Tag Archives: charter schools

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.

The New York State Board of Regents and State Education Department Should NOT Allow Charter Schools to Expand Beyond the Eighth Grade (A “Back Door” to Exceeding the Cap).

The cap on the number of charter schools in New York City has been reached and it appears unlikely that the legislature will increase the current cap. At the May, 2019 Board of Regents meeting a question was raised: if an existing charter school plans to extend its grades beyond the eighth grade, in essence creating a high school, would the new configuration constitute a new school and violate the cap?  The State Education attorney did not think so; the extended school would remain as a single charter entity.

The extended charter would essentially be creating a new high school, and, I believe, would not comply with the spirit and intent of the charter school law.

While the extension may, or may not, exceed the cap the extension does not comply with the reasons for the granting of a charter

The law lists specific reasons for the creation of charter schools,

 The purpose of this article is to authorize a system of charter schools to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently of existing schools and school districts in order to accomplish the following objectives:

 (a) Improve student learning and achievement;

(b) Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students who are at-risk of academic failure;

(c) Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods;

(d) Create new professional opportunities for teachers, school administrators and other school personnel;

(e) Provide parents and students with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system; and

(f) Provide schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems by holding the school

 Charter schools have primarily been located in geographic areas with low-achieving public schools offering parents an alternative to traditional public schools.

In New York City traditional public high schools are not “neighborhood schools.” The application process to high schools applies to all high schools and allows students to make twelve choices and matches students to schools; over 90% of students receive one of their top three choices.

There are 419 high schools and educational option programs within high schools. The choices of schools are extremely broad; the vast majority of schools are theme-based, from law to health sciences, to vocational subjects to culinary arts, the list is enormous and all encompassing In addition forty schools, the Consortium Schools, offer a portfolio system in lieu of regents examinations. The over 100  innovative PROSE schools  offer a wide range of alternative scheduling, from longer periods and fewer daily periods to trimesters instead of annual or semester systems, (See appendices on the link above for specific school innovations) The Internationals Network (16 schools) only accept students who have been in the country for less than four years, with extraordinary successes and far exceed student performance in charter schools. There are fifty Transfer High Schools for students who are overage and under-credited.

The current high school system provide(s) parents and students with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities, as well as encourage(s) the use of different and innovative teaching methods and provides schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.

 The current elaborate system of high schools provides, within the current system, the goals that the charter school law lists.

There is no need for the creation of further charter high schools.

The adding of a ninth and additional grades in a current charter school is simply an attempt to bypass the cap,  is unnecessary, and antithetical to the law.

High school graduation rates have been steadily increasing. The school performance dashboards offer comparisons of schools as well as school specific data with a few clicks.

I would encourage the Regents and the State Education Department not to entertain any requests to expand grades beyond the eighth grade in any existing charter school.

Will Governor Cuomo Succeed in Increasing/Eliminating the New York City Charter School Cap?

The New York Post, a pro-charter school daily newspaper reports that Governor Cuomo is pursuing increasing the New York City charter school cap.

Gov. Cuomo on Sunday urged the Legislature to back a new law that would raise the cap to allow more charter schools to open in New York City before the legislative session ends in June.

“We support raising this artificial cap, but the legislature needs to agree as well,” Cuomo senior adviser Rich Azzopardi told The Post.

And, Ray Domanico from the conservative Manhattan Institute follows up with a NY Post op ed, arguing that charter schools raise all boats,

[Charter school] success at creating educational opportunity hasn’t come at the expense of the city’s traditional public schools. Over the last 20 years, as charter schools have grown in the city to the point where they now educate 10 percent of all public-school students, the city’s traditional public schools have seen historical improvement.

Meryl Tisch, the deputy chancellor of SUNY (and former chancellor of the Board of Regents) jumped on the train, also calling for the raising of the New York City cap.

State law sets a statewide cap on the number of charter school and a subcap on the number allotted to New York City. The SUNY Charter Institute approved a number of charter schools at their last meeting reaching the New York City cap.

The cap has been increased twice, each time the increase was included in the state budget. The budget process in New York State is unique; the governor can add non-budgetary items to the budget.  Two convoluted court decisions sustained the right of the governor to add items not germane to the budget, the only power the legislature has is not to approve the budget, not a viable option. .

