Tag Archives: Zephyr Teachout

Andrew Cuomo Makes it Official: He’s at War With Teachers

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently sent some mixed signals on his education platform.  In late September, he declared that the teacher evaluation system in the Empire State needs “refinement” because even using standardized test scores to create value-added measures, too many teachers are found to be effective or highly effective. This month, however, the Cuomo campaign, perhaps responding to criticisms of his embrace of the Common Core State Standards, issued an ad that suggested a softer approach to education.  Featuring Governor Cuomo in a white sweater helping his similarly attired daughter with her homework at a table decorated with white pumpkins and a glass bowl of smooth pebbles, the ad promised “real teacher evaluations” and not using Common Core test scores for “five years.”  That promise, however, simply reflects an existing item in the state budget that delays including test scores in graduating students’ transcripts; it does not promise to not use the test scores to evaluate teachers in any way.  The governor’s softer, rather beige, image is an illusion.

There was no illusion this week, however.

Speaking with the New York Daily News editorial board, Mr. Cuomo emphasized his priorities on education for a second term in Albany:

“I believe these kinds of changes are probably the single best thing that I can do as governor that’s going to matter long-term,” he said, “to break what is in essence one of the only remaining public monopolies — and that’s what this is, it’s a public monopoly.”

He said the key is to put “real performance measures with some competition, which is why I like charter schools.”

Cuomo said he will push a plan that includes more incentives — and sanctions — that “make it a more rigorous evaluation system.”

The governor took a direct, insulting, swipe at the 600,000 members of the NYSUT, by saying, “The teachers don’t want to do the evaluations and they don’t want to do rigorous evaluations — I get it.  I feel exactly opposite.”

It is rare to have one person summarize, so succinctly, nearly everything that is wrong with the current education reform environment.  “Break…a public monopoly…competition, which I why I like charter schools…the teachers don’t want to do the evaluations.”  In those short turns of phrase, Andrew Cuomo demonstrates how he utterly fails to understand teachers, the corrupted “competition” environment he promotes, and the entire purpose of having a compulsory, common school system.  I personally cannot think of any statements he could have made that disqualify him more from having any power over how we educate our young people.

The governor, who expects to win Tuesday’s election by a wide margin, faced immediately backlash over his comments, but he has opted to double down and repeat the rhetoric of calling our state’s public schools a monopoly.  He has even gotten harsh criticism from the Working Families Party, whose endorsement he wrestled for this summer when the progressive party looked to ready to endorse Fordham Law School Professor Zephyr Teachout. W.F.P.’s state director, Bill Lipton commented:

“His proposed policies on public education will weaken, not strengthen our public education system, and they would represent a step away from the principle of high quality public education for all students. High stakes testing and competition are not the answer. Investment in the future is the answer, and that means progressive taxation and adequate resources for our schools.”

In return, Governor Cuomo’s campaign spokesman, Peter Kauffmann said, “This is all political blather.”  If anyone in the leadership of W.F.P. still has faith in Mr. Cuomo’s promises to them, I will be astonished.

I am going to address Mr. Cuomo’s statements in reverse order:

1) “The teachers don’t want to do the evaluations and they don’t want to do rigorous evaluations”

Mr. Cuomo bases this upon teacher opposition to the “rigorous” evaluations that include the use of students’ standardized test scores to determine if teachers are highly effective, effective, or not effective.  Not meeting the “effective” range on the evaluations can cost teachers tenure or it can initiate efforts to remove them from the classroom if they already have tenure.  Governor Cuomo is on record as believing that the current system is too lenient on teachers because under the new Common Core aligned examinations, student proficiency in the state has dropped dramatically while, in his view, too many teachers remain rated as effective and highly effective.  Presumably, the Governor wants to change the evaluation system so that administrator input is less important and so that the “rigorous” method of rating teachers by students’ test scores has more of an impact on their effectiveness ratings.  This is a fatally flawed approach, and it is fated to unleash appalling results for several important reasons.

First, as I have written previously, he has egregiously, and probably deliberately, misrepresented what the student proficiency ratings from the Common Core exams mean.  While students reaching proficient and highly proficient on the exams only reached 36% of test takers last year, the cut scores were deliberately set to reflect the percentage of students in the state whose combined SAT scores reflect reasonable first year college performance.  Unsurprisingly, the numbers of students who scored at proficient and above almost exactly mirrored the percentage of students with those SAT scores.  This cannot be construed as students and their teachers under-performing expectations, and, not for nothing, the percentage of New Yorkers over the age of 25 with a bachelor’s degree is 32.8%.

