Reflecting on the Chicago 2015 Network for Public Education Conference and our Hero: Diane Ravitch

An invigorating and thoughtful weekend!

For me, meeting in-service and retired teachers, parents and activists from every nook and cranny across America makes me optimistic. From rural Tennessee, along the Mexico-Texas borders, across Florida, from Minneapolis, Michigan, to the urban centers, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston, the amazing geographic diversity of public school activists. Special kudos to the parents, community activists, school board members and local legislators organizing around education issues and fighting the incredibly well-funded opponents of public education.

Too often we feel isolated; we fail to understand that we are an army spread across the nation.

Watch some of the incredible speakers here

The attendees are self-selected, while some lead local organizations many simply represent themselves.

Diane and the Network for Public Education, a rare nationwide education organization without funding from the “usual suspects,” the Gates, Broad and Walton crowd, provides a nationwide forum, Diane’s blog, the bloggers network and the annual national conference.

The highlights:

* Diane moderating a discussion with the two national teacher union leaders: NEA leader Lily Ekelsen and AFT President Randi Weingarten.

* Yong Zhao, “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Dragon,” a Chinese-born scholar’s brilliant critique of the Common Core and Testing.

* And the closing dialogue between Diane and Chicago Teacher Union President Karen Lewis.

Some personal views:

I am a results-oriented unionist: set an agenda, design a strategy, work on multiple forums, seek alliances, work toward the endgame and the achievement of the core issues. For me, the frustration of public school activists has led to opposing and blaming more than building a strategy. The crankiness of a few attendees who choose to attack other attendees for their lack of purity is both disturbing and a reality. I fully understand political differences – unions have political caucuses and candidates vie for the votes of union members. A year ago the New York State United Teachers, for the first time, engaged in a major internal struggle resulting in the election of new leadership. Union members select their own leadership, the strength of a union is accepting the decision of the members and supporting the elected leadership. In Chicago and Los Angeles, Karen Lewis in Chicago and Alex Caputo-Pearl in Los Angeles challenged leadership, won their elections, and with the support of the entire member negotiated new contracts. (See new UTLA contract here)

The loudest applause of the weekend came when Diane asked Karen Lewis about the possibility of a national teacher strike. (Listen to Joe Glazer sing “The Power of the Union,” an old Wobblies song), Karen began by musing it would take five years to organize and she wouldn’t be the organizer and reminded the audience that in spite of the Chicago teacher strike fifty schools were closed.

A snarky Louisiana blogger attacked Randi Weingarten for a robo-call in September 2014 supporting the Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidate. My view from New York State; when the State Democratic Party asks for a favor it’s a good idea to support the state organization that controls the flow of all legislation in New York State. Attacking each other weakens the movement.

The panels opposed a long, long list of initiatives: the Common Core, testing, Arne Duncan, the ills of poverty, discrimination, racism, sexism, and on and on. The Opt-Out movement is a prime example, I fully support the right of parents to Opt-Out, and view with fascination the explosion of the movement and the political ramifications, the goals of the Opt-Out parents are less clear: abolish all tests, or better, fairer tests, or dump the Common Core, or simply a general anger directed at the “authorities” that are driving education policy.

Unfortunately the (de)formers espouse policies, charter schools, abolishing tenure, Teach for America and the “good” guys oppose the (de)formers. At one workshop a community-led organization rolled through a 20-30 slide power point opposing a long list of bad policies and a single final slide calling for ending poverty and creating a living wage.

Calls for a national teacher strike are depressing, calls for working together with like-minded organizations to achieve a stated goal, whether community schools, or a teacher-led professional development initiative or moving from standardized testing to portfolios, all achieving goals, is preferable and the beginning of the long path to a student-centered school system.

UFT Prez Weingarten discussed the bi-partisan reauthorization of ESEA (No Child Left Behind); the AFT is supporting a bill that does not include grade span testing. Randi explained that for the civil rights organizations, traditional partners, eliminating annual testing was a non-starter and without the support of civil rights organizations that would not be a bill. In spite of Weingarten’s explanation the “purists” were critical. They’d rather have no bill, shortsighted and antithetical to the goal of erasing the power of Duncan.

In New York City Mayor Bloomberg did everything possible to bait the UFT to strike, The union worked closely with hundreds a organizations around the city, ran hundreds of community “actions,” well-placed TV campaigns, and eroded the Mayor’s popularity. By the time he left office the public clearly trusted teachers more than the Mayor.

A national teachers strike is emotionally exciting, as is screaming Mayan chants as you hold Arne Duncan’s still-beating heart in your hands … both unlikely. More gratifying is being invited to the signing ceremony in the White House that reauthorizes an ESEA that removes Duncan from the education mix.