In the past the governor used the budget to increase the cap; this time he made no efforts to use the budget.

The legislature will return on April 29th and will adjourn in mid-June, with many outstanding issues; there are twenty-five legislative days remaining in the session. While both houses in the legislature are controlled by Democrats the newly empowered Democratic majority in the Senate is aggressive, and, outspokenly hostile to charters; John Liu, the chair of the New York City Education Committee has been especially negative towards charters

On the Assembly side the new chair of the Education Committee, Michael Benedetto, is a retired New York City teacher.

Marcos Crespo, a Bronx Assembly member, as well as the chair of the Bronx Democratic Party is one of the few Democratic charter school supporters in the Assembly.

Can the pro-charter school folks stir the pot and generate political pressure to increase the cap?

There is a bill, introduced 3/29/19 that, “Requires the state comptroller and the comptroller of the city of New York to coordinate the scheduling and performance of audits of charter schools in the city of New York.”  A bill vigorously opposed by the network charters. Philanthropy is the “dirty little secret,” the charter school networks (Success Academy, etc.,) receive large sums of philanthropic dollars, from hedge funds and national ant-union organizations. For example, Guide Star, the site that give access to the IRS 990 reports lists over 200 million dollars in contributions to the Success Academy Network,  the dollars are not subject to audit.

There aren’t any bills so far to increase the cap.

In 1866 Gideon Tucker, a New York judge, wrote in a decision of a will case: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session,” and little has changed.

Why didn’t the governor add an increase in the cap to the budget bill?

  • The maneuvering for charter school PAC dollars

The charter school political action committees (PACs) have poured dollars into the campaign of Republicans in the Senate – they lost. Where should the PAC dollars go?  The governor’s actions says, “I’m one of your few friends.”

  • De Blasio v Cuomo

The de Blasio-Cuomo antipathy is unabated. From the governor’s seat in Albany he is the alpha progressive. At every opportunity he has made life difficult for de Blasio: from budget to space for charter schools to mayoral extensions, nothing has come easily

As perhaps Cuomo is seeking powerful allies in the Assembly

  • Marcus Crespo

With the Bronx Borough President term-limited Crespo may be looking at the Bronx Borough President as his next step, and, charter school dollars are as good as anyone else’s dollars.

I believe it is unlikely that Cuomo wants to alienate the UFT, the New York City teacher union. Cuomo and Mulgrew have had a “professional” relationship. After the Supreme Court issued the Janus Decision; the governor quickly issued regulations strengthening union membership rules basically thwarting the impact of Janus. The bill signing took place at UFT headquarters.

Rent regulations expire in New York City on June 15th and the Democrats in both houses are seeking sweeping changes, the Assembly, the Senate and the Governor have to agree, and,  if there is no agreement rent control sunsets, totally unacceptable.

The last days in Albany are called “the big ugly;” deals are made, I’ll support this if you support that, no one has a political future if they allow rent control to expire while the real estate industry pours dollars and lobbyists and promises of anonymous independent expenditures. Could the charter school cap get caught up in the last minute deal-making?

The Democratic primary debates begin on June 26th and 27th. As candidates fade the next tier of candidates will emerge, are de Blasio, Cuomo and/or Bloomberg possible late entrants?

Presidential politics, deal-making during the “big ugly,” charter school PAC dollars, all impacting the race at the end of the legislative session.

Would charters exchange agree to the “audit” bill in exchange for increasing the cap?  Probably not.

You might say that I’m cynical, why can’t decisions simply be made on their merits?

Somewhere around 15,000 bills will be submitted during the legislative session, and, a few hundred will become law. Legislators concentrate on bills they introduced, aside from the budget, education bills are well down the list.

The 1787 Constitutional Convention that produced our Constitution was a series of compromises, aka, “deal-making.”

I see no enthusiasm in the legislature; unless the governor decides to lean on the legislature; then again, it’s Albany.

