Tag Archives: Cuomo

The Principled Working Families Party Abjures Principles and Endorses Governor Cuomo: Who Should Principled Voters Support?

Third parties, the Conservative and Working Families Parties in New York State have substantial clout within the two major parties. Mainstream candidates frequently battle for their party designation in September primaries, and, vie for third party support in the November general election. The odd system usually pushes candidates to the right, to gain Conservative Party support or to the left to gain Working Families Party support.

The Working Families Party is funded by the mainstream unions with a membership which is loosely described as liberal or progressive or just plain left wing.

No one doubts that Andrew Cuomo will win his second term in November – his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, the County Executive in Westchester, is both conservative, and lacking in the big time dollars necessary to run a state-wide campaign. Up to now the national Republican Party and the deep pocketed supporters – the Koch Brothers, etc., have not jumped on the Astorino band wagon.

It is not a question of Cuomo winning; it is a question of the size of the victory. Can Cuomo’s victory put him on the national landscape? Can he brand himself as a fiscally right of center/socially left of center candidate? A national candidate for 2016 and beyond?

For the past four years Cuomo has frustrated Democrats, aside from marriage equality the other major Democratic initiatives have faltered and Cuomo, for too many Democrats, looks more like a Republican.

The 2% Property Tax Cap has driven hundreds of school districts, especially low wealth districts to the edge of educational bankruptcy, i. e., the inability to provide basic required educational services. Cuomo has been silent on the enormous gap in district to district funding – New York State has one of the widest disparities in student per capita funding in the nation.

His sudden love affair with charter schools has deprived his opponent of millions of hedge fund dollars, and, to public school supporters an act of political treason.

A recent poll: Cuomo only leads his Republican opponent by 12% with an unnamed WFP candidate on the ballot garnering 22% of the vote.

Over the weekend at the WFP Nominating Convention the highly principled WFP sacrificed principles for pragmatism – they endorsed Cuomo in exchange for Cuomo promising to be a Democrat!!

The Democrats have a 32-31 majority in the Senate, apparently a majority. However, the Democrats have a strong suicidal urge. Their first majority leader, Malcolm Smith’s corruption trial starts today and his replacement, John Sampson’s trial will begin later this year. The Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC), a five member caucus led by Jeff Klein (Bronx) and Diane Savino (Staten Island), in collaboration with their Republican buds, and the quiet support of the governor, has led the dysfunctional Senate in collaboration with the Republicans. The result: not much happens.

The Dream Act, the Women’s Equity Agenda, Compassionate Care Act (Medical Marijuana) and the public financing of elections all have little chance of passage during this session.

Governors have enormous power and Cuomo is a master at passing whatever he chooses to pass. The charter school bill, that had no chance of passage in the normal process, was jammed into the massive budget bill. The Senate gridlock suits the governor just fine.

As the WFP convention approached it began to look like the delegates might thwart Cuomo, who, apparently reached out to NYC Mayor de Blasio. A few short months ago Cuomo shot down de Blasio’s targeted tax to fund pre-kindergarten classes and slammed de Blasio over charter schools.

According to the NY Daily News de Blasio brokered the deal,

De Blasio brokered a deal in which Cuomo got the nomination after publicly committing to push for a Democratic takeover of the state Senate and a host of liberal initiatives, including another hike to the state minimum wage and creation of a statewide public campaign-finance system.

The WFP presser lauds Cuomo’s commitment to a progressive agenda.

… announces a unified, unprecedented coalition to secure a Democrat-Working Families majority in the New York State Senate and deliver progressive victories on a number of key priorities in the early months of the next legislative session. The legislative commitments include a robust, statewide system of public financing of elections, funding 200 community schools, a commitment to fix the school funding formula to invest more money in high-need schools, the DREAM Act, the Women’s Equality Act, decriminalization of marijuana, and raising the minimum wage to $10.10 while indexing it to inflation and allowing localities to raise it up to 30% higher than the state minimum wage.

An aphorism of politics: when the powerful promise someone gets pregnant. The endorsement virtually guarantees that nothing of significance will transpire in Albany for the remainder of the session – the legislature adjourns on June 19th.

Next year: first, the Cuomo victory in November must be accompanied by a Democratic victory in the Senate and then the IDC has to agree to fold itself into the Democratic majority. The IDC are despised by the remainder of the Democrats in the Senate who lust for leadership roles. Two of the last three democratic Senate leaders are facing jail time and the crrent leader is virtually unknown.

Cuomo’s promise to drive a Democratic majority in the Senate next year is a long way off.

The WFP twisted arms, swallowed, and agreed that survival meant paying homage to the feudal lord, Andrew Cuomo. Only 58%of the WFP delegates endorsed Cuomo, late Saturday night the deal was done with the unions that fund the WFP. For the unions the calculations were simple, not to antagonize the lord of the manor – and probably extract some promise of something that they held dear.