The leader of the “fight-back” movement is Diane Ravitch, the unlikely leader, a historian, a scholar with the sharpest pen in the nation. She is our Joanne D’Arc, our Rosa Luxemburg.

The more that social democracy develops, grows, and becomes stronger, the more the enlightened masses of workers will take their own destinies, the leadership of their movement, and the determination of its direction into their own hands.
Rosa Luxemburg

And. of course.

Stemming the Anti-Testing Tsunami: Fire Pearson – A Political Solution to a Educational Crisis in the New York State Educational Morass

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning

Off the record an Assembly member, “If these Opt-Out parents understood politics we’d all be in trouble.”

The wave of test refusal parents is frightening to elected officials across the state, especially in the districts with staggering numbers of refusers.

The next election cycle begins with primary elections in September 2016 and the general election in November and the Opt Out movment look like it will continue to gather steam.

I was contacted by a political consultant, could I give him a briefing on the issues surrounding the Common Core and the test refusal issues? He was preparing for customers, incumbents defending their position and insurgents trying to unseat the incumbents; the current fracas over Common Core and testing could be at the center of races.

It may hard to believe, the same issues will be resonating in the run up to the presidential election. Ironically the bi-partisan bill in the Senate is attempting to remove the issue, or, at least, decrease the temperature as we creep towards the beginning of the 2016 presidential primaries and caucuses.

For the candidates there is no right or wrong side, the business community, the funders of elections, support the Common Core while many of the voters, especially parent and teacher voters have doubts, or are vigorously opposed. Jump on the anti-Common Core and anti-testing band wagon and attract teacher/parent voters, and perhaps face a richly funded pro-Common Core/testing candidate: a conundrum.

The Senate reauthorization bill moves most of the most controversial issues down to the states and lessens the impact at the federal level.

For the Tea Party folks, the far right in the House, the only acceptable bill would abolish the US Department of Education, and with it, Title 1, the section that drives billions to the poorest schools.

In New York State the Democrats on the Assembly side and the Republicans on the Senate side are scrambling to amend sections of the 15-16 budget and soften the sweeping changes to the teacher evaluation law.

Chancellor Tisch called for moving the date for completing the construction of district plans from November 15th to June 30th with some positive support from electeds. A Governor spokesperson seemed open to the extension with reservations and the print media slammed the Chancellor.

The new teacher evaluation law, to use a sports term, “punts” the details to the Board of Regents. The members of the Regents have two months to craft regulations, the actual guts of the new law, the current law took a year to convert to regulations.

NYSUT, the state teacher union opposes the current law, and asks for sweeping changes in the law as well as changes in the Growth Model calculations, the crux of the student performance section of the matrix.

* Read a NYSUT Letter to Chancellor Tisch opposing the current growth model.

* NYSUT List of Recommendations for Changes in the Former Law which were not included in the current law.

*A NYSUT White Paper opposing the current Growth Model.

* NYSUT calls for a Differentiated Evaluation Process that is a total departure from the current law.

The State Department of Education has set up a website for comments: evaluation2015@nysed.gov

Teachers all over the state see the current and the new teacher evaluation law as an attempt to fire teachers, especially senior, higher paid teachers.

The reality: in the last year of the old “S” or “U” system 2.8% of teachers in New York City received an unsatisfactory rating, in the first year of the HEDI system only 1.6% of New York City teachers received an ineffective rating.

At the April Regents Meeting a State Ed Assistant Commissioner presented a deep dive into HEDI data, entitled, Examining Educator Excellence , and decided highly effective teachers should be assigned to lowest achieving students, the assumption is that the state tests are “valid and reliable” and fails to address the “chicken-egg” dilemma: do teachers of higher achieving students receive higher ratings and the reverse, do teachers of lower achieving kids receive lower ratings?

Principals and teachers have no confidence in the evaluation system and parents have no confidence in the Common Core tests.

The standards-setting contingent will meet in late June and set the cut scores which will be released in late July – early August. This is the third year of Common Core testing and I suspect the scores will increase by maybe three, four or five points; however, a majority of kids will still fall in the “below proficient” category.

The teacher scores, released in September/October will reflect the old law; school districts will be in the midst of negotiating new APPR plans.

Anger will not be assuaged: no matter the test scores, for teachers or for students, the criticism, the passion, the anger will continue to build.

In December the Governor attempted to stem the building tsunami and pushed Commissioner King to Washington, to no avail, the test refusal parents had “the taste of blood,” last week well over 100,000 parents opted their children out of the state tests. The parents are middle class parents who vote.

The only “answer” is to dump the Pearson Common Core tests: a political solution to an educational problem. Artfully blame Pearson, blame David Coleman, blame Arne Duncan, it doesn’t matter, without the Pearson-Common Core branded tests the tsunami will wane and the issue will drift away.

