Tag Archives: Bill de Blasio

Mayoral Control And Mayoral Responsibility

New York legislators in Albany wrapped up yet another game of “Will we give Bill De Blasio an extension of mayoral control of New York City’s schools or won’t we?” recently.  In the end, law makers held off until the very last minute, passing a two year extension for the mayor that did not include the provisions favoring charter schools Senate Republicans were insisting on but against which Assembly Democrats drew a line.  The two year extension is a victory for De Blasio who has found out that Albany has trouble entrusting control to mayors not named “Mike,” and the lack of pro-charter school provisions shows that the daylight between De Blasio and Albany does not have to grind cooperation between the City and State to a complete halt.

The drama was also largely staged.  Although interested parties issued dire warnings of what would befall city schools without mayoral control, the bluff played by Senate Republicans was just that, a bluff.  Reverting back to pre-mayoral control school governance with only the months of July and August to figure it out was meant to scare Democrats into giving in on charter schools, but the threat rang hollow.  Governor Cuomo, who has never been shy about humiliating Mayor De Blasio, wanted mayoral control extended.  Even though they kept their mouths shut and did not win hoped for concessions, I would not bet against charter school proponents wishing for mayoral control as well.  After all, Mayor De Blasio will not be mayor forever, and if the next mayor is more like Michael Bloomberg, the charter school sector will once again deal with only one person in control of city schools who is indulgent of their wishes.  Certainly simpler than the complex politics of a city school board representing multiple constituencies and independent governance in 32 different community districts.  And even though the charter school cap remains where it is, backroom deals are allowing 22 charter licenses for schools that had their charters revoked or went unused to be recycled and reissued.

And it is not as if the so-called anti-charter stance of the De Blasio administration is so unwavering that the sector gets nothing from Tweed these days:

So if that is the theater involved in the issue, there remains a central, not often asked, question:  What about mayoral control makes it essential for running the nation’s largest school system?  Prior to the 2002 legislation that placed Michael Bloomberg in near complete control of the city schools, New York City schools were run by the central Board of Education whose members were appointed by the mayor and by the five borough presidents and by elected school boards in each of the city’s 32 community districts – which had much greater power before a 1996 law demoted their role.  Mayoral control legislation placed enormous authority into the mayor’s office who appoints the School Chancellor and the majority of members on the Panel for Educational Policy.  The 32 local school boards were replaced by “Community Education Councils” consisting of parents elected by Parent Associations of elementary and middle schools in the community districts and given even less  authority on school matters within those districts than the 1996 law.

Point of information:  I am a member of the Community Education Council in District 3, having just completed my first two year term and having been elected to a second term.  What I am writing here, however, represents only my views as both a New York City school parent and as a scholar of education – I do not presume to speak for the Council.

Proponents for continuing mayoral control certainly believe the current arrangement is crucial for school success in the Big Apple.  Mayor DeBlasio had dire warnings for law makers that not extending his school control would unleash “chaos.”  Speaking through a spokesperson, he said, ““mayoral control is the only proven governance system. Ending it would roll out the red carpet for corruption and chaos in our school system.”  Governor Cuomo was similarly dire about the need for extending control, but was more critical of his fellow Democrats in the Assembly for holding a tight line on issues like lifting the charter school cap: “For the legislature to leave with one million children returning to what we know was a failed management system is a dereliction of duty.”

I am certainly not prepared to say that the former governance structure for city schools was a marked improvement on what we have today – however, it is also a massive oversimplification to say that the previous governance system could not produce results as studies of Community District 2 by Harvard’s Richard Elmore demonstrate.  Further, while advocates of mayoral control have loved to tout various accomplishments, they are less inclined to entertain nuanced discussion and examination of those accomplishments.  Bloomberg Chancellor Joel Klein loved to boast about how the leadership team assembled in New York made great progress on raising achievement and closing the test-measured gap between white and minority students.  The problem with that claim is that it never stood up to careful analysis, as demonstrated by Teachers College Professor Aaron Pallas in analyses here and here.  While Bloomberg and Klein could boast about modest gains in NYC scores in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, those gains were not substantially better than in other cities that did not follow the Bloomberg/Klein reform program and their claim about narrowing the achievement gap was simply false:

Looking across ELA and math scores on state exams for New York City students in grades three through eight in 2003, the achievement gap separating black and Latino students from white and Asian students was .74 of a standard deviation. In 2011, the achievement gap was .73 of a standard deviation. This represents a 1 percent reduction in the magnitude of the achievement gap. The careful reader will note that the mayor has thus overstated the cut in the achievement gap by a factor of 50.

