer to how to reach students whose background, experiences or current skill levels need to be individually addressed.


      • Thank you Mark for putting it so plainly. Teaching is a profession that in NY requires a masters degree and countless additional hours to maintain certification. Let’s start trusting and relying on those professionals to make qualified decisions about how and what to teach their students.


    • Puget Sound Parent

      “When we suggest that Obama, Duncan, and Cuomo are all misguided and don’t understand what we and our students are up against, then we’re talking to ourselves and selling our children short.”

      No, you’re not—on either count. I’m not an educator. I’m a parent of a very young son at a good public school. Until he came along, I paid very little attention to school politics or issues.

      Now, I’m plugged in. And my new involvement is due to the teachers who talked about what is REALLY happening in our schools. I’m glad they WERE talking about Obama, Duncan—who I knew nothing about until late in 2011—and Cuomo. That’s how I learned what was at stake for our schools.

      Educating parents and citizens about the duplicity, the counterproductive policies, and the collusion between elected officials, billionaire dollars and the news media, isn’t “talking to ourselves”; it’s just the opposite. It is what got my attention, my focus and now my full commitment. And I’m spreading the word to my friends, family, co-workers and through social media.

      And doing so certainly isn’t “selling our children short”. That claim is about as Orwellian as it gets. Kids know when someone is on their side and sincerely trying to help them. Under what form of “logic” would criticism of these fraudulent “Ed Reform” policies mean that we’re somehow losing confidence in our children?

      Again, it’s exactly the opposite: I think ALL children are capable of studying the curriculum available at Dalton, Sidwell Friends and the University of Chicago Laboratory School. And that curriculum and academic structure is 180 degrees from what the “Ed Reform” (a.k.a. “Privatizers”) are advocating.


    • Puget Sound Parent

      Also, which of the “Education” companies do you work for? (You’ve certainly memorized their hoary cliches exceedingly well.)

      No matter, really. We already know that your funding will come from any combination of Broad, Gates, Walton, Tilson or Bloomberg. Which of these are paying you?


  4. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t mean MORE Cuomo as Gov. He needs to be OUT of politics and disappear………


  5. Pingback: Peter Goodman: Will Cuomo’s “Death penalty for Schools” Derail His Ambitions? | Diane Ravitch's blog

  6. Pingback: Peter Goodman: Will “Death penalty for Schools” Derail Cuomo Ambitions? |

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