I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, January 31, 2013

More Oversight Failure from NJDOE

Keep in mind - this is all alleged:
An employee of LEAP Academy University Charter School claims in a lawsuit that he was ordered to make repeated repairs to the home of the school’s founder, Gloria Bonilla-Santiago.
Mark Paoli, who was facilities manager at the Camden school for more than a decade, contends Bonilla-Santiago “routinely demanded that he perform work on her home while on LEAP Academy time and using LEAP Academy tools, equipment and supplies.”
The suit contends Paoli was demoted after complaining about his alleged treatment to a LEAP administrator. It also asserts that Paoli, who is white, was replaced by a less-qualified minority, said Alan Richardson, a Woodbury attorney for the LEAP worker.
Among other claims, the lawsuit asserts Bonilla-Santiago in June 2006 allegedly ordered Paoli to repair columns in front of her house, a job that required the hiring of a laborer. Bonilla-Santiago allegedly paid for the labor and supplies “with a check drawn on the Alfred Santiago Scholarship Endowment,” the suit alleges.
According to the suit, Paoli “knew it was unlawful” to make personal repairs while being paid by LEAP. The Audubon man allegedly complained about Bonilla-Santiago’s conduct “on several occasions but was told to keep his complaints to himself or Bonilla-Santiago would fire him,” the suit says.
For those of you who've missed the last week here: LEAP is a charter that just lost its non-profit status because of "bad advice." I contend that the only advice LEAP received that matters would have come from NJDOE, which has the sole responsibility to oversee New Jersey's charters.

Does NJDOE conduct forensic audits on all of New Jersey's charters? Do they bring in people with the expertise to spot anomalies like this? Or is a lack fiscal oversight part of the "freedom" that charters enjoy in this state?

Even if the allegation turns out to be false, it's clear that LEAP did not handle its financials properly; if they did, they wouldn't have lost their non-profit status. These continuing problems with this school are a failure not just of school leadership, but of oversight.

NJDOE ought to be asking themselves how they have allowed things to devolve this badly at LEAP.

Accountability begins at home.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


One New Jersey has a smart idea:

Governor Chris Christie in California in a few weeks.
So, its up to all of us in New Jersey – who know the real Chris Christie – to show Zuckerberg exactly who he is aligning with. Tomorrow, let’s spread the word about Christie’s real record by tweeting some thoughts and facts under the hashtag #UnfriendChristie.
In case you need some info on Christie, please check out our “Christie By-The-Numbers” page, as well as some of our recent press releases and op-eds. We must speak up loudly about how Christie has turned his back on the middle-class and working families, while unemployment hovers around 10% and New Jersey residents suffered a gigantic net jump in property taxes since Christie took office – at one point reaching 20%.
There’s no better way for this to spread virally than to take to Twitter and make your point under the hashtag #UnfriendChristie. Heck, do a few tweets – because there are more than enough facts to open Zuckerberg’s eyes to.
Tell Mark Zuckerberg to #UnfriendChristie
Let me add a few thoughts here for tomorrow:
April, 2010, CNBC:
“I love the public schools but the fact of the matter is there is excess and greed there,” said Christie, during an appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box. [That's in the "public schools," not the union offices - JJ]
July, 2010, MSNBC:
The state teachers union said--they had a rally in Trenton against me. 35,000 people came from the teachers. You know what that rally was? The "me first" rally. "Pay me my raise first. Pay me my free health benefits first. Pay me my pension first. And everybody else in New Jersey, get to the back of the line." Well, you know what? I'm not going to sit by and allow that to go unnoticed, so we'll shine a bright light on it, and we'll see how the people react. But I think we are seeing how the people of New Jersey are reacting, and that's how you make it politically palatable in other states in the country. Just shine a bright light on greed and self-interest.
April, 2010, The Star-Ledger:
 "Scaring students in the classroom, scaring parents with the notes home in the bookbags, and the mandatory 'Project Democracy Homework' asking your parents about what they're going to do in the school board election, and reporting back to your teachers union representatives, using the students like drug mules to carry information back to the classroom, is reprehensible."
November, 2010, The Trentonian:
“These teachers have all summer off. Can’t they have their convention during the summer?’’ the governor said as he spoke to a clutch of high schoolers surrounding him.

