Tag Archives: Andrew Cuomo

The New York State Legislature, Charter Schools and the “Big Ugly:” A Lesson in Civics (aka, Realpolitics)

Realpolitics: political realism or practical politics especially based on power as well as on ideals.

Why is politics so contentious? Why can’t people get along? Why is everything so partisan?

I can also ask why don’t Mets and Yankee fans get along. Giant and Jets fans?

Politics is contentious, sports are contentious, factions are part of human nature and factions can be passionate.

In Federalist # 10 Madison wrote,

AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice

 Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

 Madison acknowledges that factions are at the heart of a democracy,

 Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.

Faction, while at the heart of a democracy, can be destructive, one remedy, autocracy, destroys democracy.

We should be teaching students that ideals should drive policy; however, different people have different ideals and different paths to achieving their goals. Passion can be constructive or destructive.

New York State politics is contentious: Republicans versus Democrats, the governor versus the legislature, and Democrats versus Democrats; to the average voter the process seems frustrating, partisan and driven by lobbyist dollars.

The New York State legislature is in the home stretch with a crowded agenda. The legislature meets from January till mid June with two key periods, the days leading up to the April 1 budget deadline and the last few days of the session, referred to as “The Big Ugly,” the last few days when “this” is traded for “that,” For decades, with a brief interlude, Republicans have controlled the Senate and Democrats the Assembly. For twelve years a Republican sat in the governor’s perch (Pataki) and the last eight years Andrew Cuomo. The “three men in a room” made the deals. At the budget deadline the leverage was with the governor and he crammed in whatever he could, the courts granted the governor wide discretion in establishing budget parameters. (Read here).

Prior to the 2018 election Republicans controlled the Senate, and, in the final days, of the budget or the end of session, the “big ugly,” the Republicans used their leverage to pass charter friendly legislation, for example, in exchange for extending mayoral control in New York City. The charter school political committees (PACs) pumped dollars into key races, the Republicans won and “returned the favor.”

In the November, 2018 elections the Democrats swept Republican seats, the very seats that received support from the charter school PACs.

The leverage moved from the Republicans to the Democrats.

The key charter school issue is the charter cap in New York City. The law sets a cap on the number of charter schools and the cap has been reached

The City and State website  speculates over whether the governor supports raising the cap.

… the [charter school PACs] long-standing allies in the state Senate Republican conference are out of power; Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently revived the issue. “We support raising this artificial cap,” Rich Azzopardi, the governor’s spokesman, told the New York Post in mid-April. “But the Legislature needs to agree as well.”

Despite Cuomo’s support, charter school proponents face resistance from teachers unions and many Democratic lawmakers who want to leave the cap unchanged. The issue is “not even on the radar screen,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said recently, according to North Country Public Radio.

Within the last few days the New York State of Politics blog quotes the governor as outlining 10 issues for the end of session and charter schools are not among his priorities.

The leverage has shifted.

An election two weeks ago for a vacant City Council seat may bear on Albany politics. Interim elections to fill vacant seats are non-partisan, no party designations, and New York City matches contribution 8 to 1 .

In an election with numerous candidates the UFT, the teacher union supported a candidate. Farrah Louis who was not favored; however, her educational positions were in line with the positions of the union. She defeated a candidate endorsed by the former City Council member, Jumaane Williams, who is snow the Public Advocate.

The “lesson” is not lost; fighting with the union will have consequences.

Not only will the charter school cap not be lifted it is possible legislation hostile to charter schools may be folded into the “big ugly.”

A few bills dealing with the reauthorization of charter schools and the auditing of charter schools have just been introduced.

Factions will advocate, seek allies, lobby electeds and as the adjournment date, June 19th approaches totally disparate bills will be linked, factions will find “friends,” at least for the moment.

Elections have consequences, charter PAC dollars “elected” Republicans who used their leverage to pass charter friendly legislation; an election cycle later Democrats defeated the charter PAC endorsed candidates, elections have consequences, the leverage switched, and, we can expect that legislation more friendly to teacher unions and public school advocates may become law.

Madison reminded us governmental systems must control themselves, and competing factions are a control.

“It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices [checks and balances] should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

 Ideals, factions and politics and  are part of our contentious democracy.

Cuomo, Nixon, James, Bharara, Teachout: The Merry-Go-Round of Electoral Politics in New York State

A friend has a weekend house upstate, on Fridays he and his wife race upstate to spend Saturday and Sunday canvassing for a Democratic congressional primary candidate: Gareth Rhodes, a 29 year old graduate of CCNY.  The district is made up of small towns with many rural voters; there are seven candidates vying for the democratic line on the ballot. My friend hesitantly knocked on a door, an American flag flying in the front yard alongside a pickup truck with a gun rack in the cab. The owner smiled, “You thought I was a Trump voter – I was – what a mistake, he’s an embarrassment, I switched my registration.”

Has Trump awakened America?  Has Trump invigorated millennial voters? Will the November 2018 elections end up as a rejection of Trump and his allies?