So let’s be perfectly clear: the Governor is saying that teachers in communities where large percentages of students do not attend college are automatically “not effective” teachers.

Second, the entire CONCEPT of tying teacher performance to standardized test scores rests on controversial premises and is not widely accepted by the research community.  The American Statistical Association warns that teacher input can only account for between 1-14% of student variability on standardized test performance, and they also do not believe that any current examination is able to effectively evaluate teacher input on student learning.  Further, advocates of value added models tend to make “heroic assumptions” in order to claim causation in their models, and they tend to ignore the complications for their models that arise when you recognize that students in schools are not assigned to teachers randomly.

I know many teachers who wish to improve their teaching and who would welcome a process that gives them good data on how to go about doing that.  I know no teachers who want to be subjected to evaluations that rely on flawed assumptions of what can be learned via standardized exams.

Finally, value added models tend to be incredibly opaque to the people who are evaluated by them.  For example, this is the Value Added Model that New York City used in the 2010-2011 school year:

NYC VAM

This is also the VAM that found teacher Stacey Issacson to be only in the SEVENTH percentile of teachers despite the fact that in her first year of teaching 65 of 66 students in her class scored “proficient” or above on the state examinations, and more than two dozen of her students in her first years of teaching went on to attend New York City’s selective high schools.  Perhaps worse than having a formula spit back such a negative rating was the inability of anyone to actually explain to her what landed her in such a position, and Ms. Issacson, with two Ivy League degrees to her name and the unconditional praise of her principal, could not understand how the model found her so deficient either.  Perhaps I can help.  In this image I have circled the real number that actually exists prior to value added modeling:

NYC VAMreal

And in this image, I circle everything else:

NYC VAMfake

Consider everything that might impact a student’s test performance that has nothing to do with the teacher.  Perhaps he finally got an IEP and is receiving paraprofessional support that improves his scores.  Perhaps there is a family situation that distracts him from school work for a period of time during the year.  Perhaps he is simply having a burst of cognitive growth because children do not grow in straight lines and is ready for this material at this time, or, subsequently, perhaps he had a developmental burst two years ago and is experiencing a perfectly normal regression to the norm.  Value added model advocates pretend that they can account for all of that statistical noise in single student for a single school year, and then they want to fire teachers on those assumptions.  This is what happens when macroeconomists get bored and try to use their methods on individual students’ test scores.

Governor Cuomo assumes that because teachers do not want to be subjected to statistically invalid, career ending, evaluations that they do not want to be evaluated.

2) “competition, which I why I like charter schools”

Charter schools were never supposed to be “competition” for the public school system.  As originally conceived, they would be schools given temporary charters and be relieved of certain regulations so that they could experiment with ways to teach populations of students who were historically difficult to teach in more traditionally organized schools.  In this vision, originally advocated by AFT President  Albert Shanker, charter schools would feed the lessons they learned back to the traditional school system in a mutually beneficial way.  Governor Cuomo’s idea is as far from that vision as it is possible to be and still be using the same language.

The Governor apparently thinks that charter schools are there to put pressure on fully public schools, and that the “competition” for students will act like a free marketplace to force improvement on the system.  This is a gospel that has deep roots, going as far back as Milton Friedman in 1955, and gaining intellectual heft for the voucher movement in the 1990s with Chubb and Moe’s 1990 volume, “Politics, Markets and America’s Schools.”  While vouchers have rarely been a popular idea, advocates for competition in public education have transformed charter schools into a parallel system that competes with fully public schools.  This has flaws on several levels.  First, it is an odd kind of marketplace when one provider is relieved of labor rules and various state and federal education regulations and the other is still held fully accountable for them.  Charter schools’ freedom from regulations was meant to allow for innovations that would help traditional schools learn, but instead it has become a “competition” where one competitor is participating in a sack race and the other in a 100 yard dash.  A sack race, by the way, is an entirely fine thing to participate in, but no race is legitimate when everyone isn’t required to follow the same rules.

