Tag Archives: Sheldon Silver

“We Need a Larger Room,” How Will the New Assembly Leadership Function in the Toxic Halls of Albany?

Sheldon Silver, the taciturn leader of the NYS Assembly was arrested, a full perp walk, and charged with using the power and prestige of his office to share in millions in legal fees from law firms with which he was affiliated: unseemly, for many despicable; whether his actions violate the law will be decided by a jury many, many months, maybe a year, down the road.

Legislative bodies are controlled by speakers and majority leaders selected by the political party in control of the body. Boehner in the House and McConnell in the Senate are in the news daily, frequent guests on the Sunday morning news programs and on C-SPAN every day, they are the face of their party.

Sheldon Silver was elected as Speaker of the NYS Assembly in 1994, his leadership was challenged in 2000, and he has ruled with a firm hand. Silver is not on talk shows, he does not give interviews, he appears brusque and aloof, a phrase here, a few words there, in many ways the anti-hero.

I am told he is an avid Ranger fan and a mediocre golfer, a trait shared with many New Yorkers.

Silver has succeeded in running an extremely diverse caucus with widely varying interests: urban/suburban/rural, White/Black/Hispanic, New York City versus the rest of the state, the competing five boroughs within New York City, the rural poor versus the wealthier suburban areas, and on and on. Silver has been masterful at juggling the interests around the state and negotiating budget deals that satisfied his conference.

He uses the power of his office to reward and punish members for real or perceived indiscretions. The conference is the Democratic caucus that convenes before or after each session: members only. The conference is an opportunity to speak freely in a “safe environment,” the unwritten rule: what is said in the conference stays in the conference. If a legislator whispers to a journalist, who writes an article with an “unnamed source,” the source might face the wrath of the Speaker.

The Speaker controls the Assembly, from assigning offices, to assigning coveted positions on committees or task forces, to naming committee chairs, and, to the all-important: which bills make it to the floor for votes.

Over the next two years, the election cycle, over 10,000 bills will be introduced into the Assembly and fewer than five hundred will eventually become law – less than five percent. The Speaker is the gatekeeper.

State legislatures vary enormously, in some members are part time; the New Hampshire legislature has four hundred members and when in session meets two days a week, and the total pay is $200 The Texas legislature meets every other year for 140 days, a salary of $28,000 every other year. The New York State legislature meets from January until mid-June, usually Monday through Wednesday, and Monday through Friday during budget time and in the closing weeks. Members are salaried, $79.500, with no raise since 1999, and a modest stipend to cover costs for the days the legislature is in session. Some legislators maintain law practices, or other employment, many have no other employment. All members have staffed offices in their districts.

Is Silver the ogre, the control freak, lashing or hugging each and every member, scrutinizing every member comment, or, is he the skilled leader, listening to the diverse needs of his conference, and producing results for his members?

It was clear that a seriously wounded Silver could not lead the conference, especially with an aggressive governor with long, long agenda.

This was undoubtedly a busy weekend, the leaders; the leaders within the Assembly and within the Democratic Party came up with a compromise – a shared leadership that, at least in the short term, satisfies the needs of the conference.

Five senior members will share the Assembly leadership; from “three men in a room,” to six men and a woman, a larger room.

Denny Farrell chairs the Ways and Means Committee, is highly regarded by his peers, represents Harlem, and is 83 years old, Joe Lentol chairs the Codes Committee, again, highly regarded, an Assembly member for over 40 years, represents North Brooklyn, Cathy Nolan chairs the Education Committee, a thirty -year member of the Assembly, she represents the Ridgewood area of Queens, Carl Heastie chairs the Labor Committee, has served in the Assembly since 2000 and is the Bronx Democratic County leader and Joseph Morelle, the Majority Leader, is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Assembly, is a 25-year member representing a Rochester area district.

The “new five” provide geographic, racial and gender diversity with decades of experience navigating the labyrinthine hallways of Albany.

Will “new five” compete with each other; are we witnessing a tryout for the speakership, a competition?

Will the conference firmly support the “new five” or will members try and play one against the other for their own benefit?

Will Cuomo be able to split apart the “new five” by offering “this and that” to individual members?

The overarching agreement is that the conference truly dislikes the Governor, and, for a simple reason, he sunk the discussions over a long, long delayed salary increase. Sixteen years without a raise stings. and makes it harder and harder to pay the bills.