For those of us in the “anybody but Cuomo” frame of mind let me introduce you to Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate.

Howie Hawkins said today that the decision by the Working Families Party to nominate Governor Cuomo for a second term of Governor was an abandonment of working class and progressive voters, just further proof that the WFP is merely a liberal wing on the Democrats.

Hawkins said that the door to the Green Party was open to WFP members. “We feel their pain over the Cuomo nomination. We are here for them. We give them a place to organize and vote against the Cuomo agenda and for progressive policies.”

“We invite progressive, grassroots workers and community members who are looking for a union member to support to vote for the Green Party this November. We will also be targeting communities of color who feel abused and neglected by the Cuomo administration and his austerity policies on schools, criminal justice and human services,” said Hawkins, a working Teamster from Syracuse who unloads truck at night for UPS for a living.”

In Praise of Test Prep in the World of No Child Left Behind and the Common Core State Standards Tests

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Coach Anon.

In the pure, idyllic world of David Coleman, the Common Core spokesperson (watch “Bringing the Common Core to Life,” April, 2011) the only impact on kids would be teachers and each and every teacher would teach lessons within the Common Core, curriculum-free, skills-based and Common Core tests would only reflect the skills of the teacher without any impact from environment and context, an idyllic world that never existed and never will exist.

We test all kids in grades 3-8 each and every year and the tests are “high stakes,” for kids, for teachers and for schools.

Do some kids do better than others because they have “smarter” genes or “better teachers” or were “better prepared” or “studied harder” or come from a “culturally richer environment?”

Can we draw analogies with sports?

David Epstein, in The Sports Gene (2013) explores the classic question, “nature versus nurture.” Are there genes which determine success in sports, or, does practice determine success?

… he forcefully argues that no single known gene is sufficient to ensure athletic success. His answer to the question “Nature or nurture?” is both … Mr. Epstein argues that we often confuse innate talent with spirit or effort.

If “spirit and effort” are crucial factors, Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers: The Story of Success, tells us,

“Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger role preparation seems to play.”

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

“In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”

We argue that preparing to play basketball or golf or preparing to take the bar exam requires practice, candidates spend innumerable hours taking a cram course, aka, test prep, to prepare themselves for the bar exam. Did your kid take an SAT prep course? Kids spend hundreds of hours preparing for the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT).

Ironically the leader of the NYC School System and the NYS Governor both bemoan excessive test prep,

Chancellor Carmen Farina’s latest message to principals encourages them not to go overboard in their preparation for state tests that begin in just three weeks.

Governor Cuomo’s hastily assembled Task Force also derided test prep,

Cuomo’s group made the same suggestion, arguing that schools should spend no more than 1 percent of instructional time on state exams, no more than 1 percent on local tests and no more than 2 percent on test prep.

Test prep is not synonymous with poor instruction, if by test prep you mean mindlessly taking practice tests you are correct. Test prep must meet the same high standards we expect from all instruction. Kids will be taking “tests” throughout their school lives – a classroom quiz, a graded classroom oral presentation, a graded essay or project, end of year summative assessments, Regents Exams, Advanced Placement Exams, SATs and/or ACTs and on and on. Preparing students to take tests is called test sophistication, and, the very same Department of Education whose current leader reminds principals “not to go overboard” has also prepared a 43-page test sophistication guide

Test taking strategies can be taught and practiced. The Guide begins by listing thirteen General Strategies: from a simple “Manage time effectively while test taking,” and moving towards some more complex strategies. The Guide discusses Essay Questions and suggests, “Use checklists to assure all parts of the question are answered,” and “Use key vocabulary words.” and provides a course in test sophistication, a lesson by lesson guide to assist students in preparing for tests.

Lloyd Bond, “My Child Doesn’t Test Well,” from Carnegie Perspectives delves,

It turns out that a sizable percentage of students perform well in their schoolwork but poorly on standardized, multiple-choice tests. Some may question whether this is a genuine phenomenon at all, arguing that low expectations and standards, and rampant grade inflation result in school “high performance” that is largely illusory. But I believe the phenomenon is real. There are students who genuinely perform well in school, but consistently do poorly on standardized tests of academic achievement. So what are the causes of poor test performance in the context of otherwise successful schoolwork?
I would propose four candidates: (1) test anxiety, (2) lack of test sophistication (or test-wiseness), (3) lack of automaticity and (4) test bias.

No one walks onto a basketball court or a golf course and excels, some are better natural athletes and will have initial success, unless they engage in thousands of hours of intelligent practice their skills will stultify.

Using test items similar to the items on the State tests on classroom tests is simply doing your job as a teacher – the State tests should not be a surprise. The State does provide “Sample ELA annotated questions” and some school districts have provided materials for their districts

Hopefully teachers do not stop regular lessons and begin weeks and weeks of test prep. Whether you call the instruction test prep or test sophistication one would hope instructional strategies would be embedded in day to day lessons. Teachers send messages, if they abhor test prep the message to the kids is clear and teachers are doing a disservice.