Yes, the NY Post, The Daily News, the Wall Street Journal and the conservative think tanks will scream, lowering standards, giving in to the “all-powerful” teacher unions, shame, shame…

David Tyack and Larry Cuban,
Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (1997) should be required reading for school reformers,

Tyack and Cuban argue that the ahistorical nature of most … reform proposals magnifies defects and understates the difficulty of changing the system. Policy talk has alternated between lamentation and overconfidence. The authors suggest that reformers … need to focus on ways to help teachers improve instruction from the inside out instead of decreeing change by remote control, and that reformers must also keep in mind the democratic purposes that guide public education.

David Coleman and John King failed understand what a century of school reforms has taught us, unless parents and teachers are onboard the reforms will fall by the wayside; reform comes from the inside out, not imposed from the outside.

As a student was leaving my class at the end of a lesson he said, “Mr. G. that was really hard.” I smiled; we should always challenge kids, as teachers we should challenge ourselves, we should challenge colleagues. The move to a single Regents diploma took a dozen years, slowly, incrementally, parents and teachers bought in to the higher standards. The Common Core is not evil, the CCSS should be aspirational goals, and just as we slowly built support for the Regents diploma we should have built support for the Common Core. An education issue has become a political crisis; unless the electeds find a solution parents will express their wraith at the polls.

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, wrote an essay entitled “One Step Backwards, Two Steps Forward,” and the educational leadership in New York State has follow the advice, the state has to take a step backwards, take a deep breath and reload.

Firing Pearson and adopting new more meaningful tests is a necessity, both politically and educationally.

Stepping Outside the Matrix: Ending Test Mania and Professionalizing Teachers

Guest blogger: Marc Korashan has had a long career as a public school and college teacher, education evaluator, union organizer and an observer of the education scene

The Governor in his zeal to attack teachers ignored everything we know about VAM, student test scores, and what is needed to improve teaching. I would submit that the test scores (both reading and math) are frauds because neither predicts with any meaningful accuracy (Predictive Validity) whether students will actually read or use math to solve problems in the real world. The tests tell us, at best, if students have certain basic skills, but they mostly do this in a comparative model rather than an absolute model. Tests are designed to tell us if Johnny reads (or does math) as well as the hypothetical average student in his grade. They do not tell us if Johnny can read and understand texts written at a particular level of difficulty or, more importantly, will read those texts on his own.

The Governor and his allies compound that fraud by trying to make a causal link between observed teacher performance and student test scores. We know a great deal about what we believe good teaching looks like. It is mostly about getting students interested in learning, giving them the tools to work with, and problems they are interested in pursuing. The tests are not interesting, are constructed to be deliberately confusing so as to better discriminate among students, and do not reflect the real world at all. (Remember the two trains from opposite directions on the same track in Algebra.)

Every teacher has come across a student or students who do not do well on tests but excel in extended projects that they chose for themselves. Which is more indicative of student learning, the score on a test designed to discriminate among students or the well written research paper (or poem, or play or story) that a student chose to work on and put in time and effort to complete?

The current testing mania (and it is clearly a mania in the true sense of the word) flows from an inherent distrust of teachers. The guiding presumption is that we can’t allow teachers to grade students because they will inflate the grades to make themselves look good. Isn’t this what happened in Atlanta (and Washington DC and in Houston before NCLB was passed). Eduardo Porter in the New York Times wrote a piece explaining how any high stakes metric based on a single measure encourages cheating. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/25/business/economy/grading-teachers-by-the-test.html) His examples go beyond Education to aspects of medical practice and policing.

Nonetheless, teachers need to be evaluated from year to year to ensure that they are applying what we know to be the best practices and are actively engaged in trying to get the best from their students. The solution is not to double down on these flawed tests, but to think seriously about what we want students to know and be able to do, encapsulate that in performance standards and then think long and hard about how students can demonstrate they have achieved the standard.

Standards have to be expressed in terms of actual performance. The roll out of the Common Core was flawed because teachers were not involved in discussing what the standard looked like in practice nor were they given the time to develop activities (curriculum) to help students get to the standard or projects that would represent achievement of the standard.

A standard like the one the CCSS abandoned, “Students will read 25 book or book equivalents in a year,” is much more meaningful in telling us which students are reading and will continue to read. More importantly the artifacts that students submit to demonstrate they met the standard give the teacher meaningful information that s/he can use to push the student to tackle more challenging readings in their area of interest. We know that students who read more will become better readers.

Education is a system where the professionals are not treated as such. Education is seen as best governed from the outside using test developers who work in secret to create evaluation tools to measure students and, now, teacher performance. That is not true for doctors, lawyers, accountants or other professionals. The quality of their work is judged by their peers based on standards of performance for the profession and the actual work they do.

Any system for evaluating professionals that is not built on the experience and knowledge of the best practitioners is doomed from the start. That is what happened in the roll out of the existing APPR formula and will happen again with the Governor’s new rating system.