Although the new Assembly junta is unwieldy, the leadership has a rare opportunity to exhibit their leadership, to stand up to the Governor and create a budget that represents the needs of the Assembly, not necessarily the needs of the Governor.

If the April 1 budget deadline passes without an agreement the Governor’s luster will fade, he may be able to force through his budget in incremental steps, however, his leadership will be tarnished. Denny Farrell and Joe Lentol have been around forever, they have no aspirations beyond their current safe seats, and attempting to bully them could backfire badly for Andrew. Carl Hestie is a budget guru, with real political creds and maybe ambitions well beyond the Assembly and Cathy Nolan has well deserved close ties with teachers and parents.

Fred Dicker in the NY Post reports that Silver may not be the only elected in US District Attorney Bharara’s sights,

“Andrew’s been working the phones day and night, staying up into the early morning hours, making hundreds of calls in one day trying to find out what the hell is going on,’’ a source close to the governor said.

Cuomo, who has retained a private lawyer, has enlisted several former federal and state-level prosecutors with ties to Bharara’s office including Steve Cohen, his former chief-of-staff, in an effort to find out Bharara’s next move, the sources said.

“He’s freaked-out, furious, and obsessed with fear, it’s like a nightmare for him. The whole narrative he laid out for his second term has been derailed by Bharara,’’ said a source in regular contact with the governor.

“The narrative has been taken over by Bharara and it’s all about Albany’s corruption, not Cuomo and his program for the state,’’ the source said.

Anyone know about Kathy Hochul’s views on education? (She is the Lt Governor and would replace Andrew if Preet dropped the ax again)

Whoever thought the actual world of politics would mirror House of Cards (new season on Netflix February 27) or Scandal?

UPDATE: At 5:15 PM on Monday Democrats are in closed door conference as the “leadership by committee” plan appears to be falling apart before it begins …

UPDATE: At 7:45 PM members are still closeted debating the future of Silver and the conference, as a member once told me you need a leader with a whip … ” … if a members tries to undercut a deal s/he must be punished, and everyome must know it.” Can they find such a leader?

Parsing the NYS Election Cycle: Experts Mull the Campaigns and Muse Over the Albany Session

(For Political Junkies)

The Center for New York City Affairs at the New School convenes panels of campaign staff, consultants and advocates after major elections to reflect on the campaigns: last year the mayoral and city council, this year the gubernatorial and the State Senate races.

The first panel included the top staffers from the Cuomo, Astorino and Teachout campaigns (Matt Wing, communication director, Cuomo campaign, Peter Kauffmann, senior advisor, NYS Democratic Committee, Jessica Proud, Astorino spokesperson, Michael Lawler, campaign manager, Astorino campaign, Kate Albright-Hanna, communications director, Teachout campaign and others) as well as Zephyr herself for the first section of the panel.

A few words about the panelists, they are the pros, they run campaigns for a living, plot the strategy and the communications operations, running a campaign is intense, with a clock ticking down to Election Day. This year there were three election days, the WFP convention, the Democratic primary in September and the November 7th general election.

The Cuomo administration over their first four years has successfully managed the news. The governor rarely gives press conferences, rarely gives “off the cuff” comments. His interactions with media are managed from the Cuomo side. While candidates and electeds generally lust after “earned media” the Cuomo administration carefully crafts interactions with the press.

Let’s define “earned media,”

Earned media often refers specifically to publicity gained through editorial influence, whereas social media refers to publicity gained through grassroots action, particularly on the Internet. The media may include any mass media outlets, such as newspaper, television, radio, and the Internet, and may include a variety of formats, such as news articles or shows,

Teachout had no money, Cuomo ended up with a $50 million war chest and Astorino struggled for dollars as the national Republican organization wrote him off.

Although the panel did not discuss (there was no opportunity for questions) the governor’s charter school support was clearly intended to cut off funds to Astorino. StudentsFirstNY was richly funded, they ended up spending $4 million on Senate campaigns, where would they drop the four mil was an early question. If Cuomo opposed or was neutral on charter schools the $4 mil could have been dropped into the Astorino campaign and snowball into larger and larger Republican donations. Jumping on the charter school bandwagon closed off a potential spigot of dollars to Astorino, an example of the political calculus of campaigns.

Zephyr Teachout was a wild card, she came out of nowhere, and the left wing of the Democratic Party is housed in the Working Families Party (WFP). On the other side of the aisle the Conservative party is the right wing of the Republican Party.