Do the Success Academy Charter Schools Routinely Ignore the Rights of Students with Disabilities? The NYS Commissioner Will Decide

Advocates for Children, the decades old advocacy organization has filed a formal complaint with the New York State Department of Education (NYSED) alleging scores of examples of Success Academy (SA) schools violating the rights of students in regard to special education services

Complaint Filed Against Success Academy Charter Schools and NYC DOE for Failure to Uphold Rights of Students with Disabilities

11.29.2018 | Today, Advocates for Children of New York along with co-counsel Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP filed a complaint with the New York State Education Department against Success Academy Charter Schools and the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”) for failing to comply with civil rights laws protecting students with disabilities who attend Success Academy schools.  The complaint alleges that Success Academy has changed the placements of students with disabilities without following procedures required to protect the rights of students with disabilities and their parents and has refused to comply with administrative hearing orders in special education cases.

Read the news release [PDF]

Read the complaint [PDF]

The complaint is the beginning of a major legal review of the rights of students with disabilities and the obligations of charter schools.

The charter school law clearly spells out the obligation of charter schools,

A charter school shall meet the same health and safety, civil rights, and student assessment requirements applicable to other public schools, 

Success argues that the same law exempts a charter schools from regulations that apply to public schools.  

A  charter  school  shall  be  exempt  from all other state and local laws,  rules, regulations or policies  governing  public  or  private  schools,  boards  of  education,  school  districts  and  political  subdivisions including those relating to school personnel  and  students,  

Does the failure to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and state regulations governing Student with Disabilities a violation of a student civil rights, or, does the law shield charter schools from the regulations? The complaint encapsulates the argument cogently,

By refusing to comply with these mandates, Success Academy and its schools have effectively declared that they are not subject to the due process provisions of the IDEA and New York Education Law, and that students with disabilities at Success Academy schools do not have the same legal protections as students with disabilities at other public schools.

Complaints to the commissioner are the first step, and, not uncommon, the NYSED attorneys review the complaint; the process can take months, and issues a ruling. The ruling can be challenged in the courts.

Education Law §310 provides that persons considering themselves aggrieved by an action taken at a school district meeting or by school authorities may appeal to the Commissioner of Education for a review of such action.  In addition, Education Law §306 allows the Commissioner of Education to remove a trustee, member of a board of education and certain other school officers for willful misconduct or neglect of duty.

Procedures for the presentation and defense of such appeals and for the conduct of proceedings for the removal of school officials are contained in regulations of the Commissioner of Education.

To further complicate the issue there are two chartering entities in New York State, the Charter School Institute, part of the SUNY Board of Trustees and the State Department of Education operating under the auspices of the Board of Regents The two organizations have different regulations governing the granting and renewal of charters. You may remember the Charter School Institute issued draft regulations claiming that the Institute had the power to certify charter school teachers. The Regents sued and the courts sustained the suit.

Does the chartering agency, the SUNY Charter Institute, agree with Success Academy’s interpretation of the law in regard to special education services?  If it does not agree, why did it continue to renew charters for the SA schools?

The Regents and the SUNY Charter Institute have different standards for the granting of charters, SUNY is far more lenient, and, a number of schools that have turned down by the Regents have been granted charters by the SUNY Charter Institute.

The former board chair of the SUNY Charter School Institute, Daniel Loeb, is a financier, not an educator.

In my view the original decision to grant charter authorizing authority to two organizations was a mistake. A number of years ago, Merryl Tisch, at that time the Chancellor of the Board of Regents, tried to merge the charter granting organizations, without success. Ironically, Tisch is now the deputy chair of the SUNY Board of Trustees.

The threshold issue is whether charter schools must comply with the regulations in regard to special education student placements and decisions of hearing officers

Success Academy and the SA Schools … take… the position that pendency orders do not apply to their schools. When the parents obtained pendency orders for the last agreed upon placements, the SA Schools—represented by a Success Academy attorney—took the position that they did not need to comply with the pendency orders because they disagreed with the order and the hearing officer’s authority to issue the order, forcing parents to litigate further to obtain the ordered relief, and resulting in further delays in the students receiving ordered instruction.

 If NYSED rules that failing to comply with orders of hearing officers, pendency orders, the next step is a remedy. The complaint outlines a series of remedial actions including a compliance plan. The commissioner can also assign a monitor to oversee the application of the remedies.

SA can ask that the implementation of the order is tolled until all legal remedies are exhausted; the commissioner could deny the request indicating that the children impacted would suffer irreparable damage.

If SA refuses to comply the commissioner does have the power to remove the “school officials” who are failing to implement the remedy.

There is no question that SA will appeal any adverse decisions into the courts.