The solution is for the Regents to hold hearings to get teacher and parent input on the problems with the high stakes testing regime. How is it distorting instruction, what is it doing to students in terms of pressure and stress? The Regents need to think about a system that uses peers to observe and evaluate teacher practice and what kind of rubric will really define what good practice looks like. (Most of the teachers in the corporate charter schools that the Governor is so fond of would fare poorly on rubrics that stress social learning as those schools use direct instruction and rote drill to a much greater degree than the NYC public schools allow.) More importantly than what a class looks like to an outside observer on a given day, is the quality of thought and the reasons for the instructional decisions the teacher made that day (and makes over and over again every day).

These discussions have to continue past the point of creating a formula for next year. They need to become the foundation for a reasoned and sensible system that will put to bed the junk science and the over-emphasis on high stakes tests that are not being used for the limited purposes they can serve. We need to develop an evaluation system that recognizes the professionalism and knowledge that teachers have and ends the 19th century model of school supervision that we are still mired in. We need a system that encourages bright young people to enter the profession, supports them, encourages them to think and develop their skills so that they choose to stay in the profession.

Welcome to the Matrix: The New York State Board of Regents Begins to Create Yet Another New Teacher Evaluation Plan – By June 30th.

On Monday, April 13th the members of the Board of Regents and a packed audience listened to a lengthy description of the “enacted budget,” the education provisions of the fiscal year 15-16 state budget.

The 18-slide Power Point, “A Review of Education Policy in the Enacted 2015-16 State Budget” lays out the Commissioner’s view of the new law. The key question was asked by a new member, Regent Johnson, how much authority do we have under the law in designing a teacher evaluation plan?

The answer is unclear.

APPR Field Guidance, all 100-plus pages, spells out the intricate details of the current plan (Read here)

The growth formula on pages 10-11 was used in NYC in 2010 and has been “refined” for the NYS 2011. (Read here)

The members of the legislature told the Regents, you’re in charge.

Over the next month or so the actual authority of the Regents to craft the new regulations will emerge

The purpose of required grades 3-8 testing under No Child Left Behind is to assess student progress based on standardized tests and identify low performing schools, called “focus,” “priority” and “persistently lowest achieving,” aka “out of time” schools, and, under Race to the Top, create a teacher performance metric based on multiple measures including student test scores.

Over 700 schools in New York State are either “focus” or “priority” and in New York City 94 low achieving schools are in a Renewal category; show progress or face redesign or closure.

The adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) changed the playing field. As I have written before I did not read the standards more dramatically different than previous standards, the dramatic difference is that the standards are no longer aspirational goals. State tests were curriculum-based within the framework of standards, the CCSS tests are now standard-based tests, and curriculum is superfluous.

Some school districts, school districts with resources, purchased new materials and began to intensively train staffs, other school districts, school districts that stumble to meet day-to-day costs lagged. The enormous difference in district to district funding once again determines testing outcomes, the rich get richer at the expense of the poor.

For reasons that still elude me Commissioner King followed the “push off the end of the diving board” approach to phasing in the new, far more complex and difficult tests – the state moved from two-thirds passing to two-thirds failing. Teachers suddenly forgot how to teach and students forgot how to learn.

The Race to the Top application required a teacher evaluation plan: negotiations took months and the final plan required a numerical rating for each teacher on a 0 – 100% scale. The scale is divided in three sections, 20% based on student test scores, 20% based on a locally negotiated metric and 60% based on supervisory observations; however,the law requires that if a teacher received an ineffective grade on either student test scores or locally negotiated metric the teacher must be rated ineffective regardless of their composite score.

When the dust settled, in year one 51% of teachers were rated highly effective and 40% effective, only 1% received an ineffective rating. The numerical grades were confusing. The scores are “unstable,” wide swings from year one to year two, and, neither teachers nor principals have any idea how the scores were determined.

The student performance score section is a growth score: the incredibly dense formula matches teachers teaching similar students. If a teacher of very low achieving students moves students from level 1.8 to 2.2 they will have a higher growth score than a teacher of high achieving students whose grades decline from 3.5 to 3.3.

The new law, the “enacted budget,” totally changes the system.

Welcome to the Matrix.

The new system does away with numerical scores.

Teachers will receive a HEDI score based on student performance and a HEDI score based on observations.

Under the old plan if you received an ineffective on student performance you were ineffective … the observation score, no matter how high was irrelevant, you were ineffective.

Under the matrix plan if student performance is ineffective and your observation score is either highly effective or effective you receive a developing score.

I believe a significant improvement.

We no long have to be concerned with percentages or composite scores; simply slide across and down the matrix and you have your score.