What about for NAEP? In 2003, the achievement gap, averaged across reading and math scores in the fourth and eighth grades, was .76 of a standard deviation. In 2011, the gap was .78 of a standard deviation. Far from being cut in half, the achievement gap on the NAEP assessment actually increased by 3 percent between 2003 and 2011.

Mayor Bloomberg said, “We have closed the gap between black and Latino kids and white and Asian kids. We have cut it in half.” But the gap has scarcely budged; it’s shrunk by 1 percent on the New York State tests, and increased by 3 percent on NAEP.

These issues are frustrating, but frankly to be expected as it is the rare politician who is willing to admit that he has spent a decade with unchallenged control of a school system, sought test measured validation of his approach, and came up with belly button lint instead.  However, it also draws attention to another aspect of mayoral control that hasn’t been discussed in the latest Albany spectacle.  Namely, who holds the mayor responsible and over what does the mayor take responsibility in this governance structure?  The Community District School boards were stripped of most of their authority prior to mayoral control, but they retained input on issues like hiring superintendents which, at least nominally, kept that closer to school district parents.  Today, that all flows through the Mayor’s office who appoints the extremely powerful Chancellor and has a majority of seats on the PEP.  The mayor may be subject to election, but it goes without saying that the path to that election does not necessitate a mayor who is attentive to what is going on in every school in every district across the city.  In fact, in his last election in 2009, Michael Bloomberg lost the Bronx to challenger William Thompson by 24.2 percentage points.  I dare say that he lost in most if not all of the 6 Community School Districts in the Bronx, yet he continued to control school governance there.  The people closest to the schools in those districts only have limited say in holding the mayor responsible for what goes on there, and their post-election voices are greatly limited.

This matters even more because the mayor’s office does not always hold itself responsible for the very schools it controls.  Consider charter school policy.  While it is true that the city does not control charter schools (except for the very small number authorized by NYCDOE), it is also true that the amount of daylight between Mayor Bloomberg and charter friendly politicians in Albany was nonexistent.  The Bloomberg years openly welcomed charter school expansion, aided in finding them spaces within city school buildings, and actively encouraged parents to seek educational options outside the control of DOE, setting up an environment where DOE run schools would have to compete not only among themselves but in competition with privately run organizations that were able to fund slick, professional marketing campaigns.  Success Academy alone in 2010 paid over $400,000 to a single marketing firm, Mission Control, Inc., to promote itself in a direct mail campaign to parents, and it continued this campaign in subsequent years, spending on pre-paid postage for application forms mailed directly to homes. Using such professional services, the charter network is able to portray itself as highly desirable and prestigious to prospective families.  And what, exactly, did Mayor Bloomberg, who welcomed the Success Network at every opportunity, do to position the schools directly under his control to compete in THAT environment?


This problem has continued into the De Blasio administration which, while showing much more willingness to support district schools with programs, has not yet grasped that Superintendents and building Principals are largely left alone to “market” their schools with no specific expertise and only funds that can be raised from parents.

The irony here is both evident and cruel:  mayoral control as exercised by Michael Bloomberg helped put schools serving the most vulnerable children in the city into a situation where they were simultaneously responsible for improving academic outcomes while following accommodation rules that charters are exempted from AND for marketing themselves in an environment where private organizations spend lavishly on direct marketing campaigns and the DOE schools are left to rely on $500 and whatever creativity they have on staff.  With parents bombarded from all directions by everyone except their zoned schools, it is no surprise that DOE schools in certain parts on New York have seen sharp declines in enrollment – which appears to be a feature rather than a bug of the system as set up by Albany law makers and abetted by Tweed under Bloomberg.  In Community District 3 in Manhattan, schools north of 110th Street have seen a decline from 2206 K-5 students in 2006 to 1469 K-5 students in 2015, an enrollment loss of 33% in less than a decade.

D3 Enrollment

However, if Michael Bloomberg accepted no responsibility to help the schools he enthusiastically put into competition actually compete, then his successor, Bill De Blasio has shown no real comprehension of the problem either.  Schools in areas with high charter saturation still rely upon shoestring budgets and ad hoc efforts by community members and school personnel instead of a enjoying a coordinated and funded strategy from the office that has direct control over them.  It is fundamentally unfair to expect that school principals, who have to possess a vast array of skills related to instructional leadership, management leadership, staff development, evaluation, school law, budgeting, and parent relationships, add on marketing and graphic design skill sets that are subject to their own degree programs.  Meanwhile, Tweed approaches maintaining enrollment at schools as if it was still the early 1990s.