Across the street, (Washington Avenue actually separates the State Education Department headquarters from the legislative and executive offices) the legislature can amend the charter school law to remove any ambiguity.

Appeals to the commissioner decisions typically take many months before a decision is rendered, a speedy decision, namely, while the legislation is in session, is important; especially if the law has to be amended.

The commissioner can ask the SUNY Charter Institute if they were aware of the actions of SA in refusing to implement the decisions of impartial hearing officers, if they were: why weren’t they taking actions to force SA to comply with the orders? If they were not aware; why not? As the renewer of charters wouldn’t they have the obligation of monitoring the performance of schools prior to renewing charters?

While appeals to the commissioner are based upon precedent it is unusual for an appeal is so loaded with political implications. In the corridors of the marble floored ornate legislature someone will whisper to someone else: what does Andrew think? He may be holding his finger in the air; he may have no interest.

The Advocates for Children complaint may result in a consent agreement, resolving the complaint, or, a major legal decision defining the obligations of charter schools and the supervisory authority of the commissioner.

Next week’s Albany Regent Meeting should be  interesting.

Democrats Rule!! Will the Democrats Pass a Moratorium on the Creation of New Charter Schools?

The democrats control both houses of the NYS legislature, and it’s a firm control, an overwhelming majority in the Assembly and 39 out of the 63 seats in the Senate. The last time the dems controlled both houses successive leaders of the Senate ended up in jail, Malcolm Smith and John Sampson; the incoming majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, has been an excellent minority leader and is well-regarded as a conciliator. The dem majority can be a contentious group with widely varying interests, downstate (aka, NYC), versus the suburbs versus the other struggling “big five” cities.

The New York Times sees hard times ahead for charter schools with dems in control. The charter school political action committees (PACs) have been strong financial supporters of the republican side of the aisle, as well as of the governor; however, elections have consequences.

The Independent Democratic Coalition (IDC) was thrashed in the September primaries and their replacements have been clear in their opposition to charter schools

On the national scene charter school creation has waned, the 2017-2018 school year showed the lowest rate of expansion ever, only one percent.

The history of charter schools in New York State is quite interesting. Governor Pataki was completing his first term, running for his second term and during the 1998 legislative session pushed hard for a charter school law. The legislature adjourned in June without passing the law. Discussions continued over the summer and into the fall, Pataki was elected in November to a second term and the legislature returned to Albany for a lame duck session.

The charter school debate pitted advocates and enemies of charter schools, the New York Times wrote,

As if the public schools did not have enough to worry about, like trying to meet higher standards required by the State Board of Regents, curriculum mandates and other reforms, along comes a growing movement to offer alternatives that some observers say nibble away at public education.

Whether it is vouchers to offset private school tuition, allowing the formation of charter schools or offering tuition tax credits, such proposals are viewed by many people as threats not only to financing sources but also to the fundamental mission of public schools.

One of my favorite quotes comes from a New York State Surrogate Court judge, “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

In spite of widespread opposition to charter schools the legislature took two actions during the December lame duck session  , they gave themselves a pay increase and facing a Pataki veto passed a charter school law. BTW, Sheldon Silver was the speaker of the Assembly and supported the “deal.”

After gaining potent leverage with a threat to veto a legislative pay raise, Gov. George E. Pataki won approval early this morning of a plan that would alter the state’s educational landscape by authorizing the creation of autonomous public schools.

The support for the plan in the Legislature capped weeks of negotiations that were dominated by the prickly question of how much lawmakers would yield to the Governor in return for a coveted salary increase, the first in a decade. In a final round of horse-trading, Mr. Pataki and legislative leaders agreed on a package of bills that included the school measure, a 38 percent pay raise and proposals to penalize lawmakers for late budgets and to help farmers receive higher prices for milk.

The State Senate approved the school legislation by a vote of 39 to 20 soon after 1:30 A.M. Leaders in the Assembly also agreed to back the bill early this morning, and were moving to pass it.

On December 10th a commission (the Comptrollers of NYC and NYS and the chair of the SUNY Board) will announce whether or not to grant a raise to the legislature, the first since 1998. No action is required by the legislature so no “deals” are necessary; however, this is Albany.

The newly elected legislature will convene the first week in January, the governor will give his state of the state address laying out his plans for the session and the all-democratic state leadership will begin passing its legislative package.