Although the matrix looks simple there are complexities: how do you set the bands, in essence the cut scores that determine the HEDI ranges? These are complex statistical determinations. How do you work out the administrative morass of outside evaluators for the observation section? Will there be multiple observation models? Will schools select an observation model? Will there be special training for the outside evaluators? Will schools choose teachers as peer evaluators? What will be the cost to the school district? There are 700 school districts in New York State, many with 100 or fewer teachers, schools are many miles apart, needless to say an administrative nightmare.

As the state moved into the new teacher evaluation system a few years ago the dialogue was fierce, growth scores were “junk science,” hundreds or thousands of teachers would be unfairly fired, the entire purpose was to discharge senior high priced teachers, and on and on.

The reality: one percent of teachers received an ineffective grade and I suspect few, very, very few teachers received consecutive ineffective grades.

The system; however, is seriously flawed, it produced too many “anomalies,” teachers who received an ineffective on student performance and highly effective on observations – was the observer totally wrong, or, is the system flawed? Larger numbers of teachers teaching low SES students, English language learners and students with disabilities received lower scores, to me, the “formula” is biased to favor teachers teaching higher SES students.

The New York City union, the UFT, negotiated an appeal procedure, in one school sixteen teachers were rated ineffective although they received highly effective and effective on student performance, one would suspect retribution on the part of the principal.

Questions are numerous, and will continue to emerge and time is short, don’t be shy:

Regents/State Education has already set up a comment site – feel free to ask questions and send comments and advice.

Eval2015@nysed.gov

The School Wars: A New Chapter – Can the Newly Reconstituted Board of Regents Create a Teacher Evaluation Plan – in Two Months? The Regents Face a Daunting Task.

Regents? Aren’t those the exams you have to pass to graduate high school in New York State? The Regents, formally the Board of Regents, founded in 1784, is the oldest education governing body in the nation and is embedded in the state constitution.

ARTICLE V – OFFICERS AND CIVIL DEPARTMENTS
§ 4. [Department heads]
… The head of the department of education shall be The Regents of the University of the State of New York, who shall appoint and at pleasure remove a commissioner of education to be the chief administrative officer of the department…

ARTICLE XI – EDUCATION
§ 1. [Common schools]
The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.

The seventeen members of the Board, 13 representing the judicial districts in the state, and four at-large, are elected by a joint meeting of the New York State legislature.

Members of policy board commonly serve in anonymity, who knows the name of any of the members of the CUNY or SUNY boards? For decades the Regents selected commissioners, usually from among the superintendents in the state or from another state, and set general policies.

In the mid-nineties the Regents made a significant change, The Board moved from a multi-diploma system to a single Regents diploma. Most students in the state graduated with a local diploma that required passing the Regents Competency Examination (CTE), a perhaps eighth or ninth grade level test. After months and months of debate. often acrimonious debate, the regulation was adopted and a phase-in of the single Regents diploma began, a five year phase-in was delayed and extended and took twelve years to be fully phased in.

There were no demonstrations, no front page above the fold articles in the New York Times; schools worried and struggled to implement the new regulations. The impact was staggering, the bar was raised and in spite of the extended phase-in graduation rates dipped in many schools and the public yawned; however, schools recovered as did graduation rates. The bar was raised and teachers and students responded.

On Monday the seventeen Regents members will convene in Albany, a newly reconstituted Board. Four of the members are new, just elected by the legislature that chose to bump out two of the senior members, an unprecedented event. Regent members serve five year terms and incumbents had always been re-elected.

Four years of contentious hassling have changed the landscape. A year-long marathon to create a teacher evaluation system, the application for 770 million in Race to the Top dollars, aggressive school closings, charter schools caps, schools of education exit exams and the overriding issue: the Common Core State Standards grades 3-8 exams. Education became a front page topic.

An old political axiom: when you toss a rock into a pool of feces you never know whose going to get splashed created a maelstrom.

Parent and teacher anger grew, the Opt-Out movement moved from a curiosity to a tsunami and the governor acted aggressively, seemingly to punish teachers in the name of school reform.

Legislators showed their displeasure with the actions of the Regents by electing four new members (Read bios here), three retired superintendents and a veteran of the Buffalo School Board wars. There are now six retired superintendents on the seventeen member board; nine women, six Afro-Americans, one Latina and one Asian. The Board membership has moved rapidly from almost all White males to a diverse Board.

The message from the legislature is clear.

“We’re tired of having our e-mailboxes filled with angry communications asking us to ‘fix’ education policies. Angry parents and angry teachers lead to angry voters and jeopardize our election. We selecting new members of the Regents – fix education.”

The convoluted budget system in New York State forced the legislature to negotiate a complex “deal;” the 2015-16 budget includes changes in the teacher evaluation system and directs the policy-makers, the Board of Regents, to draft the plan and the regulations.

