“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.
A year ago Andrew Cuomo was rolling….
The governor shoved aside a pesky Fordham law professor in the Democratic primary and defeated Rob Astorino, the Westchester County Executive in November. Not the landslide that might have pushed him into the national limelight; however, a victory is a victory. The worm in the apple was education; teachers were hostile, the state poured endless billions into schools, and the new Common Core tests scores were appalling: an opportunity to blame the poor scores on teachers (and their union) and satisfy his charter school buddies.
On December 18th Jim Malatras, the Cuomo Chief of Operations sent a blazing letter to Chancellor Merryl Tisch, an accusatory letter demanding responses to a list of questions.
The Malatras letter lists twelve questions, demands answers, and implies that since we have no confidence in the ability of the Board of Regents to resolve any of these questions/concerns we will use the budgetary process to impose our solutions. And, to rub salt in the wounds one of the questions asks the chancellor to choose her method of execution.
“As you know, the appointment and selection of the Board of Regents is unique in that unlike other agencies selection and appointments are made by the Legislature. Would you make changes to the selection and appointment process, and, if so, what are they?”
On December 31 the chancellor responded with a 20-page letter , humble, respectful, and, meaningless.
True to his threats the governor packed the budget bill with education initiatives, the same that were included in his December 18th letter.
The teacher probationary period was increased from three to four years, struggling schools could be placed in receivership, an idea borrowed from Massachusetts, a complex plan backed by $75 million in state dollars: turn the schools over to outside “receivers,” who run the school independent of the school district, with powers to amend the teacher contract, and yet another teacher evaluation plan, again, borrowed from Massachusetts, usually referred to as the “matrix,” that embeds student growth scores (Value Added Modeling, aka, VAM) in a teacher rating.
The May to September romance did not end well.
The Legislature had no intention of giving away the power to appoint members of the Board of Regents; in fact, they filled the four vacancies with independents who immediately challenged the governor.
Over 200,000 parents, one in five, opted out of the state tests, and, the movement was growing. Grassroots parents, not tied to a political party, were sprouting all over the state, and, the culprit, the governor.
On the national scene the once ballyhooed Common Core was under attack.
The signature 2002 No Child Left Behind law that required annual testing and granted sweeping authority to the feds, was being reauthorized, with sharply reduced federal authority, and, teacher assessment was nowhere to be seen.
The governor scrambled to respond, at arm’s length; he resuscitated the 2012 Cuomo Commission, reduced and streamlined the membership, renamed the Task Force, with a new agenda.
See the Task Force web site here .
The Task Force set up “listening sessions” around the state, not webcast.
The agenda was simple, how the hell do we mollify these opt out parents and stop the teachers union from pummeling us across the state.
In a quiet move the governor selected yet another education adviser; instead of someone from the reform-y side the guv actually selected a state superintendent, one who has been a sharp critic of the state testing agenda.
The Task Force report is due the first week in December and the spin masters are bobbing and weaving.
In a New York Times article, titled, “Cuomo, in Shift, Is Said to Back Reducing Test Scores’ Role in Teacher Reviews,” Kate Taylor, recounts the “politics,”
And according to two people involved in making state education policy, Mr. Cuomo has been quietly pushing for a reduction, even to zero. That would represent an about-face from January, when the governor called for test scores to determine 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.
With a straight face, Jim Malatras said, “There is no position of this administration with respect to this issue.”
The position of the administration is to distance themselves from any negative fallout and at the same time defuse a ticking time bomb.
Commissioner Elia proposed reducing the impact of VAM to 20%, and withdrew the proposal when the Cuomo side pushed back, perhaps a moratorium on the impact of students test scores until 2019, by pure chance, the year after the next gubernatorial election.
Should the governor take credit for the changes? If so, he risks the ire of his new-found charter school, deep-pocketed allies. The Long Island Republicans would love to take credit for changes and win over the opt-outs, and the Democrats, who appoint the Board members also want a slice of the pie. The Regents and the commissioner could be tasked with making the changes; they can be blamed for failures.
The use of student growth scores, VAM, is dead; the assassins are haggling over who stands over the warm corpse holding the still beating VAM heart over their head screaming victory.