Mayor De Blasio fought hard to keep mayoral control.  It is past time for the Mayor’s office to look at the impact of that control on the schools it runs and take mayoral responsibility for the sustainability of fully public schools in New York City.


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Filed under #blacklivesmatter, charter schools, Corruption, Eva Moskowitz, Funding, politics, schools, Success Academy

Chancellor Merryl Tisch to Mayor Bill de Blasio: Drop Dead

Dr. Merryl Tisch is probably the most powerful person in the state of New York that you have never heard of.  As Chancellor of the Board of Regents for the powerful University of the State of New York, Dr. Tisch oversees a body that has all responsibility for overseeing and accrediting every educational institution in the state of New York from all public and private elementary and secondary schools, to nearly 250 public and private colleges and universities, to libraries and museums, to state historical societies, to public broadcasting facilities, to 47 licensed professions, to adult and career education services, to the official state archives.  Chancellor Tisch and her fellow Regents are appointed by the state legislature to five-year terms.  Dr. Tisch, a former first grade teacher in Jewish schools with a doctorate from Teachers College at Columbia University, has served on the Board of Regents continuously since 1996 and has been Chancellor since 2009.  With such far reaching powers and responsibilities, it is possible that the Chancellorship of the Board of Regents is the most powerful position in the state of New York that is not subject to election.

Chancellor Tisch is not adverse to taking harsh and public stances, and in 2011 even criticized the Bloomberg administration, which was never shy about going after allegedly failing schools, for not showing enough progress in the kind of numbers driven school improvement in favor today.  The Chancellor is also enthusiastic about the grinding state examination schedule that has been instituted from Albany, claiming that she “understands” the test anxiety felt by students but that the need for change is so urgent that “We have to just jump into the deep end.”  Blogger Jersey Jazzman notes that her understanding is an odd claim from a Chancellor who has never attended a school that believes in high stakes testing, has never taught in a school that believes in high stakes testing, and has never sent her own children to a school that believes in high stakes testing.

With such positions on education and reform, it should come as little surprise that Chancellor Tisch joined Governor Andrew Cuomo on the “If-It-Is-Sunday-It-Is-Time-To-Throw-Mayor-de Blasio-Under-The-Bus” parade by announcing that she wants to “aggressively” pursue more charter schools, and that the Mayor’s plan to turn around 94 of the city’s most troubled schools has until Spring before the Board of Regents moves to start closing them down.  Mayor de Blasio’s plan, which was only unveiled on November 3rd, will task $150 million over a three year period to transform most of the schools into “Community Schools” that do not simply seek improved academics, but also focus upon embedded social and community services to address many of the difficulties students face at home and in the community.  The schools will need to demonstrate improvement in attendance and academic performance, can turn over staff if needed, and may still face shutdown if they fail to improve in the given timeline.

Chancellor Tisch sounded less than impressed:

“It depends upon what they do with the money,” Tisch said. “There needs to be the capacity to manage how and where we place our teachers.”

The main issue, according to Tisch, is that the principals need leverage to fire educators if they don’t meet standards.

“It’s not just saying, ‘We’re gonna fix these schools,’” she said. “You gotta give the new principals and assistant principals the ability to hire the teachers that they want and fire the teachers that they don’t want.”

Her chosen metric of improvement appears to be how quickly the schools start to turn over staff: “From the state’s perspective, if we do not see movement with these lowest-performing schools in terms of their ability to retool their workforces by the spring, we will move to close them.” 

Mayor de Blasio outlined a three year timeline for improvement.  Chancellor Tisch says that he has about three months.  Mayoral control of the New York City Schools apparently is only for people in Dr. Tisch’s personal Rolodex.

What exactly does Chancellor Tisch mean when she demands to see such a quick “ability to retool their workforces”?  I have to agree with author of the Raginghorseblog, who teaches at one of the 94 schools in question and who writes here that Dr. Tisch mainly wants to see school administrators given free reign to fire masses of teachers regardless of their current due process rights.  Dr. Tisch is an intelligent person who fully knows that the Mayor cannot demonstrate significantly academic gains in these schools by Spring, so she is telling him that he is officially between a rock and a hard place.  If he does not move to pick a massive fight with the teacher’s union over firing large numbers of teachers without due process, then he will have a fight with the Board of Regents who will veto his school improvement proposal by shuttering the schools in question.

