A Reply to the Cuomo Letter: Should the Governor Be Responsible for All Education Policies? Should the Commissioner and the Board of Regents Be Appointed by the Governor?

Jim Malatras
Director of State Operations
Executive Chamber
Albany, New York

Dear Jim:

Let me thank you for your letter of December 18th to Chancellor Tisch and Commissioner King, you highlight educational policy issues confronting education in the state, some constructive and others destructive.

You write,

“…we lag behind in graduation rates, only 34.4% of students are proficient in math, 31.4% proficient in ELA and only 37.5 of our students college ready.”

The current scores reflect the flawed introduction of the common core, two years ago; on the previous tests, two-thirds of our students were proficient. Our high school graduation requirements exceed other states, while the feds only require tests in Math, ELA and Science New York State requires five regents exams, and two of the exams (ELA and Algebra) are common core exams. Other states retain low standards to increase test scores and graduation rates; in New York State students come first, rather than your churlish comments you should have offered praise. Yes, we must address the challenges in the “Big Five,” we must target our growing population of English language learners, and, especially the disparity in funding from district to district.

I agree that the Governor has little direct authority over education. In fact, the Commissioner also has limited authority. The East Ramapo School District transferred millions upon millions of dollars from public to non-public parochial schools. Hank Greenberg, the state-appointed monitor excoriated and bemoaned the policies of the school board, and recommended legislation. The Commissioner does not have the authority to remove a school board.

You write the Governor will “…pursue an aggressive package to improve public education.”

I suggest that in the State of the State message the Governor announce he will support a constitutional amendment to abolish the Board of Regents and place education totally under the control of the Governor. In the interim he should introduce legislation to move the appointment of the Commissioner under the authority of the Governor.

Allow the public to decide the future of school governance in a constitutional referendum.

For thirty years New York City education was governed by a school board appointed jointly by the boro presidents and mayors. There was no accountability, electeds claimed credit for successes and blamed chancellors for failures. Chancellors came and went as mayors dumped one after another. The move to mayoral control was widely supported, including by the teacher union. For the first eight years Mayor Bloomberg basked in successes, for his last four years he suffered as the public lost confidence in his policies.

The successes, or lack thereof, of schools should fall on the shoulders of the Chief Executive of the State. Blaming the toothless members of the Board of Regents is a copout; the Governor either allows the Regents and the Commissioner to run the state school system or moves to take control and responsibility for education in the State of New York.

Your comment, “As you know, the Governor has little power over education, which is governed by the Board of Regents,” would draw smiles from Regents members.

The unpaid, unstaffed Regents have no control over budget, no control over any of the 700 school districts; they can adopt regulations but do not have the power to enforce the regulations and must comply with policy decisions made in Washington. The current teacher evaluation law, which may or may not need fine tuning, was strongly supported by the Governor.

What is unsaid in your letter is the method of funding education in New York State. Schools in high tax districts offer a wide range of elective and advanced placement classes, teams, bands and extracurricular activities. Education takes place in beautiful buildings with superb physical plants; classroom stocked with computers and smart boards; in low tax districts students and teachers work in dilapidated buildings, district struggles to buy fuel to heat buildings.

The Governor should use the State of the State to announce he was abolishing local property taxes, all school funding would come from Albany as part of the budgeting process

The current 2% property tax cap is forcing districts to make cut after cut in school programs, wealthier districts have been able to sustain programs while an increasing number of low wealth district are effectively bankrupt. The situation will only get worse.

You write,

“We understand that change is difficult and that there are political realities but please give your opinion without political filters or the consideration of the power of special interests and respond on what you think is best as a pure matter of policy. Leave the political maneuvering to the to the legislative process so at least the conversation is informed and the public see what enlightened policy would do” and list twelve questions.

Your first “question” is actually a list of question about the teacher evaluation system. Hamilton Langford, one of the most highly regarded educational researchers, in a just-released report, writes,

… since 1999 the academic ability of both individuals certified and those entering teaching [in New York State] has steadily increased. These gains are widespread and have resulted in a substantial narrowing of the differences in teacher academic ability between high and low poverty schools and between white and minority teachers. We interpret these gains as evidence that the status of teaching is improving.