The June 26th primary will select candidates in districts currently held by Republican Congressman: Will voters select current electeds trying to move up the ladder? Choose young new candidates? Choose more women?

If you live in the primary districts your mailbox is probably overflowing with flyers.

The September 13th primary is electric!!

Four years ago Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University challenged Andrew Cuomo in the primary. A turbulent Working Families Party convention barely endorsed Cuomo, and, in September, the underfunded and virtually unknown Teachout lost; however, 35% of primary voters supported the insurgent.

Four years later a well-recognized actor and parent activist jumped into the gubernatorial race. Cynthia Nixon, a political neophyte, grabbed the attention of voters across the state; it was clear that the Cuomo camp was not prepared. Nixon seized the progressive side of the Democratic Party. While the Working Families Party endorsed Nixon the endorsement is only significant if Nixon wins the Democratic primary. If Cuomo wins and Nixon remains on the WFP ballot November will be a three-way race: Cuomo, Nixon and the Republican candidate, opening the possibility of a Republican ending up on top.

Is there is a real “Cynthia Effect“? Has the #metoo movement mobilized voters?

Currently Cuomo has a 50-28 percent lead in polling data, a month earlier Cuomo was polling at 68%.

Cynthia has chased Cuomo to the progressive side of the Democratic Party.

It appeared that Eric Schneiderman, the Attorney General would coast to victory, probably unopposed in the primary. In a matter of hours, a New Yorker article  exposed the defender of women’s rights as an abuser of women; and his immediate resignation.

Under New York State law a vacancy in the statewide office is filled by a joint meeting of the state legislatures – in reality, the Democratic leadership in the Assembly.

Letitia James, the New York City Public Advocate, was looked upon as a leading candidate for the mayoralty in 2021, quickly jumped into the AG race, rounding up supporters in the Assembly; giving her a foot up in the September primary.

A “deal” was in the making, James to AG and Bronx Borough President Rubin Diaz to Public Advocate and another Bronx pol to Diaz’s job.

The “deal” had a toxic aroma, Carl Heastie, the Speaker of the Assembly backed away and the interim acting AG, who will not be a candidate in September, was elected to fill out the Schneiderman term.

James immediately started lining up endorsements for the September primary, Zephyr Teachout may also be an AG candidate in the September as well as Leecia Eve, an Afro-American woman with close ties to the Clinton’s with extensive experience in policy-making within the Democratic Party.

Whisperings, is Preet Bharara, the former US Attorney for the Southern District (Manhattan), going to run as an independent candidate in November? If so, the Democratic winner in September would run in a three-way race in November.

November is not the end, if James wins the city charter requires a quick, election open to any candidate who can collect the requisite signatures, the party cannot designate candidates.

According to the city charter, three days after a public advocate vacancy, “The mayor is required to issue a proclamation calling a special election within 45 days,” the election would be nonpartisan, open to any candidate who can create a new party line and gather enough signatures to appear on the ballot.

Just like for vacancies in City Council seats, the victor of the special election will not serve the remainder of the public advocate’s term. Another primary contest and general election would take place in the fall of 2019 for a candidate to hold the seat through 2021.

Check out a summary of the potential and real candidates across the board here.

The merry-go-round continues, and unfortunately voter participation in New York State is among the lowest in the nation. 33 states have early voting; voters can cast ballots days or weeks before the formal election day, in some states in person in others by mail. Other states have instant registration, the current New York State election laws are “protected” by Republicans who apparently fear increasing voter turnout.

In 2008 and 2012 the “Obama Effect,” younger and first time voters flocked to the polls; however, in 2010, 2014 and 2016 stayed home. Is there a “Cynthia Effect,”? a “#metoo” effect? Will the millenials of the past, new voters and women see the polling place as a counter to the current Washington administration?

The Center for Education Equity in collaboration with Columbia University are sponsoring a conference,

 Reinvigorating Civics Education in New York will explore the state’s current civics-education landscape and foster dialogue on strategies for fortifying civics education in our schools, boosting civic-learning opportunities beyond the classroom, and fully realizing New York students’ right to civic preparation.

 Can we engage new potential voters?

The Parkland and other school shootings has clearly mobilized students: will the mobilization spread across the nation?

My friend knocking on doors upstate is optimistic; he sees a renewed activism in a rural district that usually elected Republicans.

I hope he’s right.

Michael Mulgrew: Tip-toeing between Cuomo and de Blasio, the Scylla and Charybdis of Education Politics in New York

Michael Mulgrew: Tip-toeing between Cuomo and de Blasio, the Scylla and Charybdis   of Education Politics in New York

New York City is a mayoral control city, meaning that the school leader, called the chancellor, is appointed by school board members (the Panel for Educational Priorities), a majority of whom are appointed by the mayor.  The chancellor is actually the deputy to the mayor for education. Chancellor Carranza’s tenure begins today – managing over 1800 schools, 1.1 million students and over 100,000 unionized employees. The chancellor’s chief of staff is Ursulina Ramirez who served in same role for the mayor in his previous elected office, Public Advocate. The agenda of the chancellor is the agenda of the mayor: both succeed or neither succeeds. Management models vary, from mayoral control (New York, Chicago, Boston, etc.) to Los Angeles, an elected board with millions spent on the elections to Houston, a divided nine-member board elected by geographic areas competing for resources; there is no right or wrong model.