At the WFP convention Teachout emerged as a serious opponent, Cuomo’s support of charter schools, the failure to pass the Women’s Equality agenda and the Dreamers legislation angered the left, and, suddenly they had a candidate: Zephyr Teachout. After serious arm twisting the WFP endorsed Cuomo. Teachout explained how they decided to run in the Democratic primary and the enormous hurtle – collecting 30,000 signatures to get on the ballot in three weeks – they collected 45,000 signatures.

The turnout in the primary was extremely low, without dollars Teachout, impressively, ended up with 34% of the vote, probably representing the left wing of Democrats in the state. I suspect Teachout votes included many teacher vote

Obama’s approval rating in NYS is 39%, lower than his national approval rating, in one of the “bluest” state in the nation. The 30% voter turnout in the November election was one of the lowest in history, and the decrease in votes was the largest among Democratic voters.

The panelists in the second panel focused on the Senate races included strategists from both parties, consultants who run campaigns, advocates and academics (Gerald Benjamin, professor SUNY, Jake Dilemani, Parkside Group, Tom Doherty, Mercury Strategy, Jeffrey Plaut, Global Strategy, Blair Horner, New York Public Interest Research Group, David Nir, Daily Kos, Nomi Konst, The Accountability Project and others) mused over the Senate races..

Of the 63 seats in the Senate only seven were competitive and the Republicans needed five of the seven seats, three of which were held by Democrats. They won six.

The panel discussed whether Cuomo wanted a Democratic Senate – would he be happier with a Republican Senate and a Democratic Assembly, with the governor in the middle negotiating with both sides? Cuomo raised $50 million, spent forty, only one million was spent on the Senate races.

A few of the panelists argued the Democrats were relying on an old paradigm, the older prime voters; there was a lack of appeal to younger potential voters who receive all their info from social media. They also felt that Obama running out of the party structure in 08 and 12 weakened the Democratic Party. Others pointed out that in off year elections the electorate is older, whiter and wealthier.

Astorino, outside of NYC “won” the election 49% to 46%; inside the city he only won 18% …twenty years of Republican NYC mayors were an anomaly, although a deep-pocketed, a very deep pocketed Republican could win in NYC in 2017.

As one panelist reminded us the Senate, which means the Republicans, drew the current district lines. The money that flowed into the races came primarily from Wall Street and Real Estate, and 99.8% of voters did not contribute. The best chances of defeating an incumbent are in a primary.

All the panelists wondered whether the sharp decline in voters was a trend: is the electorate becoming more disenchanted with politics and the elective process?

The moderator asked: what would be the toughest issue in the upcoming session.

Three laws “sunset,” they expire unless renewed by the legislature and the governor.

Rent Control: A million New Yorkers, primarily in New York City, fall under rent control; if the law is allowed to expire, landlords would be free to increase rents – this is a vital issue for the Democrats and the Republicans will extract their drops of blood or, pounds of flesh, or, human sacrifices.

2% Property Tax Cap: The tax cap is the major piece of economic legislation of the Cuomo years, failure to reauthorize would probably result in increases in property taxes around the state and could have a negative impact on the state economy, and this issue does not impact New York City, it is an enormous issue around the state.

Mayoral Control: A New York City issue, with absence of Bloomberg Mayoral Control is not a top drawer issue; however, no one wants to go back to elected school boards.

The panelists ranked Rent Control as the # 1 issue.

A “deal” could emerge in a “lame duck” session in December; the rumors are a repeat of 1998, a salary increase for legislators for an increase in the charter cap. I don’t think so, why would the Sheldon Silver want to remove a “trading chip” before the session begins?

The next key date is April 1, the date the budget is due. Over the last few budget cycles controversial issues have been packed into the budget, an opportunity to trade one item for another.

If key issues are still dangling in the final days of the session, mid-June will become the usual 24/7 days as the legislature and the governor scramble.

The “game” begins on January 7th with the governor’s State of the State address.

Cuomo, Education and the State Legislature: Conflict, Compromise or Submission?

Andrew Cuomo is a master strategist, careful, data-driven, and has decided that supporting charter schools, tougher teacher evaluation and pay for performance will garner him more votes than supporting teacher issues: and, he might be right!

The NY Post writes,

Gov. Cuomo is out to teach the teachers union a lesson, vowing Thursday to double down on education reform in his second term.