BTW, you have about two months, the Race to the Top funds are ending, the Regents Research Fund is ending, the feds are moving toward a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind and there is no commissioner.

Some argue the law is highly proscriptive, others that the Regents have significant latitude.

The “answer” is always found in the classrooms and schools, perhaps start slowly and phase in whatever the plan is over a few years, allow “the field” to craft plans, learn from the experience of Regent predecessors. The move to a single Regents diploma was slow and extended numerous times,

A brilliant, arrogant commissioner imposed his will and created the Opt-Out movement and a vindictive, self-aggrandizing governor alienated the school community.

Allowing wide latitude to the folks in the schools to craft plans to assess student and teacher progress; plans that allow students and teachers to learn, might make a lot more sense than the current test and punish mantra.

I wish the Regents well

How Citizen Lobbyists Can Influence Electeds on the Local Level (and a wonderful song!)

Since the passage of the budget and the Cuomo education initiatives my inbox has been filled with the comments of angry teachers.

* I’ll never bother voting again, it’s a waste of time.
* Politicians are subservient to the rich and don’t care about ordinary voters.
* I’ll never vote for a Republican or a Democrat, I’ll only vote for a third party candidate.
* Everyone should register as independents, not a major party.
* I sent 20 e-mails; it’s a waste of time.

I asked a state legislator how many e-mails he receives in a day.

“Anywhere between 500 and 1,000, I ask my intern to tally them by topic, and, my fax machine hums all day. If there’s an address attached from within the district I try and send an answer, otherwise I toss them, it’s overwhelming.”

Every day, before and or after a session the members meet in a closed door party caucus called “conference.” The leadership gives an update and the members freely discuss the issues, no votes are taken. Conference gives leadership an opportunity to “take the temperature” of the delegation and interact with members. Community activism varies around the state, Long Island Opt-Out parents and NYSUT, the state teachers union, have bombarded legislators, others legislators a trickle, most legislators are in “safe” districts, redistricting resulting from the ten-year census is controlled by the majority party in each house. There are 105 Democrats in the 150-seat Assembly. In the Senate the Independent Democratic Caucus and two Democrats caucus with the Republicans; a secure Republican majority.

Legislators made it abundantly clear, they opposed the Cuomo “reforms” and the leadership, the brand new Speaker, Carl Heastie, pushed back up until the last moment.

Leadership counts votes: the budget received 92 Democratic votes. All the Republicans in the Assembly voted against the budget, and all of the Democrats voted against the budget in the Senate.

There are some outliers within delegations who vote as they please; however, to alienate leadership means your bills will not move. Such is the reality of our political system. Legislators, as a courtesy, will inform leadership if they are voting against a leadership supported bill. If leadership has the votes, the member will get a pass. It is unheard of for an item to reach the floor and not pass, if leadership cannot count enough votes they withdraw the item.

After weeks of negotiations between the governor and the Democratic leadership an agreement was reached, from the perspective of the Speaker the final bill was as much as he could get, and, as I explained in my previous post voting down the budget was not an option.

A month down the road the legislature will be back with a full agenda. Should the charter school cap be increased? The 2% property tax “sunsets” and requires legislative action, as does mayoral control and rent control in New York City. For New York City legislators mayoral control and rent control are crucial issues, for the rest of the state the property tax cap is just as crucial. The legislature adjourns about the third week in June.

I worked in a New York City Community School District that actively lobbied local electeds. In December the Superintendent and the School Board organized a meeting, the invited guests: all the electeds as well as the local party leaders, parent representatives and union reps. Each year the district had an “ask,” specific budgetary items to assist the district. And, it was effective; my district probably led the city in “member item” dollars as well as special perks in the budget. We had state-funded pre-k classes in every school in the eighties and nineties. Yes, not fair, a diverse district; however, far “richer” than many other districts in the city; however, a district that understood politics.

My baptism of fire originated in school board elections. From 1972 until the beginning of mayoral control in 2003 school boards were elected. My district had many teacher residents; we developed campaigns to create coalitions among parents and teachers to elect the “good guys and gals” to the school board, with substantial success.

I urged teachers to join political clubs, to run for office within the party structure.

On club night I showed up at the most active clubs, I was the “teacher union guy,” who could occasionally resolve a parent issue or direct them to the person who could answer the question.

Do you contribute to your local elected? In New York State there are contribution limits, and all contributions are on a state web site. A small contribution goes a long way.

I would invite local electeds to speak, and answer questions at my union meetings.

The essence of politics is relationships, not the single issue one-timer.

Yes, the passage of many of the Cuomo initiatives was frustrating. You win some and lose some. The fight goes on. The more you are involved the more influence you have, the more familiar your face the more impact.

And, if you totally lose confidence in your elected, organize opposition in the party primary. Or, at least, start talking out it. Turnouts in the September primary elections is miniscule, A few thousand votes can win a primary election. Simply discussing the possibility of a primary can drive an elected to your direction.