Early voting, the Dream Act, the Urstadt law (rent control) reform , and dozens of other pet bills; however, the dems will be careful to balance the needs of the suburban districts in which repubs were defeated with urban concerns. The 2020 legislature will redistrict the state and could entrench the dems for a decade, maintaining control in 2020 is essential.

My suggestions to the democratic leadership:

A moratorium on both the creation of new charter schools and the expansion of current charter schools

The original idea for charter schools was to create schools that were “engines of innovation;” outside the constraints of rules and regulations schools could experiment with new concepts in teaching and learning that could be rolled into traditional public schools. The original charter school concept morphed into charter schools as competition to traditional public schools, establishing a marketplace, the competition would raise all boats and those that did not improve/compete would fall by the wayside.

Charter schools are indistinguishable from public schools, except, longer school days and hours. Charter schools do not enroll “comparable” percentages of special education students or English language learners. Review the link http://www.uft.org/files/attachments/secure/demographics-charters-v-traditional.pdf that compares charter schools and traditional schools in school districts throughout New York City.

The NAACP called for a moratorium on the creation of charter schools, I agree, and would suggest a five year moratorium. The governor elected in 2022 could review the moratorium.

Fiscal transparency for all funding, public and private

 One of the untold stories is charter school philanthropy. The network charter schools (Success Academy, etc.) raise many, many millions of dollars , usually through 501© 3 organizations, tax-free dollars, and, many of the contributors are shielded from public scrutiny. The current charter school law and court decisions protect charter schools from the rays of sunshine. The charter school law should be amended so that all contributions will open to public inspections, including the barring of anonymous Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) contributions.

Tightening the charter school law to require enrollment of special education and English language learners at the percentages or greater in schools in the encompassing community school district

 The State Education Department has interpreted the current law so that charter schools can fail to enroll special education students and English language learners at the same level as neighboring schools: that loophole must be closed.  If anyone wants specific language I can forward.

 Legislation that would create Innovation Districts, clusters of schools, that can operate outside the constraints of current regulations, the original purpose of charter schools

 The current federal law, the successor of No Child Left Behind, the Every Student Succeeds Act, contains a section in which states can apply for innovation waivers, to create alternatives to the current required grades 3-8 testing. Only two states applied, although a number of states are conducting pilots in schools or school districts in the state. The NY State Education Department has shown no interest in either the original application or conducting local pilots. There are a number of innovative pilots operating below the radar, the forty or so consortium schools with waivers only requiring the English Regents exam, the highly successful International Schools Network, high schools that only enroll new immigrants and use their own instructional model and the PROSE schools in New York City that have waivers for school-created instructional or management models.

I would suggest a statute that would require the State Education Department create an application process by which schools/schools districts and unions could collaboratively apply for innovative waivers, in other words, create engines of innovation within public schools.

New York State, and many other states, are engaged in a “race to the bottom,” creating mechanisms that results in high test scores without increasing student proficiency.

Education Next,   the scholarly education journal published by the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance writes,

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed into law in 2015, explicitly prohibits the federal government from creating incentives to set national standards. The law represents a major departure from recent federal initiatives, such as Race to the Top, which … encouraged the adoption of uniform content standards and expectations for performance. At one point, 46 states had committed themselves to implementing Common Core standards designed to ensure consistent benchmarks for student learning across the country. But when public opinion turned against the Common Core brand, numerous states moved to revise the standards or withdraw from them.

 Although early indications are that most state revisions of Common Core have been minimal, the retreat from the standards carries with it the possibility of a “race to the bottom,” as one state after another lowers the bar that students must clear in order to qualify as academically proficient. The political advantages of a lower hurdle are obvious: when it is easier for students to meet a state’s performance standards, a higher percentage of them will be deemed “proficient” in math and reading. Schools will appear to be succeeding and state and local school administrators may experience less pressure to improve outcomes …

 So, has the starting gun been fired on a race to the bottom? Have the bars for reaching academic proficiency fallen as many states have loosened their commitment to Common Core? And, is there any evidence that the states that have raised their proficiency bars since 2009 have seen greater growth in student learning?

 In a nutshell, the answers to these three questions are no, no, and, so far, none.