The decision-makers in the aeries of Washington and Albany have created a system – it is the job of the classroom teachers to teach their kids to beat the system.

“One man invents, the next circumvents,”

Albany Spin: The Legislature Finds a Sacrifical Lamb, Will the Gods Require More Sacrifices?

On Friday a “friend” called Josephine Finn, a judge in the village of Monticello and asked whether she’d like to join the Board of Regents, she explained to about 25 legislators who attended the interview on Monday that she studied up all weekend.

As the state legislators asked questions, some quite pointed, committee chair Cathy Nolan, frequently intervened, “You don’t have to answer that.”

Judge Finn was passionate, aggressive, explained she was a “fast learner,” didn’t seem to know anything about co-locations of charter schools, or, for that matter, wasn’t too sure what a charter school was. She favored the Common Core, sort of, agreed it was poorly implemented, and didn’t understand the moratorium proposal.

As reporters began to ask her questions “handlers” whisked her away.

Later in the day Regent Jackson withdrew his candidacy, and, on Tuesday the three incumbents and Judge Finn were elected to five year terms.

In a break from the past two candidates were nominated for each position – needing 107 votes (a majority of the 150 Assembly members and 63 Senate members) each of the candidates received 120 votes – all from Democrats.

Guess what, the selection process for members of the Board of Regents is political, as are selectees to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Sometimes the selectees are obviously highly qualified, sometimes the reason for the nomination is obtuse, part of local political wheelings and dealings.

The Brooklyn and Bronx delegations choose Kathleen Cashin and Betty Rosa – both had long highly successful careers as educators culminating as superintendents, both regularly visit schools, serve on education panels, deeply and critically question State Ed initiatives and occasionally oppose proposals of the Commissioner. Recently they vigorously opposed a task force report on amending the implementation of the Common Core and supported a two-year moratorium. They were outvoted.

The Board of Regents is a policy board, same as boards of CUNY and SUNY. The “policy” is actually set by the commissioner (called chancellors at CUNY and SUNY), and reviewed and approved/denied or amended by the boards.

A couple of days before the Regents monthly 2-day meetings the “Agenda and Materials” arrive See March materials here – usually about fifty or so pages of resolutions, back-up reports ranging from items impacting K-12, higher education, libraries/museums, budgets/audits, special education and the many professions supervised by the Board of Regents (dentistry, psychology, nursing, social workers and fifty or so more).

The Regents approve/amend/defer actions on the Common Core K-12 Social Studies Framework, or the Next Generation Science Standards, Transition Planning and Services for Students with Disabilities, Educator Diversity, Proposed Amendment to the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education Relating to the Duration of Limited Permits for Applicants Seeking Licensure as Mental Health Practitioners under Article 163 of the Education Law and about thirty other equally complex issues all on the agenda of the March, 2014 meeting.(Click on the link above for details of the proposals)

The commissioner drives the agenda, the few Regents with career long connections with education have questioned the avalanche of new programs, have suggested pilot programs, have urged outreach to “the field,” outreach to a wider community, all to no avail.

One program piled atop each other, until with the release of the Common Core State Grade 3-8 Exams were released – two/thirds of students failed the test – try as they could the commissioner and the State Ed staff could not assuage parent anger:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again

The parent anger not only did not abate, it increased, and who was at fault?

The governor blamed the Regents, appointed a task force, which issued a report, the legislators scrambled to avoid blame and found a “sacrificial lamb,” dumping Regent Jackson and allowing legislators most under fire to vote “no” on all the Regent candidates.

Will the charade convince parents that the legislators are guiltless…? Or, will the Governor require a “sacrificial lamb” higher up the food chain?

The Art of Negotiations: Keeping the Eye on the Prize – Staying Focused in a World of Conflict

This has been a bad week for Bill de Blasio.

After opposing co-location of charter schools in public school buildings de Blasio only reverses a handful of Bloomberg co-location decisions, and is sharply criticized by his supporters. Eva and company spend half a million to plaster TV ads shredding the new mayor, and, his “friend” in Albany, Governor Cuomo, after blocking his universal pre-K plan shows up at the charter school rally praising his new-found allies, who , BTW, contributed hundreds of thousands to his campaign chest. Chancellor Farina “misspeaks” a few times over finding space for the “un-co-located” new charter schools.

Whispers about a one-term mayor ….

Teachers howl, “Where is the union? Why aren’t they buying ad time to counter Eva? Why don’t they attack the Governor?”

The answer is simple: The goal of the union is to negotiate the best possible contract, not be sidetracked by other issues, not picking new fights.