Too many of my “cyber friends” are tuned off by politics; aside from teachers and parents there are a range of other activists: the “Dreamers,” the supporters of rent control, the anti-frackers, the pro-gun and anti-gun folks, and on and on, electeds make choices, some are totally involved in environmental issues, others women’s rights, and in New York City the upcoming rent control fight will be vicious.

There is always the next fight, the next election.

If you back away, if you renounce political activism you are benefiting the “bad guys,” apathy is unacceptable.

In my view we are opposed to high stakes testing, opposed to the Cuomo agenda, what do we favor? On the national level Randi Weingarten, the AFT President supports “solutions-driven unionism,” on the local or state level we need a narrow achievable agenda.

And besides, we have much better music:

The Topsy-Turvy Budget: Why the Governor Controls the NYS Budget Process and the Role of a Mobilized Citizenry

In the topsy-turvy world of New York State politics would the Assembly defeat of the state budget have been a victory for the opponents of the governor’s education agenda, or a defeat? In other words, would defeating the budget have more negative outcomes than passing the budget?

I know this sounds crazy, stick with me.

New York’s Budget Process:
In New York State, while the Legislature largely controls the drafting and passing of laws, the Executive has the authority to design and, once approved by the Legislature, implement the budget. This division of responsibility is termed executive budgeting, and is established in the State Constitution under Article VII.
Specifically, the governor has the power to:
1. Initiate budget negotiations by submitting an Executive Budget to the State Legislature, including the Executive’s own projections for spending and revenue.

2. Originate budget bills for executive branch agencies.

3. Veto any spending the Legislature added to the Executive Budget, though this veto can be overridden by a two-thirds majority in both houses.

4. Implement the enacted budget, which includes the ability to reduce the state workforce (though not to reduce spending on local assistance, which includes all aid to local governments, non-profits, and entitlement payments to individuals).

The Executive Budget … provides the basis for negotiations between the Legislature and Governor on spending and revenue. These negotiations must be concluded and a budget enacted by April 1st, the beginning of the new fiscal year in New York.

ARTICLE VII
State Finances

§4. The legislature may not alter an appropriation bill submitted by the governor except to strike out or reduce items therein, but it may add thereto items of appropriation provided that such additions are stated separately and distinctly from the original items of the bill and refer each to a single object or purpose

If a budget is not approved, the fiscal year begins without a budget, the state cannot pay bills or fund programs; state employees are unpaid, school aid payments suspended, no Medicare payments, the list goes on and one.

This tactic became commonplace, from 1985 until 2004 not a single budget was passed on time. Legislators would wait out the governor until unpopular items were removed or popular items added to the budget. The two branches battled away until one side or the other caved and an agreement was reached. In 2004 a budget agreement was not achieved until August 13th; for two years following the 2004 debacle, budgets were enacted on the last day of March; however, this was followed by four years of late budgets.

The state functioned due to week-to-week temporary budget extenders, bills introduced by the Legislature and signed by the governor that allowed basic state services to continue.

Originally, the fiscal year 2010-2011 Executive Budget produced by Governor Paterson included painful cuts opposed by the Legislature, leading to delays in their enactment. On June 16th, with the Legislature over two months late in offering a final budget, Paterson delivered an ultimatum. He threatened to roll the entire proposed Executive Budget into a single temporary budget extender on June 28th if the Legislature failed to produce a budget with no borrowing. Legislators would then be faced with the stark decision of either:
A. Enacting the Governor’s budget unchanged, or
B. Rejecting the temporary funding extender, shutting down all government operations for which funding was not already in place, and waiting for the Governor to come to the table.

Patterson had spent two decades as a Democrat in the Republican controlled State Senate and was placed on the ballot to “balance the ticket,” aka, attracting minority voters in New York City. Eliot Spitzer was elected and roared into Albany, only to abruptly resign over his prostitution scandal. Patterson was perceived as a weak governor who was under attack from Democrats as well as Republicans.

Patterson’s gambit was both brilliant, and unparalleled.

It was based on the no-alteration clause of the State Constitution and two New York Court of Appeals decisions, Pataki v. New York State Assembly and Silver v. Pataki (2004), both of which reaffirmed that the Legislature cannot amend the Governor’s appropriations under Article VII of the Constitution.

The no-alteration clause in Article VII, I remind you, states that:

The legislature may not alter an appropriation bill submitted by the governor except to strike out or reduce items therein, but it may add thereto items of appropriation provided that such additions are stated separately and distinctly from the original items of the bill and refer each to a single object or purpose.