The Mayor of New York City is an outspoken progressive who won a hotly contested 4-way primary election in 2013 and rolled to easy victories in the general elections in 2013 and 2017. Although de Blasio is firmly in the progressive camp the 51-member City Council is much further to the left. De Blasio is term limited, meaning he is building a national reputation for his next run for office, whatever it might be.

A hundred and twenty miles to the north is Albany, the state capital and the political home of Andrew Cuomo, running for his third term as governor. In spite a Republican-controlled Senate Cuomo signed one of the first Marriage Equality laws as well as the strictest gun control laws in the nation. No matter: he is being challenged from the left by Cynthia Nixon, an actor with a long resume of political activism.

De Blasio and Cuomo, both with progressive creds, are bitter enemies, each claiming the progressive mantle.

Tip-toeing between the two most powerful electeds in New York State is the leader of the New York City teacher union (UFT), Michael Mulgrew, who began his career as a carpenter and rather surprisingly became the fifth president of the UFT in 2009. Under constant attack from Mayor Bloomberg Mulgrew not only successfully thwarted the mayor’s attempts to erode the union’s contract, the public trusted the union more than the mayor. Sol Stern in the conservative City Journal reported,

… according to a poll of city voters … sixty-four percent of respondents rated school performance as either fair or poor, with only 27 percent proclaiming it excellent or good; 69 percent said that students in the city’s schools weren’t ready for the twenty-first-century economy. 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.

 While the UFT did not endorse de Blasio in the primary Mulgrew has developed an excellent relationship with the mayor. After more than four years without a contract Mulgrew and de Blasio negotiated a contract with full back pay, de Blasio appointed Carmen Farina, a Department of Education lifer, created the 70,000 student pre-K for All program, and reaped constant praise on teachers. De Blasio and Mulgrew clearly like each other and de Blasio’s appearance at the UFT Delegate Assembly, a huge success – teachers like him.

The brand new de Blasio-Carranza administration faces negotiating a teacher contract; the current agreement expires on November 30th, although in New York State expired agreements remain in force until the successor agreement is agreed upon. One issue is paid maternity/child care leaves; teachers have to use sick days, there is no paid leave. Under Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) policies contracts must comply with “ability to pay” and “patterning bargaining.” Simply put: the union and the city will have to find dollars apart from the base salary increase or reduce the negotiated salary increase, which is unlikely.  Another major issue that applies only to the UFT is the Absent Teacher Reserve, 700 plus teachers who were excessed from closed schools, each year every closed school pumps more teachers into the pool: a bad Bloomberg policy and an expensive policy. If the ATRs are returned to schools can the dollars saved be used for a paid maternity/child care leave settlement?  Just speculating!  I imagine this week, while teachers are on spring break, the new chancellor will be meeting with all the players on the NYC education scene.

The union’s relationship with Cuomo is far more complicated.

The UFT is the largest local in NYSUT, the state teacher union organization. There are 700 school districts, 700 local teacher unions in the state. From New York City, to the other “Big Five” (Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers), to the high tax, high wealth suburban districts to the hundreds of low wealth rural districts that struggle to pay heating bills. The gap in funding among school districts in New York State is among the greatest in the nation.  That’s right: we lead the nation in racially segregated schools and the inequality of school funding.

NYSUT represents all the locals and lobbies for more education dollars for all schools, Cuomo added a section to the budget requiring districts to phase in a dollar by dollar accounting of all education expenditures: a first step to equalizing state education dollars?

Bruce Baker in his superb School Finance 101 blog  is concise,

            To be blunt, money does matter. Schools and districts with more money clearly have greater ability to provide higher-quality, broader, and deeper educational opportunities to the children they serve. Furthermore, in the absence of money, or in the aftermath of deep cuts to existing funding, schools are unable to do many of the things they need to do in order to maintain quality educational opportunities. Without funding, efficiency tradeoffs and innovations being broadly endorsed are suspect. One cannot tradeoff spending money on class size reductions against increasing teacher salaries to improve teacher quality if funding is not there for either – if class sizes are already large and teacher salaries non-competitive. While these are not the conditions faced by all districts, they are faced by many.

While good for New York City, equity in school funding could set school district against school district across the state and “wealthier” local teacher unions versus “poorer” local teacher unions.

NYSUT opposes the use of student data to assess teacher performance, the current matrix system that combines supervisory observations with measures of student learning is supported by UFT, the new system sharply reversed the Bloomberg era – over 3000 adverse rating.