Cuomo — who noted that the state teachers union didn’t endorse him in either of his two races for governor — said overhauling the education system would be as important to his legacy for him as winning approval of gay marriage and enacting strict gun-control laws.

“I want performance in education. It’s that simple … Did that upset the teachers union? Yes it does. We have a difference of opinion,”

The State Senate Majority Leader speaks about education legislative initiatives,

[Senator Dean Skelos] spoke of the need to adequately fund the traditional public school system while at the same time making clear that charter schools need to be part of the solution, particularly in minority communities.

… he will push to help parochial schools. While he didn’t specifically reference it, the Senate GOP and Catholic Church last year pushed for enactment of an education investment tax credit that was blocked by the Assembly Democrats.

At a union event a Black teacher and parent mentioned her daughter was in a charter school, a public school teacher began to berate her,

“How can you send your daughter to a charter school, don’t you know they throw out discipline problems and squeeze out the public school and the school is supported by hedge funds?”

The parent, angrily replied, “Yes, they throw out the discipline problems, that’s one of the reasons I send my daughter, the charter school has much more funding, it that a bad thing? And, the charter school teachers dress professionally, in the public school they dress like slobs, it’s disgraceful and demeaning”

Cuomo is far from a fool, charter school dollars and Afro-American parents might be a more effective political path than cozying up to the teacher union.

The teacher union needs a strategy.

In early January the Governor will give his State of the State address, and probably lay out his legislative goals.

Eliminating the Charter School Cap

The charter school legislation has caps on the number of charter schools in New York City and the remainder of the state. There are 27 slots remaining for New York City and over a hundred for the rest of the state. Outside of New York City the charter schools are clustered in the larger cities, Buffalo, Albany, Rochester and Syracuse. The charter schools scheduled to open in NYC in 2015 have already been approved, if the cap is not raised there will be no additional schools opening in 2017.

The charter school advocates are calling for the elimination of a cap.

The legislature could remove the cap, increase the cap or transfer the surplus upstate slots to the city; or, do nothing and push the question forward for a year.

The Teacher Evaluation Law

The law was written by all the stakeholders, the governor, the legislature and the union; the extremely complex details were written by the commissioner and approved by the Regents. In the first year teachers were rated as follows:

51% Highly Effective
40% Effective
8% Developing
1% Ineffective

We are awaiting the scores for year 2; I suspect the scores will be similar; however, the scores are statistically unstable, most of the teachers in the 1% will not be in the 1% in year 2: It is altogether likely that the only a fraction of 1% will be rated ineffective for two years in a row.

The governor is fond of commissions and could pass a law establishing a blue ribbon commission to revise/rewrite the law, or, try to increase the student test score section from the current 20% to a higher percentage.

Performance Pay

In the last budget cycle the governor set aside $50 million (in a $20 billion education budget) to support performance pay programs in school districts and encourage “innovative” management solutions, perhaps merging school districts. The governor had very few takers. Salary schedules are negotiated with school districts and neither side has had any interest. School districts have asked that the $50 million be placed in the general state school budget.

For the past 20 years New York City has had a variety of titles in which teachers receive additional pay for additional and/or different roles. Lead teachers, created in the mid-nineties, pays teachers an additional $10,000 to support other teachers. SIG grants has created a range of titles, turnaround teacher, mentor teachers, etc., once again, at a higher pay schedule, and new UFT contract also contains a number of titles with higher pay for additional training and curriculum duties.

Do the higher paid teacher titles satisfy the governor’s “pay for performance” quip?

The Property Tax Cap

The governor has been silent on the property tax cap. Two years ago the governor and the legislature established a property tax cap, except in the “Big Five,” the major cities that do not require a public vote on school budgets. The cap has made it almost impossible to negotiate contracts; day-to-day expenses increase faster than the cap forcing districts to cut programs and staffs. In the rural, upstate low wealth districts schools can barely offer the minimum courses to allow students to graduate; at least fifty districts are in “stress” category with more entering.

In high wealth districts, school taxes exceed $20,000 per year, districts are forced to cut back on program after program.

The property tax cap is popular among taxpayers, school taxes have increased year after year as parents and teachers successfully lobbied for approval.

The law does allow districts to “break the cap” with a super majority – only a handful of districts have attempted.

Is it possible to “adjust” the cap and make it less onerous?