Doing this to a mayor who, in theory, has direct control of the city schools is stunningly disrespectful, but it has also become a popular pastime in Albany since the departure of Mayor Bloomberg.  Governor Cuomo did it last Spring by orchestrating a charter school rally in Albany on the same day that Mayor de Blasio was there to rally support for universal pre-K in the city.  The Governor did it again just before the election by declaring his intentions to make teacher evaluations even harder in the state even as Mayor de Blasio’s Chancellor, Carmen Farina, has been working to take the harsher edges off of school evaluations in the city.  Both Governor Cuomo and Dr. Tisch want to raise the cap on charter schools in the city and state and will likely pursue that with the legislature.  This is despite the growing evidence that the charter school sector, as currently regulated, concentrates more and more highly disadvantaged students into the remaining fully public schools which, unsurprisingly, continue to struggle.  The cycle, favored by billionaire Wall Street figures who donate heavily to both the charter schools and to politicians who support them, is pernicious enough that it invokes near conspiratorial overtones: declare fully public schools to be failing, close them, open up charter schools which attract families able to go through the application and lottery process, concentrate higher proportions of struggling students into remaining fully public schools, allow charter schools to push out harder to accommodate children, declare remaining fully public schools even bigger failures than before, close more of them and open more charter schools.

And for good measure, it must be noted that people are making fistfuls of money promoting this cycle of dislocation, concentration of disadvantage, and more dislocation.  It is also worth noting at this point that Dr. Tisch is married to the heir of the Loews Coporation, a diversified company involved in insurance, oil and gas exploration, and luxury hotel and resort properties, that has over $79 billion in total assets.  Her husband, James Tisch, owned, with several family members, stock worth $3.2 billion in 2012.  The people making money off of charter schools are in the same circle of financial titans as the Tisch family.

And now, it appears, Chancellor Tisch has given Mayor de Blasio, who ran as a progressive friend of New York City’s working families, an ultimatum: force a showdown with the teachers’ union and join the war to undermine what is left of American labor — or the Board of Regents will steamroll you.

I wish I could be surprised.


Filed under charter schools, Funding, New York Board of Regents, politics, Social Justice, Unions

Success Academy’s Incredible Hypocrisy

Eva Moskowitz wants to continue to expand her Success Academy chain of “no excuses” charter schools, but is concerned that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio will not automatically and enthusiastically endorse her plans as was customary under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Following the model of her successful Albany rally last Spring that led to a state budget forcing New York City to pay rent for all charter schools, charter enthusiasts plan a rally for Thursday, October 2nd in Foley Square at 9am which they are dubbing “Don’t Steal Possible”.  I have seen organizers on social media promise as many as 10,000 attendees, many of whom I presume will be Success Academy teachers and students who, like the weekday rally in Albany, will be given time off from a scheduled school day to provide appropriate optics for the event.

“Don’t Steal Possible” refers to network supporters claiming that they are pleading with the de Blasio administration to not “steal” opportunities from NYC’s most struggling students who want to attend a charter school, especially a Success Academy charter school, where their success is “possible.”  Supporters have taken to Twitter with #DontStealPossible (as have detractors)  and both individuals and organizations, including Ms. Moskowitz herself, have repeated similar talking points about how their mission is driven for NYC kids “trapped” in failing schools:

The 143,000 kids that they repeatedly mention refers to a “report” from charter school advocacy group “Families for Excellent Schools” that cited 371 DOE schools where student performance on the 2013 state examinations did not pass 10% being labeled as proficient.  The purpose of the rally and of Ms. Moskowitz’s expansion plans is to offer “possible” to all of those students so that they can “escape” from their failed schools.

They really have some nerve.

There are many things galling about using the students at 371 New York City schools that serve mostly impoverished minority families as optics for a plan to expand the Success Academy chain, often into neighborhoods that are not strugglingFirst, the article in the Daily News misrepresents the results of those state examinations, probably willfully.  These were the first examinations to align with the new Common Core standards, and they caused an extreme collapse of scores across the entire state.  Further, the examinations are not pegged to grade level skills in reading and mathematics. Period.  End of discussion.  “Proficient” in the new examinations is not a synonym for “grade level,” and anyone who mixes up those terms is misinformed or a liar.  Carol Burris, Principal at South Side High School, explains very clearly how the cut scores were set:

State Education Commissioner John King asked the College Board to “replicate research” to determine what PSAT and SAT scores predict first-year success in four-year colleges. The College Board was asked to correlate SAT scores with college grades to create probabilities of college success. You can read the report here.