Jim, the APPR, the teacher evaluation tool, will not improve teaching. The pool of prospective teachers is large, 80% of SUNY graduates in elementary education who received certification in education have failed to find jobs. Teachers serve a three year probationary periods that can be extended. In high poverty districts fifty percent of teacher leave within five years.

Yes, perhaps we should look more closely at the results of the APPR in New York City as to lessons learned as the scores would seem to mirror the realities of instructional competencies.

What is not a good sign is that the number of students entering teacher education programs in New York State is declining. Clearly the incessant teacher-bashing is discouraging students from entering teacher preparation programs.

You wrote, “While some seek to demonize teachers, Governor Cuomo believes the exact opposite.” Unfortunately that is not the perception of teachers. The Governor’s offhand comment re “breaking the public school monopoly” was perceived by teachers as “demonizing teachers.”

Your “accusation” that it is “almost impossible” to discharge teachers is inaccurate. In New York City the union and the city negotiated significant changes in the law; from the date charges are preferred against a teacher arbitrators must render decisions within four months and the length of time is actually less. Commissioner King characterized the New York City procedures as a “model for New York State.”

You query about the advisability of a “one-time” competency test for in-service teachers, would this exam replace replace the current evaluation system? Would you recommend lawyers take annual bar exams?

Your comment “should the state create a program whereby teachers have to be recertified every several years, like lawyers …,” brings a smile to my face. My lawyer friends take “courses” in Hawaii to fulfil the requirement to keep their license updated.

What you refer to as “financial and other incentives” has been negotiated in New York City. The current contract creates a range of teacher titles with additional salary for increased instructional responsibilities. Endless attempts to tie financial remuneration, merit pay, to student test scores have failed everywhere. Teachers quit due to a “lack of administrative support” and teachers move to other schools to teach higher achieving students. Teachers remain in high poverty schools due to the climate of the school – teachers thrive in collegial cultures – merit pay sets teacher against teacher.

Buffalo’s problems cannot be considered in a vacuum: continuing high unemployment, generational poverty, a contentious school board, increasing numbers of English language learners, declining revenues … and a revolving door of superintendents. The state did take over the Roosevelt School District, without much success. The “solutions” for Buffalo schools must be part of a larger Buffalo plan, in other words you cannot improve education in Buffalo without improving the City of Buffalo

In November the Board of Regents authorized a charter school in Rochester, a few days later we found out that the “lead sponsor” was a 22-year old with a fraudulent resume and the charter school board lacked the credentials and expertise to run a school. How did the Commissioner approve such a school? Ineptitude? Behind the scenes politics? At the December Board of Regents meeting a number of New York City charter schools were recommended by NYC for renewal. The charter schools claimed the right to “expel” students, and, the academic data was appalling. The Board sent the renewal applications back to the City.

If charter schools are not meeting academic expectations there must be interventions, or, the charters should be revoked. The current climate gives charter schools “a pass” and must be corrected.

A larger issue: a few charter school networks raise millions upon millions of dollars from external contributors. If individuals or businesses or corporations want to contribute the dollars should NOT go to a single school, charter or public, or to a charter school network. The dollars should be “contributed” to the school district and the funds distributed by a needs formula to all schools in the district, public and charter.

Before we increase a cap, let’s remedy the inequities and failures.

Yes, the 700 school districts in New York State are an anachronism, the regionalization or consolidation must be part of changes to the school funding formula.

I addressed the last two questions earlier; the responsibility for schools should fall directly at the feet of the Governor.

I will be sitting in the audience on January 7th and I anxiously await the Governor’s education agenda and I hope my suggestions are useful.


Peter Goodman
Ed in the Apple
Blogging on the Intersection of Education and Politics

One response to “A Reply to the Cuomo Letter: Should the Governor Be Responsible for All Education Policies? Should the Commissioner and the Board of Regents Be Appointed by the Governor?

  1. Congratulations to Peter Goodman. He has outlined many of the problems (and most of the solutions) currently making the education of our children a terrible, unfair, expensive mess. Obviously the state must fund education and not depend on the regressive property tax. The Governor does have the power to be the education leader if he so chooses. Well done Mr. Goodman.


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