The governor needs the leaders of the Assembly and the Senate to support legislation. Sheldon Silver, the Speaker of the Assembly since 1994 fiercely defends the prerogatives of his chamber, and while the governor can chide and nudge, ultimately he has to make the deal with the speaker. The Republicans hold a one-seat edge in the Senate and can thwart any legislation, or, trade “this for that.”

The state testing kerfuffle was a disaster for the governor, as parent anger refused to fade the governor supported language that slowed the impact of the Common Core tests for five years. There are seven Regents positions up for election, two are vacancies and the other five will be running for reelection. The Regents are elected by a joint meeting of both houses of the legislature: will the governor seek to change the powers of the Regents? To make the commissioner the appointee of the governor?

From the convening of the legislature in January to the adjournment in late June the players in Albany will be playing according to the scenario in Federalist # 51,

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices 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.

Read a detailed analysis of the NYS election results and the role of the union: http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/teachers-unions-millions-failed-to-tip-senate-20141108

The State Budget Dance: Who Will Be the Winners and Losers? Will Charters Schools Flex Their Muscles? Will Cuomo Emerge Unscathed? Will Public Schools Parents Be Assuaged?

About 5 am on Tuesday morning April 1 the Albany legislators will finally pass the budget. If you ask them what they voted on most will be exhausted and clueless. Budget decisions are made behind closed doors by the powerbrokers.

Sheldon Silver, the leader of the democrats in the Assembly since 1994 and as shrewd a negotiator as one can find will satisfy the needs of his members, on the Senate side the awkward shared leadership, the republican leader, Dean Skelos and the leader of the Independent Caucus (IDC), Jeff Klein will squirm as the big dog, Governor Cuomo, plays democrat against republican to craft a budget that assures a large majority in November and creates a path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if Hillary decides not to run.

New York State has one of the widest differences among districts in school funding as any state in the nation. Most of school funding is driven by local property taxes set by elected school boards. For the last few years increases in school taxes have been capped at 2% as a result of a Cuomo imposed limitation. Normal increases: salaries, pension costs, fuel oil, replacements, etc., exceed 2% each of the last few years; districts around the state have been forced to cut services to stay within the cap.

Reductions in extracurricular activities, teams, course offerings, and teacher layoffs, occasional agreements to freeze salaries, with no end in sight in spite of a projected increase in state aid of between 800M and 1B, schools districts will still have to continue to reduce services.

Public school parents may be unhappy, tax payers without children in schools not so.

The governor has successfully set one group, taxpayers without kids in public schools against public school parents, and all taxpayers against teacher unions; after all, if teachers would only agree to earn less, to reduce benefits the schools could retain services, at least for a while.

The goal of the governor is to sit back, watch school districts struggle and bicker, and eventually see the 700 school district consolidate and/or perhaps seek more drastic solutions.

His opponent in November will be a far, far right wing republican supporting unlimited charter schools and vouchers.

It would appear voters will have no place to go, either reluctantly vote for Cuomo or stay home, unless a third party candidate emerges

Once, the April 1 budget deadline only dealt with the budget, over the last few years a range of other items have wedged their way into the budget.

The Dream Act: allowing undocumented students access to Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) looks like it will not make it into the budget. The Compassionate Care Act, aka, the legalization of medical marijuana, unless Cuomo kills it, looks headed to passage, as part of the budget or a standalone issue later in the session.

In New York City the two issues are preK and charter schools.

The Governor made it abundantly clear, there would not be a tax on the earners of 500K plus to fund preK, the funds would emanate from the state budget and the funds would be statewide; de Blasio went through the motions of fighting for a tax on the wealthier and backed away – the preK dollars will not be generated by a targeted tax.

The charter school lobby decided to attack the new mayor early and hard.

What can $3.6m in TV ads buy for charter schools?

The Senate bowed to the dollars and passed legislation to overturn the de Blasio decision to reverse Bloomberg co-location decisions in three schools (194 kids), outlaw the charging of rent and driving many millions in construction funds to charter schools. Unexpectedly the Governor appeared at an Albany charter school rally and praised his newfound friends and de Blasio rapidly began to back peddle on his charter school co-location decisions.

Silver brushed aside the TV commercials and simply said his priority was the 8-10,000 kids in trailers.

The seemingly endless charter school dollars sent a clear message to electeds: if you don’t accept our legislative ideas we can easily fund a rival in your next election.