NYSUT comes close to endorsing the opt-out movement, 20% of parents, heavily concentrated in the suburbs are the opt-out base, very few opt-out schools in NYC and the UFT position is: a parental choice.

The elephants will continue to trample the grass: Is Cuomo maneuvering for a 2020 presidential run, and, if so, how will he situate himself on progressive, educational and teacher union issues?

De Blasio is term-limited, what are his political aspirations?

Although de Blasio is on the left; the furthest left since La Guardia, not far enough to the left for his political rivals within the Democratic Party.

Cuomo has a progressive resume and continues to push toward more and more anti-gun measures and has forced the city to cough up millions for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and to repair the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), aka low-income housing, using the budgetary powers of the governor to pre-empt the powers of the NYC mayor.

There is a long history of political rivalry in New York; back in 1804 after tossing insults back and forth Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton “settled” their dispute on the Palisades. While dueling pistols are now museum pieces the modern equivalent is alive and well. Joe Prococo, Cuomo’s closest assistant, whose father Mario called my “third son,” is convicted of taking bribes while working as son Andrew’s closest confident, A strong supporter of de Blasio, Cynthia Nixon, is running against Cuomo in the September democratic primary. Cuomo forces de Blasio to budget hundreds of millions for MTA repairs even though the MTA is a state agency, and, also forces de Blasio to budget 250 million for NYCHA repairs overseen by an outside monitor.

In midst of the boulder throwing Mulgrew has to work with the two Megatrons, a daunting task.

Even within the union the political caucuses urge moving to the left, supporting or opposing this candidate or that candidate. The union meetings, the monthly Delegate Assemblies give Mulgrew and opportunity to “teach,” to float ideas, to interact with local school union leadership.

In my early days as a school district union leader a new superintendent, with a tough reputation was selected, some school union leaders argued we should picket his office on his first day, show him we’re as tough as he was reputed to be. I was fortunate, I was mentored by union leadership who spent a career in the foxholes of politics, dodging bullets and bombs from both sides. I realized I didn’t only represent the militants, I represented all the members. My day-to-day job was responding to their needs: getting a salary or health plan issue resolved, an emergency leave approved, getting a principal off a teacher’s back, and I needed a nod from the superintendent. We worked out a “mature” relationship, we “agreed to disagree” on issues, no surprises, always gave him a heads up if I was going to be publicly critical, and public acclaim for doing “the right thing,” and, not to slighted, we were both avid Mets fans.

On a much larger stage Mulgrew has navigated the political landscape, both praising and criticizing city and state leadership, and, teaching his membership, politics is a romance with good days and not so good days.

If he can get de Blasio and Cuomo to hug, I have a problem in the Middle East he can tackle next.

Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa: Has the President and the NYS Board of Regents Accepted Responsibility for Years of Failed Education Decisions? Has Fear of Parent Electoral Anger Motivated the Electeds? Or, Just Hoping We Go Away If Tempted With Sweet Words?

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, colloquial translation, “My Bad.”

In the summer of 2008 I sat in the audience at the AFT Convention just after the nomination of Barack Obama and watched a 12-minute Obama campaign video – it was odd, it failed to address core educational issues.

Two years later I sat with a room full of principals and watched David Coleman perform his lengthy rollout of the Common Core – a detailed analysis of the Martin Luther King “A Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” interesting, and, once again, odd. At the end of the performance, Coleman answered a few questions from a group of teachers – one asked, “How does this differ from what we’re already doing …?”Coleman snapped, “…compared to other nations (PISA Scores) we’re not doing well at all.” Not exactly the way to gain buy-in from teachers

The President was at a Town Hill meeting and a teacher in the audience asked why he was supporting high stakes testing and punitive teacher evaluation – Obama challenged the teacher – you admit there are teachers in your school who shouldn’t be teaching, was bullying a teacher building teacher support?

The Association for Better New York (ABY) sponsors a breakfast every spring, a high profile speaker, an audience filled with the movers and shakers in New York City/State. Randi Weingarten was the speaker, with NYS Commissioner John King in the audience; Randi called for a moratorium on Common Core testing – to no avail – King and most of the members of the Board of Regents endorsed immediate Common Core testing, no moratorium, and cut scores that resulted in two-thirds of test takers scoring “below proficient.”

For seven years the President was wedded to the Duncan mantra: choice, which means charter schools, the full implementation of the Common Core, high stakes testing tied to teacher evaluation based on pupil growth scores (Value Added Measures, aka VAM). In spite of teacher and parent angst, in spite of millions of hits on the Diane Ravitch blog, the Duncan playbook was the Obama playbook, until it wasn’t.

The New York Times reports,


Faced with mounting and bipartisan opposition to increased and often high-stakes testing in the nation’s public schools, the Obama administration declared Saturday that the push had gone too far, acknowledged its own role in the proliferation of tests, and urged schools to step back and make exams less onerous and more purposeful.

Specifically, the administration called for a cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests. It called on Congress to “reduce over-testing” as it reauthorizes the federal legislation governing the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.