In Silver v. Pataki, Judge Robert Smith of the State Court of Appeals ruled that:

If the Legislature disagrees with the Governor’s spending proposals, it is free, as the no-alteration clause provides, to reduce or eliminate them; it is also free to refuse to act on the Governor’s proposed legislation at all, thus forcing him to negotiate. But it cannot adopt a budget that substitutes its spending proposals for the Governor’s. If it could do so, executive budgeting would no longer exist.

Legislators could no longer resist the Governor’s budget agenda by refusing to approve a budget and forcing the governor to amend his appropriations.

Paterson, his authority enshrined in the Constitution and reaffirmed in the courts, realized that he could insert the same appropriations opposed by the Legislature in their weekly lifelines, the temporary budget extenders, the courts emasculated the Legislature.

The gambit sent a clear message: no more budget extenders, no more lifelines, unless you accept my terms. The incentive for the Legislature to delay enacting a budget to get better terms from the Governor disappeared.

The current budget was the fifth on time budget in a row.

You may ask why are the education initiatives in the budget? What does tenure, teacher evaluation and school “receiverships” have to do with budget appropriations? Understand that state aid to schools is critical to the functioning of schools across the state, and, the current budget includes one of the largest increases in memory. The governor linked state aid to his educational initiatives.

If the Assembly voted down the budget it would be faced with a conundrum: risk the loss of the state aid increases (the governor had only placed 300 million in his budget, the approved budget has a 1.4 billion) as well as the inclusion of the governor’s complete education agenda, or, negotiate the best deal possible.

The Assembly could have voted down the budget and challenged the addition of the non-budgetary education initiatives and live with the governor’s budget until the courts rule; the legal process takes about twelve to eighteen months to move through the three levels of the New York State (Supreme, Appellate, Appeals); and. legal experts doubt a challenge would be successful.

In January, at a UFT Delegates meeting UFT President Mulgrew laid out the complexity and limitations of the fight against Cuomo; attempting to explain the “budget extender” issue. I doubt most delegates understood. New York City has a very favorable Mayor and Chancellor, who to the extent possible will mitigate the impact of the Cuomo initiatives. The UFT sent a message to the electeds, we will fight Cuomo, do the best you can, we understand the limitations.

NYSUT, the confederation of 700 local unions scattered across the state had a more complex problem. NYSUT does not “own” any collective bargaining agreements; it is the advocacy arm of teachers cross the state. From the hundred thousand plus members in New York City, to the college teachers at both the New York City (CUNY) and state (SUNY) colleges and universities, from the other urban centers across the state (Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse) to the urban suburbs to the hundreds of locals in the economically distressed rural neighborhoods.

New York State has one of the worst school funding formulas in the nation. Two-thirds of school funding is generated through property taxes based upon local wealth. Million-plus dollar houses generate more dollars than houses in depressed farming areas. The richest districts get the most money, the poorest the least. The one-third distributed by the state is based upon a formula that attempts to mitigate the disparities. The top decile of schools is funded more than $10,000 above the bottom decile.

While the Cuomo budget was filled with items reviled by teachers, it did provide additional funding, funding that saved teaching jobs.

NYSUT leadership has been in office for less than a year; the prior administration was in place for many years. Much of the criticism is that they were ineffective in the political arena. A professor and Cornel ILR wrote a paper explaining the NYSUT election politics in detail – a fascinating read.

NYSUT has been relentless in attacks on the governor.

Unfortunately many teachers and parents, activists on Facebook and other sites fail to understand the process. Weeks of intense negotiations ends up with a budget. Senator Flanagan, the chair of the Senate Education Committee feels the final budget made meaningful changes in the original Cuomo budget.,

“The governor’s initial proposal was very aggressive, but there have been a number of changes,” Flanagan said on The Capitol Pressroom. “The 50 percent is out.”

Flanagan said its unlikely education officials and the Board of Regents would recommend scoring bands that weight tests at 50 percent of a teacher’s performance.

“I don’t see that happening. I think the valuable part of the process is there’s some time to do that,” he said. “The intention was, clearly, not to go to 50 percent.”

The next step is the implementation phase, regulations will be set by the State Ed and approved by the Board of Regents.

Teacher and parent advocacy resulted in the changing of four members of the Board of Regents, Three of the new Regents are retired superintendents and clearly a message was sent and received. Over the next few months the somewhat vague law will be converted to regulations. Advocacy is not only a flurry of letters and emails, it’s not only a single a visit to a legislators; it’s an ongoing process.

Do you contribute to electeds? Do you actually work in campaigns? Do you write letters to local newspapers? Do you attend local forums and meetings? Do you sponsor or host local meetings?

Advocacy is more than a Facebook post.

You’re not an effective advocate until your elected knows you by name.

For many this has been their first campaign, a frustrating campaign, the next campaign, charter school caps and mayoral control is around the corner.

Teaching is our profession, we have to own it – its not a single battle, its a liftime struggle.