Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sat down with the editorial board of the New York Daily News to discuss his reasons for upping the ante in his campaign to decrease teachers’ workplace protections and to make 85% of teacher evaluations depend upon standardized exams and observers outside of school. During his meeting, he characterized the NYSUT, which withheld its endorsement during his reelection campaign, as an “industry” more interested in protecting its members than with the children that those members teach, and he bragged about berating a union representative who claimed to represent students. The Governor also claimed that the only reason there is not more agitation for the kind of reforms that he is pursuing is because parents do not really know what is going on in their schools:
“If (the public) understood what was happening with education to their children, there would be an outrage in this city,” Cuomo said. “I’m telling you, they would take City Hall down brick by brick.
“It’s only because it’s complicated that people don’t get it.”
That’s quite a pronouncement from the Governor when citywide surveys show that well over 90% of public school parents in NYC are satisfied with the instructional environment in their children’s schools, agree that their schools keep them informed of their children’s progress, and would recommend their school to other parents. That same survey showed that parents’ top concern by far was classroom sizes — “firing a hell of a lot more teachers” did not break into the top ten.
But, you know, Governor Cuomo knows “what is happening with education to their children” far better than the parents.
Of course, it is possible that the most vulnerable parents and student populations are not represented in the survey data which is a legitimate concern, and there is certainly no doubt that there are schools where great many students struggle to learn a basic curriculum. However, for the Governor to claim that all sits at the feet of our teachers means he is ignoring vast amounts of evidence. Dr. Aaron Pallas of Teachers College notes:
Anyone who doubts that poverty and district finances matter in the achievement equation need only look at a scatterplot of the percentage of third-graders in a school who are proficient in English Language Arts and the percentage of students in that school who are eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch. In schools where 90 percent or more of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, 15 percent of the students are proficient. Conversely, in schools where fewer than 10 percent of students are free-lunch-eligible, an average of 53 percent are proficient. This is not because all of the good teachers are in low-poverty schools.
So while the Governor’s proposals will make it far less likely that any beginning teacher will ever reach tenure in New York state, his proposed “solution” for schools with very few students reaching proficiency on state exams has literally no connection to the strongest correlation with low performance — poverty.
On a much broader set of issues, I am not at all certain that Governor Cuomo REALLY wants parents who “understood what was happening with education to their children” — because what is happening right out of the Governor’s office is pitchfork worthy.
Does Governor Cuomo really want parents to understand what is happening with funding in Albany? If they did, they would know that both litigation and legislation committed Albany to increase annual education aid to districts by 7 billion dollars in 2007, but that the state remains about 5.6 billion dollars BELOW that target. They would know that the Governor, who scoffs at the notion that schools are underfunded, continues to use the Gap Elimination Adjustment to plug holes in the operating budget by raiding promised aid to school districts, and that the GEA has stolen 8 billion dollars from districts financially squeezed on the other end by the property tax cap the Governor put in place. They would know that using the funding formula put in place in 2007, Albany is shorting New York City as much as $3-4000 PER PUPIL in a system with over 1 million pupils.
They would know that the Governor’s pledge to increase education aid by $1.1 billion is less than 20% of the funding needed for the state to meet its obligations to schools districts, and that the $380 million he will allow if he does not get the changes he wants represents barely 7%.
Does Governor Cuomo really want parents to understand what is happening with charter school favoritism in Albany? If they did, they would know that last year as New York Mayor Bill De Blasio was slowing down the expansion of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy chain of charter schools because one such expansion was set to kick students with special needs out of their school, Governor Cuomo did not merely support Eva Moskowitz’s multi-million dollar ad campaign against the Mayor and her Albany rally to pressure lawmakers — he participated in making the rally happen. They would know that after blindsiding the Mayor who was in Albany to rally support for universal Pre-K the same day as Moskowitz shut down her schools and bused her students and parents to the state capitol, the Governor orchestrated budget legislation mandating that New York City pay the rent of all charter schools, even ones that can raise $7.75 million in a single fund raiser. They would know that Ms. Moskowitz in particular keeps her operations so opaque that she has sued repeatedly to prevent the state from auditing her finances. They would find out that these supposedly “public schools” have appallingly high attrition rates that come from the almost impossibly strict behavioral standards that are applied even to Kindergarten students, and they would know that a key ally of no-excuses charter schools, Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, openly admitted that such attrition is a feature rather than a bug and that the charter sector has no interest in educating all of our children.
I am quite sure that Governor Cuomo does not want parents to understand how Success Academy (and other charter school) donors have showered him with campaign donations, nor would he like them to tie his largesse to the charter sector to the same backers who have been steadily using charter schools to monetize public education expenditures.
Does Governor Cuomo really want parents to understand what is really happening with the PARRC examination proficiency scores? If they did, they would know that far from representing a dramatic drop in student achievement, the drop in students reaching “proficient” or higher was engineered by the New York State Education Department under outgoing Commissioner John King. They would know that “proficient” is neither tied to grade level expectations nor to any reasonable definition of “passing,” and they would know that when anti-teacher activists like Campbell Brown or public dollar profiteers like Eva Moskowitz repeatedly claim that our students are “failing” because of those exams that they are being “economical with the truth.” They would know that when the Governor asks in his “Opportunity Agenda Book“:
“Last year, less than one percent of teachers in New York State were rated ineffective; but state test results show that statewide only 35.8 percent of our students in 3rd through 8th grades were proficient in math and 31.4 percent were proficient in English Language Arts. We must ask ourselves: how can so many of our students be failing if our teachers are all succeeding?” (p. 228)
…he has joined the anti-public school forces in thoroughly misrepresenting the meaning of the current test scores, and that such misrepresentation is almost certainly deliberate. Parents would also learn that the value added models based on student standardized test scores that the Governor wants to raise to 50% of teacher evaluations are not endorsed by the American Statistical Association, and that there is no strong research basis for using them as such an important component of teacher evaluation. They would understand that using a test score rigged to drop most students below the proficient level as the majority of teacher evaluation is little more than a set up to fire teachers with no benefit for their children.
Does Governor Cuomo really want parents to understand what is really happening with our democracy? While Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s indictment for corruption represents old school quid pro quo misuse of public office for private gain, Governor Cuomo represents something potentially more dangerous to democracy. Just 341 donors accounted for over half of the Governor’s $40 million campaign fundraising. 81.6% of his donors gave at least $10,000. Among those donors are major backers of charter school expansion, including donors who funded a $4.2 million Students First NY effort to put the state senate in Republican hands and who collectively donated more than $160,000 directly to Governor Cuomo.
If parents “understand what is really happening” then they would likely notice how Governor Cuomo governs as if he is far more beholden to his high profile donors than to the voters of New York.
Do you REALLY want parents “to understand what is happening with education,” Mr. Cuomo?