Mayor de Blasio and the union will benefit greatly by a contract, however, that said; it has to be the “right” contract. The specter of David Dinkins hangs over the process. With the strong support of the union Dinkins defeated three-time incumbent Koch in the primary and a hard-charging Rudy Giuliani in the general election. Negotiations with the UFT, the teacher union dragged on and on – eighteen months beyond the expiration of the contract – the UFT ran radio and TV ads chiding Dinkins, a contract was finally reached a few months before the election. The union membership was hostile to Dinkins, the union made no endorsement, and twenty years of Republican mayors followed.

Both union president Mulgrew and the Mayor have made it clear – they want a contract for the end of the fiscal year – June 30th.

Dean Fuleihan, the new Budget Director, clearly signaled one direction for the negotiations,

“We’re going to treat the workforce with the respect that they have not been treated with, but at the same time protect the taxpayers and do something that’s affordable,” Dean Fuleihan said at the first hearing on de Blasio’s proposed $74 billion budget.

“There have to be offsetting savings. And (de Blasio) specifically mentioned and has repeatedly mentioned health savings.”

All 300,000 city employees have been working under expired labor contracts, some for more than five years. The unions are demanding more than $7 billion in retroactive pay hikes.

Fuleihan repeatedly stressed that saving money on the skyrocketing cost of health benefits would have to be part of any deal with the unions.

We’re looking to sit down and see if we can come up with some ideas that can save everybody money,” said Harry Nespoli of the Municipal Labor Committee.

But he said he would resist making workers pay more for premiums, noting they already are responsible for co-pays.

“That’s going to be a problem. … We want to make sure that whatever changes; the quality of the health care stays the same.”

Are health plans part of the teacher contract negotiations?

No and Yes.

The UFT does not negotiate health plans, the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC), a coalition representing the 300,000 city employees negotiates, however, health plan costs are part of the size of the package. “Savings” in health coverage adds potential dollars to the retroactive pay/salary rate increase pool.

The cost of city employee health plans have been skyrocketing and the Affordable Care Act complicates an already thorny issue.

For teachers a major item is retroactive pay, the teacher contract expired on 11/1/09 – over four years ago. The union retroactive pay claims, for all city employees, reportedly would cost the city $7 billion: well beyond what is possible in one budget cycle (7/1 until 6/30).

Unions argue that “pattern bargaining” requires retroactive pay at a rate of 4% – the last raises prior to the mayoral decision not to negotiate with any union. Clearly the city will point to the fall 2008 fiscal crisis and use an “ability to pay” claim. The long overdue fact-finders report will probably address the issues, the report is not binding.

Much of the “negotiations” involve the number crunchers from both sides, gaining an agreement on a wide range of statistical projections.

An example: If the city and the union had negotiated a union what would have been the rate? What are projected tax revenues over the next year(s)?

Once the city and the union agree upon a dollar package, how will it be paid? Pensionable? Nonpensionable? A combination? Paid over one, two or three budget cycles?

After dealing with the past, the retroactive – what is the rate going forward – the increase in the new contract and the length of the contract?

The union wants a “going-out” rate as high as possible; the rate on the day before the new contract begins, the new rate, and the “going-forward” rate is built on the “going-out rate.”

While the budgetary issues are the core of the negotiations there are a range of non-budgetary issues.

* Should the ATR pool be eliminated, and, if so, what is the dollar savings for the city? A win-win issue, both sides would benefit.

* If both sides want to increase “collaboration” at the school level, can you “mandate” collaboration through contract language?

* Can the grievance process/dispute resolution process be streamlined? Instead of disputes taking months, or a year to resolve can disputes be resolved in weeks?

* Can the teacher discipline procedures also be streamlined? The current time frames have been reduced on paper; however, too many cases drag out, partially due to the former administration’s reticence to go before an arbitrator.

In each set of negotiations the parties have discussed a simpler contract, sometimes referred to as a “thin contract.” Some schools use the School-Based Option section of the contract to “amend” contract provisions while others modify the contract quietly below the radar.

Charter school advocates aver that rigid contract provisions impede innovation – a “thin contract” zone would counter that assertion.

At the end of weeks of long intense sessions the sides will move closer and closer, and, one side says, “We need a “sweetener,” something to make the contract more acceptable, more saleable to their side.

The mayor is an enormous advocate of affordable housing – his platform included building 200,000 new units. How do you pay for the housing? Developers want to build high income housing – there is a much higher return on investment. One suggestion: unions allow pension fund dollars to be invested in bonds to pay for affordable housing and that units are carved out for union members. Currently affordable housing uses AMI (Area Median Income) – an amount which would bar new teachers, they earn too much money – a “carve out” for teachers would achieve both purposes – pension fund dollars for affordable housing and units for teachers. Not part of a contract, however, an agreement that would gain support for the contract among the cognoscenti.