“They got to get two days off from school because, you know, they don’t get enough time off now, right? They get two weeks off at Christmas, they get all the different holidays, then they get all the summer off and now they need two more days.

“Why do you think that is? Do you think If they cared about learning where would they be today?’’

Ashley Batts, 16, a Trenton Central High School sophomore answered “in school.’’

“That’s right, in school, baby, they would not be down there in Atlantic City having a party — because that’s what it is.’’ [Does everyone understand that the Governor of New Jersey told a group of students that their teachers do not care about learning? Does everyone think that's acceptable? - JJ]
May, 2010, Politico:
The teacher responded by saying that she has a master’s degree and that her current salary isn’t compensating her for the value of her higher education as well as her experience. 
To that, the governor responded: “Well, you know then that you don’t have to do it.”
 March, 2010, Blue Jersey, quoting Christie directly:
"Teachers who crowded the statehouse on Monday to try to intimidate public officials like Assemblyman Schroeder and Assemblywoman Vandervalk into not voting for pension and benefit reform.
"And when one teacher was asked, "What are you doing here today? It's a Monday in the school year." She said, 'Oh, we got a substitute. I left a plan; it's not like they're watching videos or something.' 
"They. 'Not like they're watching videos or something.' I thought that was a really interesting part of the quote. That contraction: 'they're.' They didn't say 'the kids' then, did they? No, they only use the words 'the kids' when they want to evoke an emotional response from you which will get you to open your wallet and pay them. 
"When they're talking about protesting and fighting in Trenton, then it's 'they're.' 'They're watching videos or something.' I thought that was an interesting part of the quote. Language matters, ladies and gentlemen. Language is a window into attitude. And this isn't about the kids. So let's dispense with that portion of the argument. 
"And I have heard these stories over the last week, over and over again from all over New Jersey about teachers standing in front of classrooms, and lying about and excoriating the governor and the lieutenant governor." [This one is my personal favorite. He is criticizing a teacher for using a pronoun to describe her students. So, every time you hear Chris Christie use a pronoun to describe kids - or seniors, or taxpayers, or police, or the military, or whomever - understand that, by his definition, that's an insult. - JJ]
Why any teacher in New Jersey would ever friend Chris Christie, I have no idea.

Screw your excellent memory, Jazzman!

ADDING: In case you missed it, more on Zuck's bucks in Newark and the folks who made out like bandits.

The Failure of State Control

Anyone want to try to convince me that this is the fault of teachers unions?
They say there are rats, mice, cockroaches, spiders, guns and fights in the hallways.
That’s why students say they walked out of a Newark high school today, to protest what they called a filthy school environment that’s also not safe. They also called for the return of the school’s former principal.
During the afternoon protest, students walked out of Barringer High School in staggered waves of 10 or 20. Some students said security guards blocked doors to prevent anyone from going outside.
A large crowd came outside when the fire alarm sounded, but soon went back in.
The demonstration came two weeks after authorities said a 15-year-old student was sexually assaulted inside a classroom at the Parker Street school. A 17-year-old student was arrested in connection with the Sept. 22 incident, police said.
Students got the word out about the protest on Facebook and said they’ve had enough of feeling unsafe and learning in an unsanitary school.
This has nothing to do with "teacher effectiveness." It has nothing to do with "setting high expectations." It has nothing to do with believing that "poverty is not destiny."

Newark's schools are not clean and safe because of a failure of state-level leadership, a lack of accountability, and a loss of local control. The state has been running Newark's schools now for nearly twenty years, and yet they can't even guarantee a clean, safe place for Newark's children to learn.

You can't blame local citizens and their elected representatives for this because they have no say in how their schools are being run. In fact, under the current superintendent, Cami Anderson - hand picked by Chris Christie and NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf - the district has moved backwards from its goal of regaining local control.

These kids should be applauded for standing up for themselves and their younger brothers and sisters, who have no choice but to either attend disgusting, unsafe schools like Barringer, or enroll in autocratic, stifled, segregated charter schools that will kick counsel them out if they have special needs.
On several Facebook pages about the protest — one had more than 300 members who said they would attend the event — students said they need to see a dramatic change.
Tyree Thomas, also a 17-year-old senior, said he created a Facebook page about the protest because he feels like Barringer lacks structure. Thomas said he did not have a class schedule until the third week of school.
Merritt said some of Barringer’s students did not have their class schedules at the start of the school year, however the district worked with the school to ensure each student had a schedule and the "matter has been rectified."
That is simply inexcusable - but eerily familiar when it comes to superintendents who have the blessing of the current regime in Trenton. No one would put up with this in the suburbs: the white people living there would immediately vote out their board of education and demand competent administration of their children's schools.