“I still have no question that we need to check at least once a year to make sure our kids are on track or identify areas where they need support,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, … “But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction.”

“It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves,” he continued. “At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”

Why has it taken seven years for the President to realize they were on the wrong side of history? Why did the announcement come a few weeks after Duncan’s resignation?

Unfortunately the decision-makers today are lawyers and economists, not historians.

George Santayana, the early 20th century philosopher wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Harold Howe, a former United States Secretary of Education muses, ” … sometimes the unforeseen effects, of concepts for change like ‘restructuring’ schools, ‘systemic’ approaches to changes in schools, and the pros and cons of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ prescriptions for what to teach and how to teach it. My own sense of this new vocabulary about school reform is that to some extent it has assumed the same role as the prayer book of the Episcopal Church — by repeating the words you are supposed to be improving yourself and the world around you.”

Almost twenty years ago David Tyack and Larry Cuban wrote “Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform,” (Read a superb summary/review here). The authors peruse the seemingly endless school reform initiatives over the last century and conclude that, regardless of the quality of the reform the initiative must have the support of teachers and parents; change, or reform, only, grows from the inside. In other words, reforms driven from the top down, unless accepted in classrooms will wither; new ideas may be planted from above, they must be fertilized and cared for in the classrooms and in the homes.

A few days ago the leader of the Board of Regents acknowledged the intense criticism of the newest iteration of the teacher evaluation law in New York State.

Newsday reports,


One of New York’s top school policymakers called Monday for potentially revamping a controversial law that allows student scores on Common Core tests to count for as much as half of teachers’ and principals’ job evaluations.

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, told about 500 school board members attending a state convention in Manhattan that the toughened law, pushed through the legislature in April by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, is “full of problems.”

The chancellor said lawmakers should “reopen” a section of the law that increases to about 50 percent the maximum weight that local school districts can assign to so-called “growth” scores in judging teachers’ classroom performance. Such scores are based on student performance on English language arts and math assessments, and are generated by a complex formula that many analysts consider statistically unstable.

The New York State Commissioner of Education has begun a review of the Common Core and the Curriculum Modules, the widely criticized units that drive instruction across the state. If you want to comment on the modules click here: https://www.engageny.org/content/curriculum-feedback-form

If you want to comment on the Common Core click here to go to the State Ed Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NYStateEd?fref=ts

Does this mean that sanity is beginning to return to the school system in New York State; or, to schools across the nation, or, is all this pomp and circumstance a trompe d’oeille, a facade to lull us into complacency?

This is considerable cynicism.

We’ll see over the weeks and months ahead. In New York State the Governor and State legislature are leaning on the Board of Regents and the Commissioner – make parents happy, or, at least happier. Stem the Opt Out tide; erode the 200,000 parents who are potentially ready to vote for change at the polls.

I believe the tidal wave of parent anger will be difficult to assuage: Obama, Duncan, Cuomo and the wave of so-called reformers may have created a hydra ( … It possessed many heads … and, each time one was lost, it was replaced by two more. It had poisonous breath and blood so virulent that even its scent was deadly) and those heads keep growing and spewing electoral poison.

The Board of Regents Convene With a Contentious Agenda and the Ominous Shadow of the Governor

Wednesday morning the seventeen members of the Board of Regents and the newly selected commissioner will convene in the ornate Regents Room to begin the 15-16 school year. Oddly the agenda, to a large extent, has been set “across the street,” on the second floor of the Capital building, the executive offices of the governor.

Education policy for two centuries was set by the members of the regents with significant input from the commissioner. Commissioners worked their way up the ladder, from teacher to principal to superintendent to commissioner; all that changed in the last few years. David Steiner came from the university and John King had no public school experience, in fact, only limited experience in the world of charter schools. The newly selected commissioner returns us to the world of experienced educators.

In the current convoluted landscape of education the governor has effectively replaced the regents: adoption of the Common Core State Standards, a massive labyrinthine principal/teacher evaluation system, the receivership of struggling schools have been set in legislation by the governor with the regents being asked to set regulations in place.

The unpaid, un-staffed members of the regents are “elected” by a joint meeting of the NYS legislature. In reality the democrats select the members; there are far more democrats than republicans in the combined houses. In the last session the legislature dumped two of the most senior members of the regents and selected four new members (three incumbents were re-elected, there were two vacancies and two regents replaced); three former school superintendents and one nurse educator (the State Education Department is in charge of all schools, pre-k through college, all museums and libraries and the professions).

The four new members and two second-term regents members have formed a caucus to oppose the approval of the governor’s new matrix principal/teacher evaluation plan (3012-d); the debate will be lively.

The regents will approve regulations for the completely untried receivership law; if low performing schools fail to make progress, as defined in the regulations, the school may be removed from the district and placed under the supervision of a receiver who has sweeping power. (See Regents agenda here).