 From Diane Ravitch to Linda Darling-Hammond, from the Fordham Institute to the Shanker Institute, the reliance on standardized testing to drive students to proficiency is waning. Sadly it’s easier for states to massage the rules to satisfy parents and at the same time “game the tests,” an example: unlimited testing time increases scores, of course, with an invalid baseline.

Let’s take a deep breath, charter schools and choice are not an answer, they are a trompe d’oeil; testing viewed as punitive is a failure: are performance-tasks, portfolios, looping teachers/grades viable alternatives?

Let’s put charter schools on the sidelines and encourage the folks in the trenches to create a wide range of strategies.

The Blue Wave: Will the Democratic Primary Victories Impact Education Policy in NYS?

Cuomo and Nixon slugged it out all summer, the incumbent governor with an enormous war chest filled the airways with TV slots, Nixon, with very limited dollars kept up a steady barrage, and, education policy was on a back burner. Nixon trumpeted more dollars for education, clearing up the teacher evaluation morass and clearly is not a friend of charter schools, Cuomo, silent.

Cuomo, following the polling predictions, won easily with 64% of the vote; however, the story is further down the ballot.

The progressives, the anti-party establishment, the Democratic Socialists, whatever you want to call them, rejected the incumbent Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC), winning in six races, including rejecting the IDC leader Jeff Klein who spent over 2 million dollars, an incredible sum in a state senate primary race.

Juumane Williams, a Brooklyn City Council member with a checkered past and a conservative on social policies came close in the Lieutenant-Governor race and Tish James, the Public Advocate in New York City won the four-way Attorney General race with 40% of the vote; Zephyr Teachout, who ran against Cuomo in the primary four years ago had 25% of the vote.

What this means is that Joe Crowley’s shocking loss in the June congressional primary was not a fluke. Sages clucked away blaming Crowley: he lived DC, only occasionally toured the district,  didn’t take his opponent seriously, and the race was an anomaly. The victories across the board of young, vibrant, virtually unknown candidates may be a sea change in New York State politics.

The turnout was huge.

Will the wave of young, progressive candidates and voters continue two months from now in the general election?

The national Republican Party will not pump dollars into a losing campaign and it is likely that Cuomo will roll to victory; however, will Cuomo have coattails and will other progressives defeat incumbent Republicans in state senatorial races?

The state senate majority teeters, while the Democrats currently hold a 33-32 edge one member, Simcha Felder, votes with the Republicans, giving the Republicans the edge. If the blue wave continues to roll the Democrats will seize the state senate.

Past democratic majorities in the senate led to internal mud wrestling and the last two Democratic leaders ended up in jail. Can the current dem leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, actually lead her contentious troops?  Jeff Klein will be gone, the remaining IDC leader, Diane Savino, is isolated, a new cluster of very young and very progressive dems confronting old guard dems; of course, first the dems have to prevail in November.

At the NYS AFL-CIO Endorsement Conference the unions were all over the place, some unions supporting the former IDC incumbents, others in the insurgents, a few unions supporting Republicans. The Conference endorsed Cuomo-Hochel-deNapoli-James and failed to make any endorsements in the hotly contested races, a 2/3 vote is required for endorsement.

NYSUT, the state teacher union, made no endorsement for governor.

If the dems prevail and take control of the senate charter schools will be a loser – perhaps a big loser.

The governor, at times, has been both a friend of charter schools, at other times ignored charter schools. If the blue wave rolls I believe Cuomo will join the wave. Not only will the charter school cap not be increased it is altogether likely that legislation will require further scrutiny of charter schools: much greater transparency of school finances, tightening up the regulations, namely, charter schools students, including student with disabilities and English language learners at the same level as surrounding public schools. Charter schools commonly force out low performing students before state tests, one idea is to “credit” the test score results to the charter school.

The revised teacher evaluation law that was bottled up in the senate by the Republican leader will pass.

Perhaps the legislature will increase the power of State Education to remove school boards in conflicted districts, i. e., Hempstead and East Ramapo. BTW, a very long time Assembly member in Hempstead was defeated in the primary.

The blue wave in both houses may attempt to grapple with creating alternative assessment pilots, regional Career and Technical Education (CTE) sites, additional Community Schools, expanding Universal Pre-K and 3-for-All programs across the state.