Another set of bills would allow “charitable” contributions to private and parochial schools to count as deductions on state income taxes – at a cost to the state of an estimated $300M a year, legislation strongly supported by Cardinal Dolan. Will the bill only apply to school servicing poorer students, or, could a parent donate to a high end private school and get a tax write-off?

Newsday reports that the legislature is approaching an agreement that would prohibit the use of state standardized tests for any decisions regarding promotions for two years. The state testing data would continue to be used for principal and teacher evaluations.

Would such a bill satisfy parent anger over the tests?

As the March 31 deadline approaches legislators will scramble to get their bill, their local “need,” into the budget package. Lobbyists will be racing down the halls of the Legislative Office Building (LOB), staff will be sleeping on couches, and eighteen hour days will be the norm.

Sheldon Silver has been the speaker for twenty years, he is the master of the end game, the ultimate negotiator, the eminence grise, the modern day Cardinal Richelieu, moving the chess pieces, planning many moves down the line, understanding foibles, trading a tit for a tat, having patience, knowing in the final moments Cuomo needs a budget. One of my favorite Richelieu lines,

—Cardinal Richelieu

Senator Flanagan versus President Obama: Will New York State Challenge Immediate High-Stake Testing for All?

In the corridors of Albany a Republican State Senator from Long Island, John Flanagan, is challenging President Obama – and the challenge has nothing to do with party politics. An increasingly intrusive federal government has pushed aside the 10th Amendment and is setting national policy for education at the local level.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The 10th Amendment is referred to as the “reserve clause,” the catch-all amendment that “reserves” powers not delegated to the federal government nor prohibited to the states. Education is a classic example of a reserved power, states, traditionally, established school governance systems, set course and graduation requirements, funding formula, criteria for teacher licensure, education was a domain of the states.

Diane Ravitch in a blog post writes, “Who owns American public education? Until a decade ago, we might have answered: the public. Or the states. Or the local school boards. Now, the likely answer is: the U.S. Department of Education.”

The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), for the first time, introduced a role for the federal government in education. Title I of ESEA provided dollars to states based upon a poverty formula in exchange for directing dollars to specific schools. No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the reauthorization of ESEA, in 2002, dramatically changed the role of the feds, school districts that received federal funds, almost all school districts, were required to test all students in English/Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics in grades 3 through 8 and students in high schools in English, Mathematics and Science and were required to take remedial action for “failing” schools, actions that included replacing staffs and/or principals, school closures and conversion to charter schools.

In 2011 the National Governors Association, using Gates funding, created “standards” in all grades; 45 states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards, now referred to as Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The plan envisioned two consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balance, would create tests to measure student competency based on the CCSS in grades 3-11, tests that were national in scope, all the states in each consortium would take the same tests. States would no longer control the content and structure of federally required tests.

The Race to the Top (RttT) dangled billions of federal dollars to states in exchange for significant commitments – adopting the Common Core standards and student testing based on the CCSS, student test score-based (VAM) teacher evaluations and a data warehouse to store student information.

The powers guaranteed by the 10th Amendment have been significantly eroded by the federal government. The Supreme Court has vacillated on the question of the powers of the federal government and education conservatives, Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli are uncomfortable with the intrusive role of the feds,

The federal government has pushed far too deeply into the routines and operations of the nation’s public schools, now regulating everything from teacher credentials to the selection of reading programs.

New York State has enthusiastically adopted the federal agenda – a recipient of 700 million in RttT funds, and the full federal agenda typified by the rapid adoption of the CCSS and concomitant testing.

In August, 2013 the first set of CCSS state test scores were released – 2/3 of the students in the state failed the tests and Afro-American, Hispanic, English language learners and Special Education students had appallingly low scores.

• 31.1% of grade 3-8 students across the State met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 31% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• The ELA proficiency results for race/ethnicity groups across grades 3-8 reveal the persistence of the achievement gap: only 16.1% of African-American students and 17.7% of Hispanic students met or exceeded the proficiency standard
• 3.2% of English Language Learners (ELLs) in grades 3-8 met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 9.8% of ELLs met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• 5% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 7% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the math proficiency standard

As parent anger grew the commissioner pushed back and defended the full adoption of CCSS and the full implementation of CCSS testing. At meeting after meeting, forum after forum the public pushed and the commissioner defended.