Second, the presence of the charter sector as currently operated and regulated actively makes district schools worse off.  As Dr. Baker of Rutgers demonstrates, charter schools generally compete for demographic advantages over fully public schools.  They draw from a pool of applicants who are both attuned to the process and willing and/or able to participate in it.  Once students are admitted, many prominent charters, especially ones that get high praise from Governor Cuomo, engage in “substantial cream skimming” that results in their student populations being less poor, having fewer students on IEPs, and needing less instruction in English as a Second Language.  While charter operators deny engaging in these practices, well documented cases are available in the media.  Dr. Baker’s research confirms that when charter schools are able to do this, the district schools in the same community are left with student populations that more heavily concentrate the very populations of children that the charter schools are unwilling to accommodate.  Charter advocates then claim that they are getting “better” results with the “same” kids and protest loudly that they deserve a greater share of the finite resources available for schools, even when the costs of their transportation and building expenses are paid by the districts.

This isn’t just a sack racer versus a sprinter, then — the sprinter has slipped a couple of cinder blocks into his opponents’ sacks.  Teachers don’t mind that other schools may do things differently than they do in their own schools; they mind very much being berated for the results of system-wide neglect of their community schools, and they mind being negatively compared to schools that make their own rules and refuse to serve all children.

3) “Break…a public monopoly”

That we are poised to have a two term governor who describes New York’s public education system as “monopoly” is such a breath taking circumstance, that I am saddened beyond belief.  The common schools movement in this country was conceived of as an exercise in promoting the public good not merely in advancing individuals.  We wanted universal, compulsory, free education to serve the individual by promoting academic and economic merit as well by promoting the habits of mind and character that enrich a person’s experience in life.  We also wanted schools to promote the good of society by preparing individuals for the world of work beyond school and by preparing individuals to be thoughtful participants in our democracy who value civic virtues in addition to their own good.  For nearly two centuries, Americans have thought of public schools as the center of community civic life, something to be valued because it provides bedrock principles of democratic equality, and as our concept of democratic participation has expanded, so has our concept of plurality in schools.  From literacy for former slaves to women’s suffrage to incorporation of immigrants to tearing down White Supremacism and promoting civil rights, to inclusion of those with disabilities, to gender equality, to equal protection for LGBT citizens — our schools have helped us to reconceive our ideas of pluralism in every decade.

Schools have also stood as important symbols of our commitment to common aspects of our society that all have access to regardless of race, gender, or economic advantage.  There was a time in our nation’s history when we were dedicated not merely to building economic infrastructure, but also to building community, cultural, and natural infrastructure.  There are libraries, parks, museums, and publicly supported arts across our country that are testament to the belief that the world of knowledge, natural beauty, and the arts cannot be the sole province of the wealthy.  Public schools are part of that commitment, but to call them a “monopoly” reveals a mindset disregarding that heritage and which rejects it as a commitment to the future.  Does Governor Cuomo drive the New York Throughway and see a “public monopoly”?  Does he enter the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City whose entry fee is a suggested donation and see a “public monopoly”?  Does he want to “break up” the Franklin D. Roosevelt  and Watkins Glen State Parks?

What Governor Cuomo appears to believe is that education exists solely for the social mobility of individuals with no regard for the public purposes of education.  David Labaree of Stanford University posited in this 1997 essay, that the historic balance of purposes in education was already out of balance with current trends favoring education for individual social mobility far outweighing the public purposes of social efficiency and democratic equality.  Labaree was rightly concerned that if people only see education as the accumulation of credentials that can be turned in for economic advantage then not only will the civic purposes of education be swept aside, but also that the effort to accumulate the most valuable credentials for the least effort will diminish actual learning.  Governor Cuomo’s depiction of schools as a “public monopoly” only makes sense if he is mostly concerned with how education “consumers” accumulate valued goods from school, but discounts the essential services schools provide to our democracy.  It is an impoverished view that relegates school to just another mechanism to sort people in and out of economic advantage.

Governor Andrew Cuomo may not only be at war with teachers.  He may be at war with the very concept of public education.  If he does indeed win a second term on Tuesday, he must be opposed at every step of his distorted and dangerous ideas about our public schools.

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Filed under charter schools, politics, schools, Social Justice, teaching, Testing, Unions, VAMs

New York Gubernatorial Election 2014 – When The Other Guy Winning Isn’t The Worst Thing I Can Think Of

Barring some titanic shift in the likely voting population in the next 15 days, Governor Andrew Cuomo will be reelected to a second term in office.  Governor Cuomo leads his Republican challenger, Rob Astorino, by an average of 54% to 30% with Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins hovering below 10%.  This polling is not recent as races that have already been called do not get constant polling, but barring all undecideds breaking for Mr. Astorino and a significant portion of Hawkins and Cuomo voters “defecting” for the Republican, Mr. Cuomo is all but guaranteed reelection.