Keep in mind that research shows that the SAT’s predictive power is only 22 percent. High school grades are a far better predictor of college success. The lack of validity of scores, without the context of grades, was not taken into consideration.

The New York study chose the following “probabilities” as the definition of college success:

* English Language Arts:  a 75 percent probability of obtaining a B- or better in a first-year college English course in a four-year college.

* Math: a 60 percent  probability of obtaining a C+ or better in a first-year math course in a four-year college….

….When the cut scores were set, the overall proficiency rate was 31 percent–close to the commissioner’s prediction.  The proportion of test takers who score 1630 on the SAT is 32 percent.  Coincidence?  Bet your sleeveless pineapple it’s not. Heck, the way I see it, the kids did not even need to show up for the test.

Argue, if you must, that the new proficiency standard is the appropriate way to set up how the exams are assessed.  But don’t call it “grade level” or “passing.”  They are neither of those things, nor were they designed to be those things.

Second, Ms. Moskowitz and her supporters are pleading, they say, on behalf of those “143,000 kids,” but there is no evidence from the work of her school network so far that Ms. Moskowitz would accommodate anywhere near all of those students even if her schools had enough seats.  First off, a lottery system, while in theory neutral, already skims from a student population by requiring parents and guardians who are informed enough about the system to actually apply in the first place.  Further, once students enroll in the Success Academy network, they are subject to attrition rates and rates of discipline that far outstrip the comparable DOE schools.  Success Academy 1 had an attrition rate greater than 50% since its opening school year in 2006-2007, and the network sends clear messages to parents that they do not want struggling kids in their schools.  The result, as demonstrated by Bruce Baker of Rutgers, is that Success Academies enroll far fewer students who are coming from high poverty homes, are English language learners, or have special education needs:


Success Academy wants you to believe that they are rallying so that nobody will “Steal Possible” from the students in New York City’s most struggling public schools, but all the data available about their past and current practices suggests that even if many of those students did win lottery seats in a Success Academy, many of them would be pushed out of the school.  Those children are being used to improve the appeal of Ms. Moskowitz’s expansion plans even though probably none of them will be present at tomorrow’s rally.  After all, they have school to attend, and no NYC principal is allowed to dismiss an entire school’s worth of children to a rally to pressure the mayor and Albany.

Third, if this was really a movement to tell the public and officials to “Don’t Steal Possible,” then one would assume that there would be causes involved that aided all of our city’s children, not just the ones that win charter lottery seats and are then allowed to stay at those charters.  Again from Professor Bruce Baker of Rutgers, Albany has manipulated its base state funding formula in ways that have shorted New York City somewhere between $3-4000 a YEAR per CHILD below previous calculations of state aid.  That amounts to $3-4 BILLION in state aid ANNUALLY that Albany has kept from reaching New York City.  Across the entire state of New York, the Gap Elimination Adjustment has deprived the average school district of $3.1 MILLION annually, and Governor Cuomo aggressively pursued and got a property tax cap so that districts cannot choose to make up the lost money locally.  Consider how much “possible” has absolutely been stolen from public schools in New York City and across the state by these policies, and then ask if Families for Excellent Schools and Success Academy’s wealthy backers in the financial industry will rally to change them.  The answer is, of course they won’t.  Those same donors and Ms. Moskowitz’s own PAC have donated generously to Andrew Cuomo’s campaign.

And this is the hypocrisy.  Ms. Moskowitz is going to excuse her teachers and students from a day of school to rally in alleged support of all of those kids she claims are “trapped” in “failing” DOE schools, and there is no doubt that an unacceptable number of our most vulnerable students are indeed in schools that struggle.  But there is NO evidence that Ms. Moskowitz wants all or even a bare majority of those students in HER schools.  There IS plenty of evidence that the most vulnerable children to reach a Success Academy find it very difficult to remain there, and there is incontrovertible evidence that Ms. Moskowitz and her financial backers support the reelection of a Governor who has choked schools of money for his entire first term in office.

“Don’t Steal Possible”?