For the union, members have to vote to accept the agreement and for the city the agreement has to have the support of the influence makers – the New York Times, the Citizen’s Budget Commission, the City Council, the range of advocacy organizations, and, the public at large, Governor and candidate Andrew Cuomo announcing “This contract agreement is fair to teachers and a win for the City of New York” would be a wonderful plus.

Teacher opinions range from, “I’m retiring soon, I only care about money,” to “I have a long way to go – I’m mostly concerned with professionalism, with working conditions.”

In the final days negotiations move from a science, parsing numbers, to an art, the crafting of a settlement.

Michael Mulgrew and Bill de Blasio, hopefully, will become the best of friends

See pages 20-23 of the NYS Comptroller February 2014 Report on NYC finances re labor negotiations, health plans and pensions: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/osdc/rpt12-2014.pdf

The Leadership Battle Within the State Teacher Union (NYSUT): “Sometimes a Cigar Is Just a Cigar.”

For months the leadership of the 600,000 member New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has been bickering. In the past few weeks a Louisiana blogger sees the dispute as a plan by Randi Weingarten to vault Andrew Cuomo into the presidency in 2016 and, others see equally Machiavellian intents.

To quote Sigmund Freud: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

NYSUT is not a union, it is a federation that encompasses over 1,000 bargaining units, NYSUT doesn’t “own” any collective bargaining agreements.

In the early 1970’s the National Education Association state affiliate and the American Federation of Teachers affiliate merged to form one organization. The cultural differences between the AFL-CIO affiliated unions and the NEA affiliated unions was enormous. It was due to the skills of the first President, Tom Hobart that NYSUT held together and prospered.

The diversity of the membership is mind-boggling. From the 100,000 plus UFT in New York City to locals deep in the Adirondacks with a few dozen members, from high tax wealthy districts in suburbs to districts teetering on the edge of bankruptcy as industry and the tax base leaks overseas, from colleges in every county in the state to colleges in the five boroughs, the list goes on and on.

NYSUT Regional Service Centers provide labor relations specialists and legal services to both assist districts in contract negotiations deal with legal issues and local public relations. NYSUT is the face of the teacher union movement, NYSUT lobbies the legislature, the governor, the commissioner and the Regents.

Under the broad umbrella teachers may vigorously oppose fracking while other teachers in the extremely poor, oil shale rich areas may support fracking which would bring revenue to revenue poor areas. One NYSUT union in New York City endorsed de Blasio, another Bill Thompson. The UFT endorsed a pro-teacher candidate for City Council while the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) supported his opponent. The NYSUT umbrella is all-encompassing, unions can disagree on some issues and work together on core issues.

Bloomberg did everything possible to destroy the union in New York City; introducing a bill to eliminate seniority, allowing principals to choose who to layoff. The bill passed the Senate, was progressing in the Assembly, the Governor announced bill was unnecessary; the Teacher Evaluation Law would identify “ineffective” teachers. The Governor decided not fight with the union.

In the battle over Tier 6 almost all the New York City democrats voted against the law, not so successful upstate.

The property tax cap was at the top of the Governor’s agenda and sailed through the legislature, NYSUT opposed, to no avail.

The New York State Psychology Association (NYSPA) affiliated with NYSUT some years ago – looked like a new arena – NYSUT lobbying for professional organizations – last year, dissatisfied with the services, NYSPA withdrew and sought other representation.

Clearly locals were dissatisfied, blame placing, finger pointing, and opposition within the leadership. Accusations of NYSUT leadership paying themselves too well,. NYSUT’s finances in trouble, union democracy in action.

Either one slate will defeat the other and the loser accepts the vote of the members or the losing side will form their own caucus.

We love conspiracies; House of Cards politics dominates our entertainment lives. The real world is much more boring.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Only One Dog per Hydrant: Cuomo and de Blasio Battle for Power – 4-Year Olds May Be the Victims

Bill de Blasio ran a brilliant campaign for mayor, a textbook campaign, a motto: “A Tale of Two Cities” and two policies, stop and frisk and universal pre-K. Mayor Bloomberg had already sharply curtailed the number of police “stop and frisks,” one of the core campaign issues was resolved prior to Election Day.

The number of street stops under the police department’s heavily criticized stop-and-frisk tactic has plummeted 80 percent in recent months compared with the same time last year, (11/8/13)

The pre-K plan – a pre-kindergarten class in every public school and an after-school program in high poverty at-risk middle schools, the funding was embedded in the “A Tale of Two Cities” mantra – tax the rich, at least the richer, a small increase in taxes for earners of over $500,000 a year. The campaign rhetoric was reality,

“There are some who whisper that our drive to tax the wealthy to fund pre-K and after-school is just political posturing — an effort to heap scorn on the wealthy to win an election,” Mr. de Blasio told lawmakers at a hearing on the state budget, “But the election in New York City is over,” the mayor added, “and we are here to work with our leaders in Albany to govern.”