Not only has the governor seized control of the education agenda the feds have been the agenda-setter for all of the states. The feds require that after being in the country for one year all English Language Learners in Grades 3-8 must be tested regardless of their English language skills. The feds denied the NYS waiver request and the regents and the commissioner are asking the feds to reconsider.

The regents are forming a working group to discuss the pass/fail rates on the new Common Core Regents exams; we are currently in year three of the eight year phase-in of Common Core Regents; the grades are currently scaled to keep pass-fail rates at the same level as before the Common Core: are students making adequate progress in passing the new Regents, and, if not, how should the regents members respond?

Regent Cashin is highlighting the new testing regimen for prospective teachers who are required to pass four exams at a cost of about $1,000; the exams are timed and computer-based: are the exams accurate predictors of success? Are the high failure rates the result of selecting the wrong candidates, faulty college curriculum or simply poorly crafted exams? In an era of sharply declining enrollments in college teacher education programs the poorly designed Pearson-created exams should not be an unnecessary impediment.

While the funding of schools is the responsibility of the governor and the legislature the 2% property tax cap is resulting in drastic cuts in services in low wealth districts, of which there are several hundred located in rural districts with declining revenues. The regents can highlight and recommend changes to the “other side of the street.”

How will the regents address the large numbers of Students with Disabilities who are unable to “pass” grades 3-8 tests and unable to achieve the safety net requirements on the Regents exams? Should the regents create alternative pathways to graduation? Portfolios?

In some schools English Language learners are making progress similar to all other students while in others the majority of students are graduating at extremely low rates: Why? Higher or lower levels of instruction? Better professional development? Better designed instructional models?

Educational decisions, as the state constitution intended, should be made by the Board of Regents. Hopefully the governor will move away from his senseless policies that have antagonized parents and teachers across the state.

Far reaching education policies crafted behind closed doors by invisible staffers is not a fruitful path to better education. The two hundred thousand op-outers will grow and grow; the angry electorate will continue to grow.

Hopefully the governor will rethink his ideas and the legislature will continue to select regent members willing to challenge the governor as well as collaboratively develop approaches to address the core issues confronting children and families across the state.

A Window: The Regents and the Commissioner Have an Opportunity to Craft Student Tests and Teacher Evaluation Plans That Are Meaningful to Families and Staffs

In New York State parents opted one in five students out of the grades 3-8 English and Math exams that are required by federal law – 225,000 students. Other parents considered opting out and fearing some negative impact on their children decided not to opt out this year. As it turns out these exams are not “high stakes” for children, in fact, they are “no stakes” for children. The exams exist to rank the state, school districts, schools and teachers. By federal statute and regulation the state must determine “priority,” “focus” and “out-of-time” schools, require intervention plans with the ultimate threat of school closings. Part of a teacher’s “score” is based on student progress on state tests as determined by a complex algorithm usually referred to as Value-Added Modeling (VAM). The teacher “score” can be used as the basis of dismissal procedures.

The opt out parents are part of a rejection of a stumbling political system; the political parties spar, attack each other, and fail to pass what appear to be “no-brainer” ideas. The popularity of Trump is a rejection of everyday politics; voters seem to be rejecting incumbency, seeking a new crop of candidates who promise to listen to the concerns of voters.

We are fourteen months away from a presidential election as well as the election of the 150 members of the Assembly and the 63 members of the Senate.

The opt out parents are among the worst fears of electeds, they cross party lines, they are passionate, they are single issue voters and the issue can’t be reduced to a meaningful single vote on a piece of legislation.

The new state commissioner, MaryEllen Elia arrived in early July and immediately began dripping gasoline on the embers of opt out: Parents have a right to opt out; however I support state tests; superintendents must do everything possible to convince parents not to opt out, districts may lose funding, whoops, no they won’t lose funding … as she stumbled from comment to comment the opt out parents saw her as yet another bureaucrat looking to test and punish their child. Perhaps incorrectly, she sent the wrong message as her first message.

Let’s take a deep breath; there is a window for the Board of Regents to explore a major course correction. At the September meeting the regents will give final approval, with opposing votes, to the new, controversial, Cuomo-imposed principal-teacher evaluation plan – the state will move from the current plan (3012-c: read the 166-page SED Guidance document here) to the new plan, referred to as the “matrix” (3012-d: read links to guidance here).

The new law, acknowledging the complexity of designing new plans within brief timelines allow for districts to ask for waivers (Read Guidance here) – delaying the date of completing a plan from November 15th to March 15th, effectively delaying the implementation of 3012-d for a year.

Districts/BOCES that are facing hardships and are therefore unable to have an APPR plan consistent with §3012-d approved by the Department by the November 15, 2015 deadline must submit a Hardship Waiver application in order to maintain their eligibility for a State aid increase.

Chancellor Tisch, to her credit, has made it clear that the regents will look favorably on applications for waivers.

Five hours down I-95 the Congress will be considering the much-delayed reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. While the bills that passed the House and the Senate contain substantial differences there is a good chance that the conference will craft a final bill, a bill that the president will have to sign or veto. While it is difficult to know with certainty a bill might be on the president’s desk later this year or early in 2016.

