“Fixing education” has become a political black hole.
The Bush-Kennedy No Child Left Behind law of 2002, hailed as the savior of public education is in shreds. The Obama-Duncan (de)forms are under attack from coast to coast – the recent Gallup Poll pours ice water on federal initiatives. As the Bloomberg era closes out the public gives him high marks – except for schools – a Zogby Poll reports the public trusts teachers more than the mayor (See Sol Stern here),
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.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal planned to replace public education with a total choice program with vouchers provided to parents. The court found his plan unconstitutional and his approval ratings have plummeted, what once looked like a potential 2016 presidential run is derailed.
Governor Bush fired his newly hired state commissioner who cheated to make charter schools look better in Indiana – before the voters threw him out.
It is surprising that the strategic governor of New York State seems to be venturing down the same path. Governor Cuomo is extremely cautious, he rarely meets with the press except under totally controlled atmospheres. He never releases his daily schedule except for orchestrated appearances. He swept aside pressures to end layoffs by seniority and gained teacher union support for a teacher evaluation system. He garnered legislative support for a new Tier 6 of the state pension system by supporting a range of legislature supported programs. He effectively arm twisted the marriage equality law and in spite of vigorous opposition from the state teacher union (NYSUT) passed a 2% property tax cap that has effectively sidetracked negotiated salary increases for teachers around the state, not in New York City which does not fall under the 2% cap.
The usually cautious governor seems to be wandering down the same path that has sullied the reputation of the president, governors and mayors across the nation.
Governor Cuomo, in an upstate speech, threatened the “death penalty” for upstate and Long Island low achieving schools.
Speaking to reporters in Lockport, Niagara County, Cuomo said Thursday he plans to craft a plan for dealing with “failing schools” when lawmakers return to the state Capitol in January.
“My position is going to be, we’ll give (the schools) a short window to repair themselves, and then something dramatically has to happen,” Cuomo said late Thursday. “Because we can’t allow these failing schools to continue.”
The Democratic governor laid out a number of possibilities for dealing with underperforming schools, including potentially allowing the state, a local mayor or a charter school to take over. Any of those moves would require approval by state lawmakers.
“There’s going to have to be a death penalty for failing schools, so to speak,” Cuomo said.
(Watch the Cuomo statement here)
The just-released scores on the latest Common Core-based state exams place Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and a few other school districts 20+% below the state proficiency rates – according the state tests staggering numbers in poor, urban, upstate districts “failed” the test.
• In Buffalo, 11.5% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 9.6% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In Yonkers, 16.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 14.5% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In New York City, 26.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 29.6% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In Rochester, 5.4% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 5% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• In Syracuse, 8.7% of students met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 6.9% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
While the governor is flailing schools he conveniently forgets about the economies in the same cities.
In spite of three years of gubernatorial announcements about economic development in the faltering upstate cities unemployment remains high and the future bleak.
The once booming economies in Rochester and across the northern tier are long gone, and will never return. The promised high tech jobs, if they are created, will not benefit the inner city youth in the hollowed out cities across the state, a situation replicated across the nation.
If you superimpose poverty by zip code, unemployment, poor health, crime, teenage pregnancy, and school achievement, lo and behold, the maps are congruent (See Poverty by zip code here)). From Los Angeles to Phoenix to Denver to Houston to East St Louis to Chicago to Detroit to Philadelphia to New York to Buffalo to Rochester and Syracuse the pattern is the same.
The “standard solution” forced by the feds, closing and reopening schools, charter schools, turnaround or transformation, has churned not resolved the problem of low school achievement.
The “plan,” the successes, and there are success, are plans that are research-based, crafted locally, carefully monitored by the city/state and coupled with a community-wide approach, not just based on school restructuring.
Strong district and school leadership, quality instruction, content rich curriculum, a collaborative partnership, over time, will improve outcomes.
The governor has to do his part: jobs, health care, housing must go hand-in-hand with school improvement plans.
The “takeover” of a school district is not new in New York State; in 2002 the State Education Department received legislative approval to “takeover” the Roosevelt School District, a 2010 Report found “modest gains,” unfortunately very modest. In June, 2012 the commissioner recommended continuing the state takeover due to a lack of gains in pupil achievement (See State Report here)
The governor threatens to support legislation to give the State Education Department the authority to “takeover” school districts, yet eleven years after taking over Roosevelt the district still stumbles academically.
The commissioner is also currently battling the Buffalo School Board and superintendent, threatening to revoke the registration of the schools as well as “suspending or terminating” School Improvement Grant (SIG) dollars. (See King letter here)
The recent history of governor’s taking over school districts has not been positive – the heralded creation of a governor’s district in Connecticut – the taking over of low performing schools and school districts (See glossy description here) has fallen on hard times in Bridgeport. An excellent Washington Post article dissects the failed premises of the “sprinter” turnaround experts – a superb read here.
The governor’s flippant “death penalty” threat can easily come back to haunt him. Has the unemployment rate fallen in Buffalo, or Rochester or Syracuse? Have grandiose plans and pronouncements in State of the State messages come to fruition?
Communities are organic and schools are part of the organism – you cannot separate the school from the community – you must “cure” the ills of the community. Yes, strong district and school leadership, an engaged staff, a jointly-arrived at plan along with the creation of jobs can resuscitate a city.
To expect that schools will thrive without considering the zip code is illusory.
To expect that the state education departments have a magic wands and fairy dust is ludicrous. Why is Roosevelt, after eleven years, still under state management?
Maybe the governor’s inner circle should take a look at his counterparts in Indiana and Florida and Wisconsin and Louisiana…. quick fix efforts have dragged down careers.
Gavin Newsom, the Lt Governor of California, in October, 2012 laid out the challenges of cities in a time of fiscal austerity; thirty to fifty cities across the nation may be on the road to bankruptcy, Newsom offers some possible paths in a speech at the Milano Institute at the New School University (Worthwhile listening to here).
Andrew’s road to the White House might be derailed in Buffalo and Rochester and Syracuse.