On January 7th the leader of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, who rarely comments on any pending issue announced,

“I think the case has been made, if nothing else, for a delay and a reevaluation of the implementation of Common Core,” Silver said. “The problem with it is … No. 1, it was suddenly put upon teachers and students and administrators and schools. The support for it was not forthcoming as quickly as the rigors of Common Core, and the training wasn’t there for a lot of the teachers that are charged with using it as the basis for their education.”

Throughout the fall Senator Flanagan, the chair of the Senate Education Committee held hearing around the state and introduced a number of bills to limit and safeguard the data warehouse, and, announced he was considering the introduction of legislation to slow down the implementation of the CCSS testing.

On January 24th the NYS Senate Education Committee engaged with Commissioner King for almost two hours. Senator after senator asked the commissioner to press the “delay” or the “pause” button and the commissioner, politely and firmly explained that while the state education department could have done things differently, and agreed the implementation was uneven and parent engagement was lacking the feds required annual testing and the only tests were the CCSS tests.

Watch from minute 1:42 until the end (thirteen minutes) for comments from Senator Flanagan and the Commissioner’s reply (See U-Tube here). Well worth watching – Senator Flanagan firmly asked for a plan and the commissioner just as firmly evaded.

A Regents Task Force is scheduled to report at the February 10th Regents meeting – the senator announced he was expecting a “tangible” plan to respond to the criticisms from across the state.

Although thoroughly professional Senator Flanagan made it clear the Senate Education Committee would take actions if they were not satisfied with the report of the Regents Task Force, and the unspoken threat is a bill requiring a delay.

The commissioner has consistently averred that a delay in implementation was out of the question – he argues federal law requires annual testing. Senator Flanagan made it clear – this is New York State – we are the leader – an implicit argument that the feds don’t want to pick a fight with the Empire State.

The actions of the Senate Education Committee may be the beginning of challenges around the nation. Can the federal government require education policies that parents and their legislators think are inappropriate? Will the Regents and the commissioner directly challenge Senator Flanagan’s “advice”? Usually, both sides come to an “understanding” that pushes aside any confrontation; however, the tide of anger on the part of parents around the state requires “tangible” action – anything short of a delay will be rejected by parents.

Senator Flanagan and his colleagues are demanding that the Common Core be de-linked from immediate high-stakes testing for all.

I do not think legislators will risk losing their offices over the issue of Common Core testing; rather challenge the federal law than risk the ire of voters at the polls.

Our founding fathers (and mothers, let’s not forget Abigail Adams and Sally Hemmings) were both creative and deep thinkers. The advice of Thomas Jefferson is especially prescient,

Should [reformers] attempt more than the established habits of the people are ripe for, they may lose all and retard indefinitely the ultimate object of their aim.” –Thomas Jefferson to Mme de Tesse,

I think it would be better to wind up [the settlement of a new constitution] as quickly as possible, to consider it as a mere experiment to be amended hereafter when time and trial shall show where it is imperfect.” –Thomas Jefferson to Comte de Moustier

Is Commissioner King in Denial? Will the Commissioner/Regents Respond to Legislative Threats? A Case Study: How Politics Impacts Educational Policy.

“I understand Mr. Iannuzzi (President of the NYS Teacher Union) is under a lot of internal pressure; I understand that may lead to attacking me. But it strikes me that that the real dispute he has is with the governor and the Legislature.” – State Education Commissioner John King on NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi’s plan to ask for a vote of no confidence in King, via State of Politics.

“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia,” said Winston Churchill, “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” The same can be said of NYS Commissioner of Education John King.

Instead of working with parents and principals and teachers the commissioner has imposed an array of initiatives, alienating the very people whose job it is to implement the initiatives

I share the goals of the commissioner: to create an education system that will support students and staff, regardless of wealth or handicap or geography of the school district, to build the best school system possible.

We differ in the route and the message.

New York State was an early adopter of the Common Core State Standards, a dense Principal/Teacher Evaluation rubric (APPR) and participation in In Bloom, a vast data dashboard; three major initiatives that were burdensome, complex and viewed with suspicion.

California, on the other hand, is one of 19 states to join “The Partnership for 21st Century Skills,” with an emphasis on “creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication,” appears to have the full support of communities and teachers.

I have listened to the commissioner speak numerous times – he is a passionate and at times an eloquent speaker, yet he seems oblivious to the complexity of what social psychologists call “personal and organizational change.”