Too bad the good people of Newark have no similar recourse. One might think that was actually by design...
I can save your freezing dog! But keeping your kid's school clean and safe? Yeah, not really my thing...

More Newark-Facebook Follies

Leonie Haimson has an interesting item for those following the saga of Zuck's bucks and education in Newark:
On Sunday, there was a front page story about how Bradley Tusk is coordinating the campaign against Obama’s appointment of Chuck Hagel as US Secretary of Defense on the grounds that Hagel was anti-choice and anti-gay (apparently Hagel made an anti-gay comment in 1998).  Tusk’s campaign includes TV ads and sending mailers that push Sen. Schumer to oppose the nomination with the mysterious name of “Use your Mandate” as the return address. I’ve received two of these large glossy mailers in the last week. 
Here is Tusk claiming that there is opposition to Hagel from liberals in Foreign Policy magazine:
"From the left, there's a lot of consternation about the Hagel nomination," said Bradley Tusk, former campaign manager for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and founder ofTusk Strategies, which is helping coordinate the campaign. "A lot of people worked hard to reelect the president, believe in the president, and don't feel like they raised money and knocked on doors to then have him nominate a defense secretary who is clearly is anti-gay and anti-choice. I think what you hear a lot from the progressive community is: Couldn't he find someone who is just as qualified on defense issues who doesn't have these other views that we find abhorrent?"
Tusk is the former Lt. Governor and right hand man to former Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, who is now serving a 14 year sentence for corruption. Subsequently, Tusk became the manager of Bloomberg’s 2009 mayoral campaign, which spent $109 million and won by only 4.5  percentage points, after inundating NYC voters will hundreds of mailers like those being sent out about Hagel.  Tusk’s website also takes credit for running the campaign that lifted the cap on charters for DFER/ERN and the hedgefunders, and states that he now works for Michelle Rhee’s StudentFirst NY and Eva Moskowitz’s chain of Success Academy charters:

With StudentsFirst, led by Michelle Rhee, we have played an integral role in the first comprehensive attempt to pursue and implement education reform across the country. This includes launching full campaigns in target cities and states across the nation. With the Success Charter Network, Tusk Strategies has helped introduce high performing charter schools to new neighborhoods across New York City.

Tusk was also paid $1.5 million of $2 million of the Facebook money for “community engagement”, that was supposed to go towards improving Newark’s schools. [Community engagement with whom, one wonders.  Michael Bloomberg, Michelle Rhee and the hedge fund community?]. [underline emphasis mine]
 A few points from this side of the Hudson:

- We all know about the Broad Foundation money that went to Global Education Advisors, NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf's old firm. That money, like the Facebook money, was never supposed to go into the classrooms of Newark: it was used instead to bring in a raft of consultants to remake the city's schools. Many of the folks hired knew nothing about education, producing a bunch of "hack junk."

So while we've talked quite a bit about Cerf and GEA, there has been less focus on the relationship between Tusk and Cerf:
The second biggest recipient of the Facebook money is Tusk Strategies, a New York political consulting firm that managed Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2009 re-election campaign. Cerf left his post as a deputy education chancellor in Bloomberg’s administration to serve on the campaign.
Calls to Tusk were not returned, but according to founder Bradley Tusk’s online biography, the group was responsible for creating and advising PENewark, the heavily-criticized campaign to gather public input on the school reform effort in Newark.
When PENewark first began its work last November, Booker said only $1 million would be spent on the effort — roughly $500,000 for salaries and $500,000 for advertising. Tusk was paid more than $1.5 million between October 2010 and April 2011, according to the e-mails. Taylor said Wednesday the cost of the PENewark initiative was $2 million. [emphasis mine]
Has there ever been an Education Commissioner more focused on getting his friends fat, juicy contracts than Chris Cerf? Over and over, his past acquaintances have benefitted from the big piles of money that flow through New Jersey's education system, with barely any oversight from the Legislature.