The new ESSA law does call for greater transparency in all schools in regard to the use of dollars and Cuomo has been a fan of fiscal transparency.

Will the blue wave reach into currently Republican controlled districts?  Replacing the six IDC Democrats with six progressive Democrats will be a futile gesture without also taking control of the senate.

Will the losers, Cynthia Nixon, Zephyr Teachout, campaign across the state for Democratic candidates?  Teachout is weeks away from giving birth so we’ll give her a pass.  I would love to see TV ads with Nixon and Teachout pumping up their troops, pumping up that blue wave across the state.

In 2008 and 2012 record numbers of voters raced to the polls to cast a vote for Obama, two years later, in 2010 and 2014 they stayed home and the Congress went Republican. The job is never done, the primaries were a first step; the “real” election is in November.

Eva, Andrew and NYS Politics: Why is Eva Moskowitz, the Success Academy Network CEO so politically influential?

A quick review: The charter school law in New York State passed in December, 1998 at a lame duck session of the legislature called by Governor Pakati – two items on the agenda, the charter school bill and a raise, BTW, the last raise legislators received!  The law  established a quota on the number of charter schools, currently New York City  is about 25 schools below the quota, the quota for the remainder of the state is about 150 schools below the quota. Supporters of charter schools range from Milton Freedman acolytes, the anti-teacher union cabal, and, recently, Republicans feasting on charter school political action dollars. The Republicans have very few charter schools in their districts.

Under the law the Charter School Institute, part of the State University (SUNY) and the Board of Regents are charter school authorizers. The Charter School Institute maintains a detailed website – Check out here. Check out the Charter School Office of the New York State Education Department here. While the organizations, SUNY and the NYSED must comply with the law they have differing standards re approving charter school applications and renewals.

Charter Schools receive authorizations for five years, and, in the fifth year the authorizer reviews the performance of the school, The SUNY Charter School Institute extends the charter for an additional five years, or, rarely, closes the charter school. The NYSED Charter School Office can recommend to the Regents reauthorizing charters from two to a full five years, or, fail to renew and close the charter. See the just released “NYSED Protocols for Charter School Site Visits: 2017-18.

In the Spring, 2017 the SUNY Charter School Institute submitted ten requests for the extension of charters that were years away from renewal to the Board of Regents, the schools were all in the Eva Moskowitz run Success Academy Network, The Regents returned the requests to SUNY with the following comments,

Renewals to Charters Authorized by the Trustees of the State University of New York 
Your Committee recommends that the Board of Regents return the proposed charters [ten Success Academy Charter Schools with two, three and four years remaining before expiration of the charter] to the Trustees of the State University of New York for reconsideration with the following comment and recommendation:

Approving the renewal of any charter school years before the expiration of the charter does not allow timely review of the school’s educational and fiscal soundness, community support, legal compliance, or means by which the school will meet or exceed enrollment and retention targets for students with disabilities, English language learners and students who are eligible applicants for the free and reduced price lunch program. The charters should be abandoned, and the schools should be directed to resubmit the application no earlier than one year prior to the expiration of the charter term.

Under the law the extensions will go into effect after 90 days if SUNY chooses not to withdraw the renewal requests.

Why would the Charter School Institute even consider extending charters years ahead of time?  Remember the song: “Whatever Eva wants …?

Additionally, the Charter School Committee of SUNY released draft regulations: SUNY will approve plans submitted by charter networks for teacher certification in SUNY-authorized charter schools without the formal teacher certification required for all other teachers in the state.  Public comment forms open from 7/26 for 45 days here. The SUNY Charter School Institute indicated the change was necessary due to the difficulty in recruiting certified teachers; no evidence was presented to support the claim. The regulation appears to grant charter school networks wide discretion in approving prospective charter school teacher candidates.

Commissioner Elia and the Chancellor Rosa expressed  “concerns” over the plan,

“The Board of Regents and State Education Department are focused on ensuring that strong and effective teachers with the proper training, experience and credentials are educating New York’s children in every public school – including charter schools,” …. “Our review of SUNY’s teacher certification proposal is cause for concern in maintaining this expectation.”

On July 17th Ed in the Apple submitted comments to the Charter School Institute urging the Institute to withdraw the proposal and seek other avenues to recruit teachers. (Read here).

The SUNY Board of Trustees is comprised of 18 members, 15 of whom are appointed by the Governor, with consent of the NYS Senate.