Within weeks of his inauguration deB released a 14-page plan laying out how the city could have classes ready by the fall.

In New York State all taxes are set by the legislature in Albany including local sales and income taxes. A heavily democratic Assembly, a democratic Governor and a Senate with shared leadership – if pressure could be brought on the republican leader, Dean Skelos, the new mayor’s two core policies would be in place – a sharp decrease in stop and frisk and universal pre-K. The campaign began: endorsement after endorsement, community organizations, business leaders, faith-based leaders, the momentum was building.

Surprisingly, the democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, not only had doubts, he had his own plan, to phase in a voluntary pre-K program across the state with funding in the state budget.

“I know the ‘tale of two cities’ the answer to the tale of two cities is not to create two states,” Cuomo said in a WNYC radio interview blasting de Blasio’s plan to hike city income taxes on the rich to pay for universal pre-K classes within the five boroughs. “The answer to inequity and inequality is not to create more inequity and inequality,” Cuomo added.

The two elephants began to fight, An African proverb: when elephants fight the grass gets trampled.

Bill de Blasio appeared to be a long shot in the NYC mayoral stampede: the favorite, Christine Quinn, the Speaker of the City Council, John Liu, the NYC Comptroller, Bill Thompson, the former Comptroller, who was outspent by 10:1, came within five percentage points in the 2009 mayoral election. de Blasio was a City Council member from Brownstone Brooklyn and the NYC Public Advocate. The pundits dismissed de Blasio, too far to the left, no citywide appeal, there was no way he could end up in the top two and make it into the runoff – clearly no candidate had any chance of accumulating 40% of the primary vote.

John Liu was dragged down by rumors of campaign funding improprieties, Christine Quinn too close to Bloomberg and Bill Thompson too “wishy-washy,” running too safe a campaign. de Blasio attracted voters from across the spectrum, white and black, in Manhattan and the boroughs; he garnered 40% of the primary vote and swept away his republican opponent in the November general election.

Eliot Spitzer, a hard-charging governor shouldered aside all opposition, resigned after his prostitution escapades, his successor, stumbled badly and Andrew Cuomo was catapulted into office. Secretive, bullying, demanding and extraordinarily popular Cuomo has carefully burnished his reputation. Socially liberal Cuomo piloted a marriage equity law through the legislature, in education a teacher-evaluation plan supported by the NYC teacher union and fiscally conservative, a statewide property tax cap, lowering business taxes, supporting increases in the number of casinos, and advocating for low tax economic zones in high unemployment regions, environmentally suspicious of hydraulic fracking and increasing and protecting state park lands. In an era of politician approval ratings in the 20% to 30% range Cuomo’s favorable ratings remained inconceivably above 60%.

Hillary Clinton is the presumed 2016 democratic presidential candidate, however, if Hillary does not run – then whom? Vice President Biden, California Governor Jerry Brown, Senator Elizabeth Warren, or, a number of governors, why not Andrew Cuomo?

There is only room for one elephant in the state, or, more coarsely, only one dog per hydrant.

Derailing the deB pre-k plan both weakens a rising elephant and adds to the Cuomo resume as a fiscal conservative, opposing the ultra-liberal mayor.

deB can either do battle with the incumbent lord of the castle or pay homage, swear an oath of fealty to the occupant of the Albany executive mansion.

The governor avers, “The answer to inequity and inequality is not to create more inequity and inequality,” if so, why does he continue to support one of the most unfair, the most unequal education funding formula in the nation?

Bruce Baker, an economics professor at Rutgers University and the author of the school finance 101 blog skewers the funding formula. The difference between the high wealth and low wealth districts are staggering. The high wealth districts spend many, many thousands more dollars per student, have more music and art courses/programs, more Advanced Placement classes, more elective subjects, lower class sizes, by every measurement high wealth districts provide more elaborate educational programs. High wealth district have more psychologists, social workers, guidance counselors and nurses, the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer, with each year more and more districts are slipping in the “stress’ category, rising expenses and declining revenues.

The governor’s budget would continue and add to the inequality, offering funding for universal pre-k classes when districts cannot afford full day kindergartens.

The Lord of the Manor has to keep his vassals in line.

If we want to break the cycle of poverty universal pre-k is a step, however, we have to start as early as possible:

• Workshops for expectant and new mothers in neighborhood schools.
• Workshops for caregivers and toddlers, once again, in neighborhood schools.
• Pre-school beginning at age 3
• A Community School model: a wide range of school-based social services
• Linkages to job training, housing placements and employment
• GED (TASC) opportunities located in the community, preferably the neighborhood school.

Unfortunately the road to the White House doesn’t trek through communities of poverty. Creating a persona that matches potential voters leads through middle class suburbs, not through Brownsville or East New York.