There is a pattern here, and it's disturbing. It's also disturbing that Tusk, Blagojevich's former right-hand man, way overshot Booker's initial estimates on the cost to run PENewark. Did anyone bother to look into this? Does anyone even care?

- By now, everyone in New Jersey knows that Mark Zuckerberg is throwing a big fundraiser for Chris Christie's re-election bid. No one is more responsible for keeping marriage equity from coming to the Garden State than Christie, yet Zuckerberg still supports him.

But here's Tusk, indignantly claiming the LGBT community is outraged at Hagel's nomination, even though Tusk happily took money from the guy who empowers New Jersey's biggest bigot. 

I wouldn't expect Tusk to give the money back at this point, but I would dearly love to hear him chastise Zuckerberg for supporting Christie, openly and publicly. Think he'll do it? If his clients really are “gay and L.G.B.T. people who have been active in campaigns around the country," they should be thrilled to hear his condemnations of Zuckerberg for backing Christie.

Though Tusk claims this campaign is being funded by progressive members of the gay community, LGBT groups have criticized Tusk for keeping his donors secret, and Rachel Maddow has suggested that it’s most likely funded by right wingers disguising themselves as liberal. The NYT article suggests that this campaign is really being financed by GOP forces allied with hawks on Israel and who may want to hand Obama a defeat.  According to the NY Times:
In an interview, Mr. Tusk would only identify its financiers as Democratic “gay and L.G.B.T. people who have been active in campaigns around the country.” Yet federal records show that Use Your Mandate uses Del Cielo Media, an arm of one of the most prominent Republican ad-buying firms in the country, Smart Media, with clients that have included the presidential campaigns of former Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. of Utah and Senator John McCain of Arizona; the 2010 Senate campaign of Christine O’Donnell, who was known for positions against homosexuality, in Delaware; and, as it happens, the Emergency Committee for Israel. 
Shades of Zuck's bucks here as well: a complete lack of transparency from the neo-lib crowd. Which brings us to...

- Is anyone surprised that the guy who was in charge of "community engagement" for Zuck's bucks in Newark is also in the pocket of Rhee, Moskowitz, the hedge fundies at DFER, and all the other charter cheerleaders? All of who have nothing to do with Newark?

There was never supposed to be "community engagement" with Newark: Mayor Cory Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg all knew what they wanted to do the minute they went on Oprah to announce the big grant.

Tusk wasn't brought in to "engage"; he was hired to spin. It's an insult to everyone in Newark's intelligence that our elitist rulers continue to pretend otherwise. 

- A big part of what Zuck's bucks were supposed to accomplish was the installation of merit payTeachers in Newark: wouldn't you have liked to have known more about all the players involved in this deal before you signed off on the contract that installed merit pay? Wouldn't you have liked to have known whether Zuck's bucks were being used to spin you a tale - just like they've been used to spin a tale for Newark's parents and taxpayers? Wouldn't you have been interested to know about all the political gamesmanship that was being played to get you to accept a merit pay system that has no evidence to support?

Teachers of Newark: do you really think people who genuinely respected you would be treating you this way?

At some point, educators are going to have to stand up and demand that the Bradley Tuskes of the world go away and leave our schools alone. They do enough damage to foreign and domestic policy as it is; they shouldn't also be allowed to ruin public education.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Charters Get Even MORE Brazen

You think the story of the foul-mouthed Bay Area charter cheerleader Ben Chavis is bad? Wait until you hear what's going on in Albany!
The former chief financial officer for the Brighter Choice Foundation, which provides funding and support to 10 public charter schools in Albany, has been charged with embezzling $202,837 from the organization.