“Turning around” struggling schools or struggling school districts is based on changing the culture of the school and/or district, moving from “these kids are so poor and so far behind there’s little that we can do” to “these kids are poor and far behind and while we can’t change their economic circumstances we can improve their academic as well as their non-cognitive skills.” Teaching non-cognitive skills, difficult to measure, may be more accurate predictors of post school success than test scores.

Paul Tough, author of ‘How Children Succeed “, said,” We don’t teach the most important skills,” a list that includes “persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence.” We don’t teach them and we don’t know what to call these “soft skills.” David Conley, EPIC, thinks the non-cognitive skills could more accurately be called “meta-cognitive learning skills.”

Hopefully we are open to new ideas, open to exploring old ideas, and open to changing for the better. Leadership means also being open to change, and acknowledging the complexity of the change process.

There is a vast literature dealing with “personal and organization change,”

Do not ‘sell’ change to people as a way of accelerating ‘agreement’ and implementation. ‘Selling’ change to people is not a sustainable strategy for success. When people listen to a senior management person ‘selling’ them a change, decent diligent folk will generally smile and appear to accept what is being said, but quietly to themselves they are thinking, “I don’t like this. I’ve not been consulted or involved. I am being manipulated. This change will benefit the directors and owners, not me, so actually I won’t cooperate, and I might resist and obstruct this change, in every way that I can…”

The commissioner has been oblivious to the increasing “pushback” from parents in communities around the state. At the twenty community forums held around the state, some by the commissioner and others by elected officials the anger of parents exploded. (Watch U-Tube here)

As the criticism went viral, the U-Tube referenced above has had over 50,000 views the commissioner blamed unnamed “special interests,” as parents at meeting after meeting were not convinced by the commissioner his response was they failed to understand, and, he steers critics to the legislature and the governor, away from his office.

Back in my days of defending teachers it was commonplace for a teacher to “blame” the failure of buses to come on time as an excuse for frequent lateness, or, the failure of the printer as a reason why the teacher was unprepared, a kind of “the dog ate my homework” excuse, this behavior is referred to as denial: the refusal to engage or accept responsibility.

Denial is probably one of the best known defense mechanisms, used often to describe situations in which people seem unable to face reality or admit an obvious truth (i.e. “He’s in denial.”). Denial is an outright refusal to admit or recognize that something has occurred or is currently occurring.

Denial functions to protect the ego from things that the individual cannot cope with. While this may save us from anxiety or pain, denial also requires a substantial investment of energy. Because of this, other defenses are also used to keep these unacceptable feelings from consciousness.

In many cases, there might be overwhelming evidence that something is true, yet the person will continue to deny its existence or truth because it is too uncomfortable to face.

Denial can involve a flat out rejection of the existence of a fact or reality. In other cases, it might involve admitting that something is true, but minimizing its importance. Sometimes people will accept reality and the seriousness of the fact, but they will deny their own responsibility and instead blame other people or other outside forces.

In my opinion the commissioner is in denial.

The Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, has publicly asked the Regents, the state body governing education policy, to delay the implementation of the Common Core,

ALBANY—Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Tuesday he expects the state Board of Regents to form a plan for improving and possibly delaying implementation of the rigorous Common Core curriculum standards.

“I think the case has been made, if nothing else, for a delay and a reevaluation of the implementation of Common Core,” Silver said.

I am a fan of the commissioner, his intentions are laudable, but we all know where the road to good intentions leads. The famous Lyndon Johnson anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, needs to be retold. Johnson appointed a sharp critic to serve on a policy committee, his aides demurred, why appoint this loud-mouth critic, Johnson replied, “Better inside the tent peeing out than outside the tent peeing in.” The opinions of superintendents, principals, teachers and parents were given short shrift, a cursory exercise to “touch bases,” viewed as without any intention to listen and incorporate their objections or questions. As the criticism has mounted the commissioner could have opened the doors and invited his critics into the room, instead, he blamed “special interests” or blamed internal union pressures, and directed his critics to look “across the street.” the offices of the legislature and the governor.

Both houses of the legislature and the governor are up for election, with primary elections perhaps as early as June. This is an issue with legs; it will not wane as public interest lags. Another set of state tests of only three months away, the issue of the Common Core is a juicy campaign issue – the 150 members of the Assembly, the 63 members of the Senate and the governor want this issue to be resolved. If the commissioner and the Regents fail to adequately respond to critics the commissioner will be correct – the legislature/governor will impose a solution, a “solution” that could have sweeping impact on the education bureaucracy.