UPDATE:  Courtesy of Mindy Rosier, a special education teacher in a co-located school, the Success Academy in her building has changed their normal Wednesday half-day to today, and the school is providing buses that met at 7:30am to take people to Foley Square.  The event is being billed as a “parent rally,” but with school at half day for the event, there is little doubt that many children will be accompanying them:

SA change of calendar SA bus


Filed under charter schools, Funding, politics, Social Justice

How Andrew Cuomo Has Lost My Vote

Andrew Cuomo has lost my vote — and if you are a teacher, a parent of a public school child or a citizen who sees schools as a vital component of our civil society, he should lose your vote too.  He has been as abusive towards our public schools and the people who work in them as have Republican governors such as Scott Walker and Chris Christie, only without the national spotlight aimed at his policies.  My conservative friends will probably suggest this has to do with media bias, and I won’t deny some possibility of that.  However, a simpler explanation is that Governor Cuomo, unlike Governors Walker and Christie, has done little to highlight his conflicts with unionized teachers — it would do him little good with his core constituencies at home or nationally to do so.

Regardless, he has been a net negative for schools and teachers although you would not have guessed it reading his inaugural address in 2011.  That speech had no mention of education or teachers and the only mention of school was a personal anecdote.  The same speech mentioned taxes or taxpayers seven times, budget three times and the deficit eight times in one short paragraph, claiming there was a deficit of trust and competence as well as a budgetary one.

It has become clear since then that even if he did not mention education in his address, he had education in his sights and it wasn’t to make sure school districts had the funds they need to guarantee educational opportunity for all.  One of the governor’s early achievements was a cap on property taxes   that may have helped many home owners but has also left many school districts scrambling for funds.  At the same time, Albany continued the “gap elimination adjustment” which became permanent in the 2011-2012 budget year.  In the GEA, Albany allocates school aid and then uses a formula to take it away…or even increases the amount of money removed from school aid if the state projects a shortfall in revenue.  Essentially, this is a formula that allows the legislature and the governor to announce a school aid budget and then to trim it when nobody is looking.  According to the New York State School Boards association, the GEA has cost New York districts an average of $3.1 million dollars per year each year since 2010.  64% of districts have cut personnel, 53% have increased class sizes and 36% have reduced or eliminated extracurricular activities.

None of this is good for the children of New York, but it certainly helps Governor Cuomo keep from ever considering higher taxes.  By the way, when you search the New York Times for “gap elimination adjustment” this is what comes up.  Too obscure for even the Times’ New York reporting, you have to go to local and regional papers to find comprehensive coverage.

While finding ways to trim the money available locally and at the state level, the Governor has also aggressively pursued state pension reform.  This is hardly unique to New York, but the demands to reform how career teachers retire comes at a time when teachers are being asked to do more than ever before…with less in the present and promises of less in the future.  Governor Cuomo is solidly behind the current reform environment which means the state is not only implementing the Common Core State Standards, but also the state is implementing test score driven evaluation of teachers.  While recent statements from the governor indicate a willingness to delay or reweight the degree to which student test scores will impact both student promotion and teacher evaluation, Commissioner John King was unambiguous that Albany believes it is on the right path for schools and will plow ahead.  Plowing ahead means teachers with larger class sizes and fewer support personnel having to quickly implement a new and complicated set of curriculum standards in all grades simultaneously and simultaneously having to face their retention and tenure decisions being based upon the result of tests that have resulted in dramatic declines across the board.

All of this in a budget environment where NYC parents are being asked to fund raise so schools can hire elementary reading specialists.  Schools lucky enough to have parents who are wealthy and connected maintain essential services.  Other schools?  Well, at least Andrew Cuomo doesn’t have to raise anyone’s taxes.

Balancing the budget on the backs of school children and public employees is unpleasant enough on its own, but Governor Cuomo’s behavior during the recent public battle between charter school magnate Eva Moskowitz and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was beyond the pale.  The narrative should be familiar to New York residents.  In the waning days of his administration, Mayor Michael Bloomberg hastily granted a number of new colocations for charter schools in the city, including either new or newly expanded sites for Moskowitz’s Success Academy chain.  Mayor de Blasio granted most of these colocations, where a charter operator is allowed to take over space in an existing public school building without paying rent to the city.  Charter school advocates claim that paying for their space would put charters at a disadvantage compared to existing public schools, which they claim to be. But  Moskowitz herself sued the state of New York to prevent the Comptroller from auditing and succeeded in having a law struck down that granted the Comptroller that authority.  Her argument?  Her schools are not a “unit of the state”. Ponder that: her schools accept public funds and demand space in public school buildings without rent, but the state’s top financial officer has no authority to examine her books.  And she sued to make it that way.