I provided a civics lesson on How a Bill Becomes a Law earlier in the year: https://mets2006.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/civics-101-the-struggle-over-the-reauthorization-of-nclbesea-as-a-teaching-tool/

Education Week has written extensively about the differences in the House and Senate bills; however, both bills give far more authority to the states on issues of school accountability.

Pending ESEA Reauthorization
Under both House and Senate bills, states would have to stick with the NCLB law’s testing schedule. But they could decide how much weight to give those tests in gauging school performance and could set their own goals for student achievement. There would be no requirement that states identify a certain percentage of schools as low-performing, or use any specific turnaround techniques. Both bills would also open the door to some sort of local assessment, although the House bill goes further than the Senate measure.

The regents and the commissioner, in a transparent climate, should begin to discuss changes in the state testing and principal-teacher assessment laws and regulations, which may be possible under a new NCLB.

While the new NCLB will require annual testing will it require the testing of every child or will the law allow using sampling techniques that are used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress – NAEP – referred to as the nation’s report card?

Since NAEP assessments are administered uniformly using the same sets of test booklets across the nation, NAEP results serve as a common metric for all states and selected urban districts. The assessment stays essentially the same from year to year, with only carefully documented changes. This permits NAEP to provide a clear ppicture of student academic progress over time.

NAEP does not test every subject every year; NAEP uses sampling methods,

In state assessments (mathematics, reading, science, and writing), a sample of schools and students is selected to represent each participating state. In an average state, 2,500 students in approximately 100 public schools are assessed per grade, for each subject assessed. The selection process for schools uses stratified random sampling within categories of schools with similar characteristics.

Could New York State use the same stratified random sampling processes to assess student performance across the state?

I admit this is a complex process, it may not be permitted under the yet to be negotiated new NCLB; however, a NAEP-type sampling, if possible, would remove the stigma of testing and provide the state, the localities and the public with the data required to assess our progress.

If we move away from testing every student every year how can we assess teacher performance?

The two assessment plans in New York State, 3012-c and the new “matrix,” 3012-d reply on highly questionable algorithms with substantial errors of measurement and supervisory observations using state-approved rubrics such as the Danielson Frameworks.

Supervisory observation of lessons has an inherent flaw – will all supervisors view lessons through the same lens? While the lens may be the Danielson Frameworks a supervisor in an inner city high poverty school may “score” a teacher quite differently than a supervisor in a high achieving suburban school. In the last round of teacher assessments (APPR) there were districts in which virtually every teacher received a maximum or near maximum score – every teacher was “highly effective.” Charlotte Danielson demurs, at a meeting I attended she responded to a principal who proudly proclaimed in her school every teacher would be highly effective. Danielson interrupted, “We’re lucky if a teacher occasionally visits highly effective.”

Inter-rater reliability is a complex and core issue that has been the subject of considerable research: read a few of the studies,

“Inter-rater reliability Measuring and Promoting Inter-Rater Agreement of Teacher and Principal Performance Ratings” http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED532068.pdf

“Evaluating Inter-rater Reliability of a National Assessment Model for Teacher Performance” http://ijep.icpres.org/2011/v5n2/jmporter_djelinek.pdf

The new law, 3012-d addressed the issue by requiring “outside evaluators,” well-intentioned; however, why would the outside observer be any more reliable than the in-school observer? The New York City system, called ADVANCE does try to address the reliability issue; how successfully only time will tell.

Unfortunately the teacher observation reliability problem is separate and apart from the teacher improvement conundrum. Does the teacher observation/feedback process actually impact teacher performance? Charlotte Danielson’s other book, “Talk About Teaching: Leading Professional Conversations” (2010) explains that the conversations that have nothing to do with assessment are the key to improving practice,

Another process to investigate is the Inspectorate System that is commonplace in Europe. Trained and well-respected “inspectors,” make in-depth visits to schools, not unlike the Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) teams that visited low-performing schools and wrote detailed “findings-recommendations” reports based on a public set of standards.

I wrote about the Inspectorate Systems: https://mets2006.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/flawed-evaluation-systems-how-should-we-assess-schoolteacher-performance-who-will-have-the-cojones-to-admit-their-errors-and-choose-a-validreliablestable-system/

With a new reauthorized NCLB in the wings and with waivers postponing the requirement to produce 3012-d plans the regents and the commissioner have a window, an opportunity to craft a new approach that would relieve families and students of the burden for sitting for meaningless tests and time to create a plan that both assesses principal and teacher performance and assists all educators in improving their practice.

The failure to find “fixes” could lead to many hundreds of thousands of opt out families and the angry voter-parents seeking elected scalps in September 2016 primaries and the November 2016 general election.

We don’t have a lot of time – the regents and the commissioner should begin a review process, a public transparent process as soon as possible with a goal of producing proposed legislation for the new legislative session.

