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

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...


Anonymous said...

Oh, Goofus and Gallant. Thanks for sharing. This has been the Highlights of my day.

Mrs. King's music students said...

I was one of 100 Camden teachers who attended round table discussions on teacher evaluation (affiliated with M. Rhee). The spokespeople were very clear on certain 'bugs' tied to awarding merit pay. For one thing, they really didn't know what to do about teachers of non-tested subjects. It looked as if they hoped upcoming teacher evaluation models would take care of all that.
But it turns out the 'new' evaluation models are no better than the school admins using them. Then, the Danielson crew showed up at my school exclaiming "your evaluation is just a snapshot in time", and guess what? The 'snapshots' are taken at the convenience of the admins! Not before school/afterschool or during lunch, and not when all those kids give up their recess so they can take the electives they are denied during the regular school day. Of course, none of the above has anything to do with the teachers' evaluations or merit pay.