The arrest Wednesday of Ronald A. Racela marks the second time in four years that Racela has been charged with grand larceny. Two years ago, Racela admitted stealing $53,931 from KeyBank in Albany, where he was employed as a manager in the Community Development Lending Group, court records show.
M. Christian Bender, executive director of Brighter Choice Foundation, said Brighter Choice officials were not aware of Racela's criminal history when he was hired as financial director of Brighter Choice Charter Schools in June 2010. Bender said Racela described his separation from KeyBank as "tense" but did not disclose he had been arrested for embezzlement eight months before he was hired by Brighter Choice.
"I knew that it had not been a smooth separation, but obviously I had no idea that it involved criminal activity on his part," Bender said Friday.
Still, a state Education Department spokesman said the agency sent written notice of Racela's criminal history to the charter school last March, when it denied the school's request to clear Racela for employment. The spokesman said the agency had first flagged an employment clearance request for Racela that was submitted by Brighter Choice in December 2011. By that time, Racela had already been working for Brighter Choice schools for about 18 months. [emphasis mine]
Wait a minute... "Brighter Choice"? This con man had been working for "Brighter Choice" since the summer of 2010? Where have I heard that name before? Thinking...
Wealthy investors and major banks have been making windfall profits by using a little-known federal tax break to finance new charter-school construction.
The program, the New Markets Tax Credit, is so lucrative that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years.
In Albany, which boasts the state's highest percentage of charter school enrollments, a nonprofit called the Brighter Choice Foundation has employed the New Markets Tax Credit to arrange private financing for five of the city's nine charter schools.
But many of those same schools are now straining to pay escalating rents, which are going toward the debt service that Brighter Choice incurred during construction.
The Henry Johnson Charter School, for example, saw the rent for its 31,000-square-foot building skyrocket from $170,000 in 2008 to $560,000 last year.
The Albany Community School's rent jumped from $195,000 to $350,000.
Green Tech High Charter School rents went from $443,000 to $487,000.
Meanwhile, all the Albany charter schools haven't achieved the enrollment levels their founders expected, even after recruiting hundreds of students from suburban school districts to fill their seats.
The result has been less money in per-pupil state aid to pay operating costs, including those big rent bills.
Several charters have fallen into additional debt to the Brighter Choice Foundation.
This story, by Juan Gonzalez in the NY Daily News, dates back to May of 2010. That would be almost exactly when admitted criminal Ronald Racela starting working at Brighter Choice. You'd think that these people, in the wake of Gonzalez's report, would be scrutinizing their entire organization to make sure everything was above board. But it looks as if they were running exactly the type of operation that would attract a guy like Racela:
You'd think these financial problems would raise eyebrows among state regulators - or at least worry those charter school boards.
But the powerful charter lobby has so far successfully battled to prevent independent government audits of how its schools spend their state aid.
And key officers of Albany's charter school boards are themselves board members, employees or former employees of the Brighter Choice Foundation or its affiliates.
Christian Bender, for example, executive director of the foundation, is chairman or vice chairman of four of the Albany charters.
Tom Carroll, the foundation's vice chairman and one of the authors of the state's charter law when he was in the Pataki administration, was a founding board member of Albany Community Charter School and is currently chairman of two other charters, Brighter Choice School for Boys and Brighter Choice School for Girls.
Carroll also sits on the board of directors of NCB Capital Impact, a Virginia organization that used New Market Credits to pull together investors for all the Albany building loans.
A Brighter Choice official confirmed Thursday that the Virginia organization gets "a 3% originating and management fee" for all school construction deals that Brighter Choice arranges.
But it wasn't just Brighter Choice that was getting a cut:
Under the New Markets program, a bank or private equity firm that lends money to a nonprofit to build a charter school can receive a 39% federal tax credit over seven years.
The credit can even be piggybacked on other tax breaks for historic preservation or job creation.
By combining the various credits with the interest from the loan itself, a lender can almost double his investment over the seven-year period.
No wonder JPMorgan Chase announced this week it was creating a new $325 million pool to invest in charter schools and take advantage of the New Markets Tax Credit.
I gotta tell you, folks, I read this stuff and I think: "Who's pulling the bigger scam: criminals like Racela, or the banks financing these loans, and the charter operators who are working the scam in unbelievably brazen ways?"
They said charters would offer needed competition to community schools, but they didn’t say the competition would be about public dollars. Today’s Albany Times Union reports on the city’s Albany Leadership Charter High School for Girls “asking for $15 million in tax-free public financing to buy the brand-new charter high school for girls built by the Brighter Choice Foundation.”
Here’s the cute part. The nonprofit Brighter Choice Foundation, which runs all 11 charter schools in Albany and  erected the bulding at a cost of some $10.1 million, is directing its Charter Facilities Finance Fund to ask the city to back its selling tax-exempt bonds to investors so it can  buy the school building and — are you ready for this? — lease it back to Brighter Choice.
Forget about whether the deal sounds dodgy, because it does. If the deal also sounds a bit familiar, it may be because Thomas Carroll, the prime mover behind the Brighter Choice charter schools, has been profiting from a similarly questionable real estate tax loophole for the past several years, a story exposed earlier this year by Juan Gonzalez in the Daily News.
That story from EdWize dates to November of 2010; Racela was well-established at Brighter Choice by then. I'll bet he fit in like he had been there for years...