Mixed Martial Arts in Albany: Cuomo versus Heastie versus Skelos

The mixed martial arts bills are progressing through the state legislature, the actual mixed martial arts, the combat in the octagon, the real blood sport is in full bloom. The featured bout: Cuomo v Heastie v Skelos.

The 150 members of the Assembly and the 63 members of the Senate gather in Albany the first week in January, some are deeply involved in introducing bills, other spend their time on constituent services and some work on their outside employment. Over the next term, the 2015 and 2016 sessions, over 15,000 bills will be introduced into the Assembly, about 500 will become laws, less than five percent of the bills introduced.

Members from Manhattan may file hundreds upon hundreds of bills, members from the inner city fifty bills, and chairs of major committees may file hardly any bills. Introducing a bill is a long way from passage, bills require democratic sponsorship in the Assembly, republican sponsorship in the Senate and gubernatorial support for final passage, a long, long road.

From January until the end of March the legislative leadership is consumed with the budget and the leadership has to gauge the temperature of their caucus, called the “conference.” Before or after a floor session members will meet in conference,’ a closed meeting, members and top staff only, no votes are taken, no minutes, the members can speak freely. How “tough” are the members? Do they want to risk going beyond April 1 without a budget? Do they want to “take on” the governor directly? Do they want to risk antagonizing core constituents? Who are the members more afraid of: the governor, their constituents? Or, the speaker?

Sheldon Silver ruled with an iron fist, he probably kept a copy of The Prince at his bedside, and one of his favorite quotes might have been,

“It is much safer to be feared than loved because …love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”

Why am I quoting Machiavelli? Was he a totalitarian or a human rights respecting republican (Read Phillip Bobbitt, The Garments of the Court and Palace: Machiavelli and the World That He Made (2013)).

Heastie, the speaker, needs the total support of his members, the 105 democratic members of the Assembly, the conference. He has to create a team, a united group who supports the speaker without reservations, a team who knows they cannot back away, that unless they stand up to the governor he will roll over them. You gain loyalty by acts, by making decisions that support your members.

Those of you who have played sports or played in an orchestra or danced in a company understand leadership, under the synergy created by teamwork, the sum is greater than the parts in a synergistic organism.

Five Regents are seeking re-appointment and there are two vacancies. In the Westchester-Rockland judicial district the speaker clearly approved of the Assembly democrats making the selection. Open interviews were conducted in Westchester, about a dozen applicants. Apparently the legislature will select Judith Johnson, a retired superintendent who is highly regarded across the counties, who was the choice a majority of the legislators.

Robert Bennett was the Regents from the Buffalo area, Bennett served as the chancellor prior to Merryl Tisch, served on the Board for twenty years, and his bio on the SED website recounts a long and illustrious career. Recently Bennett has begun to antagonize more and more sectors within the community, supporting charter schools, supporting the Common Core, supporting testing and, mostly, unconditionally supporting former Commissioner King. At the Albany interviews Assembly member Ryan skewered Bennett. Bennett proudly announced he was heading a task force to review special ed regulations, Ryan asked Bennett to what extent he was responsible for the failures of the last decade, and Bennett stumbled.

The Sunday Buffalo News reports that Regent Bennett has withdrawn and will support Catherine Fisher Collins,

Dr. Collins is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and the first African American nurse practitioner to graduate from the University of Buffalo’s School of Nursing Nurse Practitioner program. In addition she holds three certifications in health education.

The new speaker understands power, he defers to his members to fill a vacancy and is willing to dump a twenty year incumbent to acknowledge bubbling anger among voters.

Heastie is building a team, a team willing to follow their leader wherever he chooses to go, to the edge of the cliff, and, if necessary, over the edge.

Cuomo will bully, threaten, and try to undercut the speaker; veiled threats, not so veiled threats, waiting for the speaker to take whatever is on the table at the eleventh hour.

Senate majority leader Skelos has his own list, how much does he cede to Cuomo, and, can he partner with Heastie against Cuomo?

Speaker Heastie is the most powerful Black elected official in New York State, and, in time, potentially, one of the most powerful in the nation. Standing up to an incumbent governor only increases creds, and standing up to an incumbent governor and losing reduces his image.

Cuomo wants to be standing on the podium early on the morning of April 1st announcing the fifth straight on time budget, how can he reach an agreement without appearing to lose face? Can he “win the battle and lose the war,” by defeating Heastie and alienate Black and liberal voters?

In the Cuomo camp some advisors are probably telling him to follow the Scott Walker path, attack public employee unions unrelentingly, after all, it may be a path to the presidency. Other advisors will remind Cuomo, he’s running as a democrat, not a tea party republican.

I don’t know how Cuomo, Heastie and Skelos get to that April 1st stage, I don’t know the deals, the trade-offs, I don’t know how the questions of teacher evaluation, testing, tenure and “receiverships” will be resolved, for the three men in a room, the endgame, how the public views the “winners” and “losers” will drive the decisions.

“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger, but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”
― Niccolò Machiavelli