The Board of Trustees is the governing body of the State University of New York.  The Charter Schools Committee is a subcommittee of the Board of Trustees that oversees SUNY authorized charter schools. Consisting of four members [three lawyers and a businessman], the Committee “approves or denies charter applications, revisions and renewals, administers a statewide charter school grant program, and sets SUNY charter school policies and standards.”

The SUNY Board belongs to the governor.

The Regents are responsible for “the general supervision of all educational activities within the State. The Regents are organized into standing committees, subcommittees and work groups whose members and chairs are appointed by the Chancellor.”

The Board comprises 17 members elected by a joint meeting of both houses of the State Legislature for 5 year terms [actually by the Democratic majority]: 1 from each of the State’s 13 judicial districts and 4 members who serve at large. Regents are unsalaried and are reimbursed only for travel and related expenses in connection with their official duties.

The governor has no statutory authority over the Regents.

Why does Eva Moskowitz have so much clout?  Why is the governor supporting policies clearing benefiting Moskowitz?

The 2018 Gubernatorial Election:

Three years ago Cuomo had to fight off attacks from the left in his own party to win the primary and fight off a popular, if underfunded Republican candidate. Cuomo received 54% of the vote; however, if you look at a map the pink/red (Republican) districts far outnumber the blue (Democratic) districts – the deciding factor was 80% plus majorities for Cuomo in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx (See map here). A better funded Republican could have even narrowed the gap, and, the charter school political action dollars are a key: who controls the charter school PAC dollars and how can Cuomo prevents the dollars from flowing to a Republican candidate?  Think Eva.

The 2020 Presidential Election (Not Bernie, Not Hillary)

Friends say I’m crazy,  Cuomo isn’t “presidential material,” I demur. Cuomo is hard to place on the political spectrum. He led the “fight for 15.” actively fighting Trump on immigrant issues, pro-environment, not pro decriminalization of marihuana,  did not push the “Dreamer” bill, he does not easily fall into a place on the spectrum. After a solid win in 2018 he can burnish credentials for a 2020 run for the White House. Andrew will not “leave the plane on the runway” – See Mario anecdote here.

Attacks from the Left

Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor and a political neophyte received 34% of the vote in the 2014 September Democratic gubernatorial primary; the left wing of the Democratic Party was clearly unhappy with Cuomo in 2014 and there are rumblings of challenges next year. Cynthia Nixon, a popular actor and activist, and, a very strong public school parent/activist is considering running. Will the Sanders voters support a political neophyte? Will the Working Families Party deny Cuomo an endorsement?

Will the teachers union remain on the sidelines?

In 2014 NYSUT, the NYS teachers union did not make an endorsement, and, a few Long Island locals endorsed Teachout in the primary. Yes, Cuomo leans toward charter schools; however, he provided the largest increase in state education dollars, shows no interest in reviving the reviled APPR test-scored based teacher evaluation plan and appears to be in sync with the Regents in implementing the 2015 Cuomo Commission recommendations.(Read here). NYSUT has a new leadership that has had a brief and fractious relationship with the governor, members don’t love him, on the other hand staying on the sidelines is like kissing your sister, satisfying for neither party.

Can any Democrat afford to “stay on the sidelines” or vote for a third party?

Yes, Cuomo tilts, or leans, or outright supports charter schools, can any democrat afford to not vote, perhaps to facilitate the election of a Republican?  Then again, Pataki, a Republican preceded Cuomo and served for three terms (twelve years). A current-day Republican governor would not only be pro charter, s/he would also be pro voucher, anti-tenure and also support sharp restrictions on increases in property taxes. Rationally, Democrats would appear to have no place to go but support Cuomo, voters are not rational. How many democrats voted for Jill Stein instead of Hillary?  Did the Stein voters tip the scales for Trump?

I know too many teachers who are lifelong democrats who simply say they cannot “pull the lever,” excuse me, “bubble in the box” for Cuomo.

Cuomo’s flirtation with Eva may end badly; yes. he may prevent charter dollars from flowing to an Republican opponent, on the other hand, he may have alienated many “irrational” democratic voters.

Brief affairs frequently don’t end well.

Read a lengthy article in Politico musing over the end of education reform in New York and the role of Cuomo here