Than again, Louis XVI did lose his head.

Cuomo’s Education “Death Penalty” Ideas May Derail His Presidential Ambitions: Fixing Schools Means Fixing Cities.

“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.

Has the Testing Craze Gone Too Far? Will the New NYC Mayor Challenge the Commissioner Over Excessive Testing?

It’s been a tough week for John King, and, it doesn’t look like it’s getting any easier.

After months of planning, and whispering to anyone who would listen, the test scores were released – down 30% across the state.

The only other state to construct Common Core congruent state tests, Kentucky, saw 30% drops last year. In spite of careful planning, extremely careful “managing” of the cut score setting process, the lining up of Common Core supporters, and the release of the scores caused a firestorm.

In the final throes of the mayoral campaign the leading democratic contenders attacked the over-testing regimen, principals from high tax, high performing districts panned the tests, Diane Ravitch called for the resignation of John King and others called for his firing.

Only 3% of English language learners “passed” the ELA exams and kids of color fell into the single digit passing range.

At the July Regents meeting the commissioner passed up an opportunity to declare a moratorium year, instead he asked superintendents to be “judicious” in the use of the scores.

The tsunami is just beginning.

The powerful Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, John Flanagan, announced hearings across the state.

The current city administration and the state have a cozy noblesse oblige relationship – the state ignores whatever the city chooses to do and the city is totally silent re state policies. This will change dramatically on January 1 with a new mayor and a new chancellor, whoever it is will be far less compliant.

The governor, an expert at testing the direction of the winds, has absented himself from educational policy discussions, with the aroma of 2016 in the air, you may expect less enthusiasm for the test-test-test folks from the mansion in Albany. King has already signaled that just maybe some breathing room is needed. At the July Regents meeting and in an excellent Gotham Schools Geoff Decker post the commissioner indicates that maybe the 14-15 school year is too early to move to the PARCC tests.

A little history: while national curricula are prohibited by statute the feds and the governors worked out a slick way around the law. The National Governors Association (NGA) adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the feds funded two coalitions of states, the coalitions are developing Common Core aligned tests to replace current state tests. The plan is to sell the tests to the states; the tests will be computer-based, with a rapid turnaround time.

How you can create meaningful valid and reliable tests without a curriculum is another question. One of the major raps on the current round of Pearson-Regents Research Fund created tests is how can you prepare and test kids on topics that were never taught?

PARCC, the coalition in which New York State is a lead partner, was poised to replace the brand new tests with yet another brand- new test. The state is vigorously defending the current tests, arguing the scores cannot be compared to last year’s result – a new test – you cannot compare apples to oranges, a new baseline. Wouldn’t the PARCC tests also be a new test with a new baseline?
While I’m sure the commissioner and his minions can explain the nuances, the politics and the realities are huge obstacles. New York State, especially New York City and the low wealth districts are not capable of providing the hardware and software for a full computer implementation of the test. The early, very early plans were to spread the testing days over a longer period of time, all the kids would not take the test at the same time on the same day, different kids would answer different test items, you can imagine the uproar.

And, of course, there is the little question of money – will the Congress continue to fund PARCC, and, if not, can they raise sufficient dollars to continue to move forward? Will New York State, and other states, want to pay the estimated $30 per kid and the local hardware-software costs?

How would the public feel about a massive national databank of individual test scores as well as personal data about kids – in whose hands? The current outrage over the feds “collection” of phone records bleeds over into the same outrage over the I-Bloom databank that the state engaged.

This testing megalith is based on the premise that a combination of Common Core standards, rigorous testing, teacher assessment and the close scrutiny of data will result in higher achievement, aka, college and career ready students, a premise without any evidence.

A sports parallel: over the last few years Nate Silver and other kids who were not very good at actually playing baseball (only kidding!!) created a field that is called sabermetrics – the use of data to create algorithms to predict outcomes. From the traditional batting average and runs batted in, to WHIP (walks plus hits per inning), OBA (on-base averages), WAR and endless others (click above to join the cyber world of baseball)
The book and the movie, Moneyball, popularized the “new” scientific approach to the national past time.

No one predicted that the Pittsburgh Pirates, who haven’t had a winning season in twenty years would be leading the National League Central, or, that the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were on the verge of firing their manager in June, would have a winning streak unparalleled in the history of baseball.

Data analysis is not destiny.

A teacher was telling me, she teaches kids in a high poverty school who are the same age as her daughter; her daughter’s vocabulary is way beyond the kids she teaches, her daughter spends hours “playing” challenging educational video games on an I-Pad, gobbling up book after book, sitting with other similar kids in school every day while in the class she teaches kids have never seen an I-Pad, have no books at home, commonly are poorly clothed and undernourished. The kids in her class can identify gang flags instantly and know to duck when they hear the “pop-pop” sounds from the streets.

