Flanagan Hearings: An Opportunity to Vent, To Educate, Maybe, To Legislate

John Flanagan is an interesting politician with a bright future, A State Senator who represents the affluent North Shore of Long Island; in a period were the word “Republican” brings up images of the “Tea Party” and attacks on the President, the Affordable Care Act, immigration and just about every federal and state entitlement program Flanagan has steered clear of the ideology-driven rhetoric. He has wide support across the spectrum.

The New York State Senate has a unique leadership – Republican Dean Skelos is the titular party leader, he shares the leadership with Jeff Klein, a Democrat, who leads the break-away Independent Democratic Caucus. Bills require a Skelos-Klein nod to get to the floor.

The State legislature is almost totally controlled by the party leaders. On the Assembly side Sheldon Silver, the Speaker is the traditional iron-fisted leader who skillfully juggles the wants and needs of a potentially cantankerous membership.

In the uproar over the state testing program you hear not a whimper from the Assembly side.

Senator Flanagan has held hearings around the state, Long Island, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Tuesday in Manhattan.

Watch the hearings and read submitted testimony here

The hearings are an opportunity for the “invited guests” to educate the senators, speak to the media in the audience, and build support for their agenda.

The Manhattan session began with a packed room: Chancellor of the Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Department of Education Chief Education Officer Shael Policoff-Suranky interacted with the Senators. (Read news story here)

The outcomes:

* State Education will be announcing a number of New York City
“listening sessions” for the commissioner around the state testing program
* State Education will be reducing the testing regimen – a little.
* Mulgrew strongly supported the Common Core and sharply criticized the implementation – especially linking the Common Core to the brand new, untried teacher evaluation system
* Mulgrew was especially critical of the lack of a state curriculum and urged the state to work to development a curriculum, acknowledging that the ultimate responsibility was at the local level.
* Mulgrew derided the “testing” of kindergarten students.
* Suransky defended the department efforts, this was year three of the five year Common Core rollout, defended the department and pointed to the expenditure of hundreds of millions to train teachers.
* Suransky, proudly, pointed to significantly higher teacher growth scores in New York City – well above the scores for the rest of the state, as well as growth in student scores.
* Suransky said that 5-6% of fifth and sixth graders could not complete the test – up from the 1-2% in previous years.

While the press coverage resulted in active live tweeting, sound bites on the radio and a few news stories the impact may be on the senators sitting on the panel.

Senator Flanagan was deft in his questioning, as were the other electeds on the panel.

The Board of Regents was created in the 18th century and is a unique system of governance. The members of the Board are elected by a joint meeting of both houses of the State legislature, the governor has no role. The commissioner is selected by the Regents – the governor, once again, has no role. While the legislature and the governor fund the educational system throughout the state the executive and the legislative bodies have no voice in the creation of policies or the operation of the thousands of schools across seven hundred school districts, except to pass laws that would preempt regulations. It is an archaic and cumbersome machinery.

The Flanagan hearings could result in the introduction of proposed legislation, or, simply provide a forum for parents to vent.

John Flanagan is smart, popular, and, I would imagine ambitious. It will be interesting to see if the high profile forums lead to a more aggressive stance by the elected officials.


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