Moskowitz stormed to Albany with her students claiming that the new mayor has declared war on her, but many of her claims fail to stand up to the slightest scrutiny.  Among the most damning highlights is that by halting one of the colocations, Mayor de Blasio was trying to prevent one third of the severely disabled students in one building from being displaced and sent all over the city.  Moskowitz likes to make lofty claims for her schools’ accomplishments drawing from a population that she alleges is among the city’s neediest.  Sadly, these claims are heavily embellished as well.  While Success Academy test scores are indeed high, there is no metric that makes Success Academy 4 the “highest performing school in the state,” and even though admission to charter schools is by lottery, remaining there is not guaranteed — and Moskowitz’s schools have exceptionally high attrition rates, especially among students who do not test well.  Diane Ravitch of NYU and Avi Blaustein note:

In just four years Harlem Success Academy 4 has lost over 21 percent of its students. The pattern of students leaving is not random. Students with low test scores, English Language Learners, and special education students are most likely to disappear from the school’s roster. Large numbers of students disappear beginning in 3rd grade, but not in the earlier grades. No natural pattern of student mobility can explain the sudden disappearance of students at the grade when state testing just happens to begin.

Given these issues, it was disturbing enough to watch Governor Cuomo rush to Moskowitz’s side during her “Save Eva” rally in Albany on the same day that Mayor de Blasio was rallying for support of a universal prekindergarten proposal for New York City.  But what has come out since then is simply inexcusable.  Not only did Cuomo show up to stand by Moskowitz, he actively participated in making the rally happen, and the result of that public pressure and multimillion dollar ad blitz got us a New York state budget that expressly forbids charging charter school rent in public schools and forces the city to pay charter schools’ rents if they cannot colocate.

The fact is that Eva Mokowitz has very wealthy friends.  The NY Times article makes clear that Governor Cuomo relies on campaign donations from Wall Street patrons of charter schools who helped fund the advertising backlash against Mayor de Blasio:

A lot was riding on the debate for Mr. Cuomo. A number of his largest financial backers, some of the biggest names on Wall Street, also happened to be staunch supporters of charter schools. According to campaign finance records, Mr. Cuomo’s re-election campaign has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from charter school supporters, including William A. Ackman, Carl C. Icahn, Bruce Kovner and Daniel Nir.

Kenneth G. Langone, a founder of Home Depot who sits on a prominent charter school board, gave $50,000 to Mr. Cuomo’s campaign last year. He said that when the governor asked him to lead a group of Republicans supporting his re-election, he agreed because of Mr. Cuomo’s support for charter schools.

Campaign filings show that the governor’s re-election campaign has collected over $400,000 in donations from wealthy donors who are also supporters of the Success Academy chain, including $65,000 directly from Moskowitz’s own political action committee. Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana teacher, Ph.D. in statistics and education blogger, has extensively examined Success Academy tax documents with illuminating results, including that the IRS contact reported for Harlem Success Academy is Luxor Capital Group.

I don’t pretend to know why Wall Street big money is so invested in charter schools.  Perhaps they sincerely believe that competition from privately run charter schools that their own children will never attend is a “secret sauce” to improving universal education in this country.  Maybe they see charters as an effective tool against one of the last largely unionized work forces in America.  Perhaps expanding charters is seen as a key factor in setting up education as a massive data collection enterprise where entrepreneurs can turn data into profitable technology products.  It could be any number of factors, but one thing is certain: those factors are not being debated in public as part of the exercise of democratic control of public education.  It is almost entirely privately debated for private purposes.

And that is why Andrew Cuomo cannot have my vote.  He has made it very clear that he is not for public schools, public school teachers or public school students.  Those people have been continuously squeezed by local revenue roadblocks and state revenue take backs at a time when they have had to do more and more for higher and higher stakes.

He is, however, very much for what hedge fund campaign donors are for.  Those people have not been asked for a cent more in taxes and have their pet projects enshrined in the state budget.

If you are a student in New York, a parent of a student in New York, or a teacher in New York, Andrew Cuomo is not your governor, and he does not deserve your vote.

ADDENDUM:  There are reasons why hedge funds promote charter schools.  They are, surprise, linked to profit.


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