“I’m an excellent, committed teacher, my Teacher Data Report grade is high, my principal loves me, the network crowd always wants to visit my class, and my kids show substantial progress. I see them in the streets a few years later, they’re in middle school, for too many the streets are winning.

The kids love Greek myths, I think next year I’ll teach them about Sisyphus.”

Legislators and Teachers Are Sullied By A Few “Bad Apples,” The 99% Strive to Create a Better World.

Every few weeks the NY Post runs a “if it bleeds, it leads” article, a teacher who did something stupid, really stupid. Editorials and columnists gloat, call for the abrogation of due process, next step a pillory outside of Tweed.

I’m no longer angry at the Post, sleazy headlines sell papers, I’m mad at the teacher who sullies us all.

No matter what the teacher did, s/he is entitled to due process –Star Chamber proceedings disappeared in the 16th century – except in the world of Michael Bloomberg.

I was about to enter a room to defend a teacher when the superintendent asked me to step into the hall.

“How can you defend him?” asked the superintendent, agitated.

I hesitated, and responded, “John, you hired him, you gave him tenure and the union doesn’t choose its clients.”

The superintendent, reluctantly nodded.

In spite of how hard we work, how much we dedicate to the kids, a few bad apples make us all look like slackers. We defend them because every teacher, no matter the charge or behavior is entitled to due process, their “day in “court.”

Last week the US attorney (not the NYC cops or state cops) arrested a State Senator, a City Councilman, two Assembly members and some Republican pols for accepting bribes, the stories are so bizarre that the electeds should have been arrested for stupidity.

The Assembly, the Senate and the City Council – 264 electeds.

Unfortunately all the electeds are sullied. Once again, a few bad apples damage all of our parliamentary bodies.

Fred Dicker, a Cuomo mouthpiece at the NY Post posits that Cuomo is going to try and oust Shelly Silver from his leadership position in the Assembly,

ALBANY — Gov. Cuomo and his top aides are looking to use last week’s round of embarrassing scandals in Albany to oust Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — and they’re already eyeing an upstate lawmaker to replace him, The Post has learned.
The governor and his team — stung hard by US Attorney Preet Bharara’s assertion that corruption is “rampant” and “pervasive” in the statehouse — are fed up with Silver, who they say has presided over two decades of dysfunction, sources said.

I’m always suspicious of any reporter who depends on anonymous “sources” for a crucial claim.

Over the two years of a legislative session about 11-12,000 bills are introduced – a couple of hundred become laws.

Assembly member Linda Rosenthal is interested in protecting tenants and animal rights:

Makes conforming technical changes to the New York City administrative code and the emergency tenant protection act relating to vacancy decontrol;
Relates to the care of animals by pet dealers

Assembly member Alan Maisel is interested in education and environmental issues:

Authorizes school districts to purchase manipulatives with money that has otherwise been set aside for the purchase of textbooks
Expands local jurisdiction over the extraction of natural gas and oil; limits state jurisdiction to matters directly related to on-site drilling;
Requires charter schools to enroll children with disabilities and English language learners in comparable numbers to those enrolled in public schools

Legislators work to convert ideas, concepts, into laws.

Introducing a bill is far, far from turning the bill into a law. Legislators seek as many co-sponsors as possible; submit the bill that is assigned to a committee(s). If the bill involves funding it may become part of the budget process. The committee staff will review the bill, ask for modifications, and send the bill along to the appropriate state agency for comments. The next step is the Speaker’s staff – which may send the bill back to the committee for more review – a tortuous path. If the bill passes one house a companion bill must follow a similar path in the other body.

If the bill passes both houses it is reviewed by the Governor – who may veto the bill and send it back to step one.

Ideas for bills may come from lobbyists, from advocacy organizations, from neighborhood activists or “citizen” activists.

Last year I spent six months working with a legislator to convert an idea into a bill – it was introduced – and never moved – I’m still trying to generate some interest.

Aside from life in Albany legislators maintain a neighborhood office to serve members of their community. Seniors with Social Security or Medicare/Medicaid problems, landlord problems, a cracked sidewalk, the myriad problems that a local elected may be able to resolve.

The legislature is a fractious body – New York City, upstate cities, suburbs, the rural districts, Afro-American and Hispanics, Tea Party Republicans, all with differing interests. The role of the Speaker is to listen and to shepherd electeds with sharply different concerns and on the Senate side the dual leadership model: Republicans and the Independent Democratic Caucus.

Sadly, in the poorest districts with the lowest voter turn out greedy miscreants abuse their power and office. Teachers and legislators work hard, they care, and a few paint the many in a negatve light.

Politics is not for the meek and the Govenor may try and use the current scandal for advance his agenda.

If Fred Dicker is right, and Andrew Cuomo is trying to depose Sheldon Silver I’ll put my money on Silver.