Oh, and let's not forget who else was in on the play:
Brighter Choice Chairman Chris Bender said the sale of the of the high school would replenish the [sic] a revolving line of credit Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic legacy of the founding family of Wal-Mart, that Brighter Choice uses pay for the construction of new schools.

That, however, could create another potentially controversial scenario in which Brighter Choice is essentially using the proceeds from the sale of tax-free bonds to bolster the account from which it builds new schools to compete with the city school district.
Even the reformy Waltons got in on the play! I am dying to know what the interest rate was on that line of credit Sam's clan, aren't you?

Seriously - how much longer does this need to go on? How many more stories of hustlers and con artists connected to charter schools do we need to hear? How many more charters that are strip clubs by night do we have to endure? How many more charters making thousands off of parents who have to pay "discipline fees"? How many more charters that can't do their taxes correctly? How many more failed cyber charters? Family-run charter cash cows? Accused charter racketeers? Way overpaid charter administrators? Outrageous junkets? Sickening political back-room dealings?

How much longer are we going to accept this nonsense? When is this nation going to stand up and say: "Enough!" When are we going to stop the Halliburtonization of our public schools?

Soon, every school in America will look like this...

ADDING: The best place to keep up with all chartery nonsense is the terrific blog CHARTER SCHOOL SCANDALS.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Andrew Cuomo Goes Full Goofus

Around this time last year, I told New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that he had to make a decision:
Governor Cuomo, you have a choice here, and you have two role models for your choice:

Governor Goofus of New Jersey only had ONE working teacher on his task force. Worse, he included people who had no training, experience, knowledge, or even a stake in teacher evaluation systems design.

Governor Gallant of California, however, took advantage of a scandal within the Commission on Teacher Credentialing to clean house and appoint actual teachers. Who do you think is going to get better buy-in from the teachers of his state?

Governor Cuomo, would you rather be known as Governor Goofus or Gallant?

Sadly, we all watched for the next twelve months as Cuomo devolved into the the worst kind of reformy, neo-liberal traitor to public education. I kept hoping against hope that he would have a change of heart, but this past week he pretty much declared that there is no turning back from his reformy ways:

Assembly Democrats are strongly opposed to Gov. Cuomo’s decision to impose a second strings-attached deadline on the city to approve a teacher evaluation plan. 

The chamber’s Democrats — a majority of whom represent city districts — fear children could once again suffer as a result of Cuomo’s call to put another $224 million in state education aid on the line in the evaluation war.

City schools lost $450 million in state and federal funding when Mayor Bloomberg and city teachers union President Michael Mulgrew failed to reach agreement on an evaluation plan by a Jan. 17 deadline. Now, Cuomo has set a new deadline of Sept. 1, and his 2013-14 budget plan will yank $224 million in planned aid to city schools if it is not met. 

“I thought he was going to be the lobbyist for the students,” a city-based Assembly Democrat cracked, making light of Cuomo’s boast from his 2012 State of the State address. “How does taking money away from school programs help the kids?” [emphasis mine]
It doesn't - and nether does this cockamamie teacher evaluation nonsense, built on a VAM system that is a statistical and educational train wreck. As the real educators of New York understand, using test scores to evaluate teachers is unfair and counterproductive. The teachers unions have given up more than they should to reach a deal with the state; however, when the UFT made the smallest of moves to protect its members from the ravages of VAM, Mayor Michael Bloomberg threw a hissy fit. That's all Cuomo needed to withdraw hundreds of millions from the city's school budget, causing untold harm to NYC's children.

I'll give Bloomberg at least this much: even if he is acting like an ass, he understands that punishing children is a truly awful reaction to his failure to work out a deal with the UFT. If Cuomo were any kind of statesman, he would have held off on the posturing and instead worked to bring the two sides together. He wouldn't be threatening to cut programs for kids; he'd be listening to the people closest to the students and working out a deal that spoke to their concerns.

The problem is that Cuomo has lost all credibility with the teachers and parents of New York. He refuses to listen to the criticisms of VAM by NYC teachers like Gary Rubinstein. He refuses to hear the rational arguments of veteran principals like Carol Burris and over 1500 of her colleagues. He refuses to put teachers on his advisory committees on education (but he installs two representatives of Citibank!). He refuses to address the truly frightening privacy concerns of parents like Leonie Haimson.

Perhaps worst of all: he perpetuates the gross inequities in New York State's school financing system:
Did they cut back just a little from their target? Oh… say… give districts about 90% or 80% (uh… that would actually be a lot of cut) of what the formula said they needed? Nope. They went much deeper than that. In fact, as I showed in one recent post, as student population needs escalate (according to the state’s own Pupil Need Index) under-funding with respect to foundation targets grows in some cases to over $4,000 per pupil and in New York City to over $3,000 per pupil. [emphasis mine]
And yet Andrew Cuomo has the unmitigated gall to say that he cares more about New York's children than their teachers do.

Some may say that Cuomo is simply bluffing: that there's just no way he'll go through with holding back monies from the city. Perhaps - but there may be another end game that Cuomo has in mind:
The New York Times editorialized on Saturday,  “The old system, which everyone agreed was terrible, relied on spotty observations by administrators and found an overwhelming majority of teachers `satisfactory’ whether or not they were performing on the job….  To avoid that disastrous outcome, Mr. Bloomberg and the union will need to return to the bargaining table and get this deal done as quickly as possible.”

Commissioner King has made that possible.  His letter to Walcott is a wonderfully layered text that is both complicated in its detail and clear in its message. If the parties did not have an initial agreement by February 15, he writes, including “a plan, timeline and budget,” to begin implementation by March 1, King would not only withhold the billion-plus in federal dollars, he would assert his “authority to allocate and monitor” all state and federal funds, a de facto state takeover. [emphasis mine]
Don't laugh, New Yorkers: over on this side of the Hudson, cities have been living under the yoke of state control for years. Of course, white people are allowed to run their own schools - for now...

I wonder if Cuomo looks over at Chris Christie's chokehold on New Jersey's urban schools and feels jealous. I wonder if Christie is Cuomo's role model for how to take over a state's education system and smooth the way for privatization, all with the blessing of Arne Duncan and the Obama administration.

Cuomo could have patterned his education policies after California's Jerry Brown, a real Democrat and a real champion of public education:
The laws that are in fashion demand tightly constrained curricula and reams of accountability data. All the better if it requires quiz-bits of information, regurgitated at regular intervals and stored in vast computers. Performance metrics, of course, are invoked like talismans. Distant authorities crack the whip, demanding quantitative measures and a stark, single number to encapsulate the precise achievement level of every child. 

We seem to think that education is a thing—like a vaccine—that can be designed from afar and simply injected into our children. But as the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” 

This year, as you consider new education laws, I ask you to consider the principle of Subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is the idea that a central authority should only perform those tasks which cannot be performed at a more immediate or local level. In other words, higher or more remote levels of government, like the state, should render assistance to local school districts, but always respect their primary jurisdiction and the dignity and freedom of teachers and students. 

Subsidiarity is offended when distant authorities prescribe in minute detail what is taught, how it is taught and how it is to be measured. I would prefer to trust our teachers who are in the classroom each day, doing the real work – lighting fires in young minds. 
Ah, Andrew - that could have been you. But you, Son of Mario, chose to be Goofus, and not Gallant. But don't worry - New York's teachers and parents won't forget your threats any time soon...

ADDING: Ruh-roh:

City educators gave out answers to state test questions, inflated Regents exam scores, and coached students to change incorrect responses dozens of times in recent years, according to reports from a slew of investigations into test improprieties.

Responding to a Freedom of Information Law request by GothamSchools for information about complaints about test security, the Department of Education released 97 reports from investigations that concluded violations had taken place. The reports were completed between 2006 and 2012 by the Department of Education’s Office of Special Investigations and the independent Special Commissioner of Investigation.

Thirty-eight of the reports documented relatively minor violations of administrative protocol. In multiple cases, for example, investigators found that teachers had photocopied exam books when there were too few before getting official permission.
But 59 of the reports substantiated allegations about cheating, some of them serious.
Michelle Rhee says there's nothing to see here...