This is a galling situation for a governor who has campaigned in a manner that has utterly disdained political engagement with the public and with his rivals.  Despite having raised a $40 million campaign war chest, Mr. Cuomo has barely campaigned at all.  His choice to all but ignore challenger Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham Law School professor and expert on corruption, did not merely mean he refrained from any debates, but also he physically ignored her presence from less than four feet away:

Erica Orden of The Wall Street Journal asked Governor Cuomo if he had spoken with Ms. Teachout at the parade:

Governor Cuomo defeated Ms. Teachout in the primary, but she made a surprising showing of 35% with Democratic primary voters despite having less than $250,000 and practically no name recognition among voters.  One might have hoped that Governor Cuomo would take a surprisingly strong challenge as a message that voters want him to be more accountable, but the Governor’s dismissive attitude towards engaging in public discussion of his record in unscripted formats remains.  He has agreed to but one debate before the election, and he will have no debate where he and Mr. Astorino have the stage by themselves.  This means that voters will go to the polls in November never having seen the Governor debate a main challenger, either in the primary or the general election, one on one.  Voters in New York are more likely to see Andrew Cuomo promoting his new autobiography than they are likely to see him take the podium to discuss election issues with his rivals.

In addition to this being a shameful and arrogant slap to the role of voters in evaluating candidates for high office, Mr. Cuomo has quite a lot that he should have to answer before audiences of voters and the media.  In 2013, the Governor created the Moreland Commission to independently investigate corruption in Albany, supposedly making good on his promise to tackle the “deficit of trust” that existed between the government and the people of New York.  After less than a year of continuous interference from the Governor’s office whenever the commission got too close to his allies,  Governor Cuomo abruptly disbanded the commission.  Moreland’s birth announcement promised New Yorkers that “Anything they want to look at, they can look at — me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman.”  Governor Cuomo stated upon disbanding the commission that “It’s my commission. I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it’s mine. It is controlled by me.”  Despite the incredibly corrupt manner in which the Governor’s office interfered with a supposedly independent investigation into corruption, the New York electorate, while broadly accepting that it was wrong, has barely budged in its voting intentions based on the controversy.

This is tragic for New York, not only because it all but assures that Governor Cuomo can glide to reelection, but also because it indicates that voters are unwilling to factor such blatant corruption into our voting calculus.  Political scientists Dr. Martin Gilens of Princeton and Dr. Benjamin Page of Northwestern recently published a study indicating that the American political system does not fully reflect that of a democracy.  Instead they note that an elite cadre of economically powerful individuals and institutions wield the fruits of increasing income inequality to leverage policy regardless of the will of the general voting public. The New York Times’ current magazine issue has a lengthy  exposé on how billionaires, on both sides of the political divide, are wielding their financial power to become “their own political parties.”  The power of such influence on policy is supremely evident in Governor Cuomo’s tenure, especially in his taxation and education policies.

For example, Governor Cuomo does not merely support charter schools in New York. When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio sought to reign in their expansion after years of rubber stamp approval from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor Cuomo not only voiced his support, but also he played a direct role in orchestrating an Albany rally on the same day that Mayor de Blasio was seeking support for his efforts to make universal pre-kindergarten happen in the city.  The Governor then went on and negotiated a state budget that specifically forbids the city from charging charter schools rent.  While New York voters are not opposed to charter schools overall, it is important to note two largely hidden facts in this debate.  The first is that the charter sector which got such direct support from the governor still enrolls only a small portion of New York State and New York City students.  New York City’s approximately 83,200 charter school students represent less than 8% of all New York City public school students,  and given the sector’s penchant for winnowing out students who might be more difficult to teach or whose disabilities might lead to lower test scores, there is a built in limit even to their willingness to serve all students, no matter how much they cover themselves in grandiose promises.

Second, the Governor’s direct hand in engineering both the rally and state budget was not precisely random or driven by pure policy.  There was money, a lot of it, at issue.  As of January, 2014, supporters of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy chain alone, had donated over $400,000 to Governor Cuomo’s campaign, and Ms. Moskowitz’s own PAC had sent him $65,000.  In recent years, Wall Street money has been pouring into the charter school sector, and it has done so in no small part because money managers have figured how to use the tax code to turn charter school investments into a reliable stream of guaranteed money.  Beyond just the charter school segment, venture firms generally see America’s 750 billion a year expenditures on public education as the last public “honey pot” that they can try to monetize for private purposes.

So New Yorkers, there is your Governor: taking 100s of 1000s of dollars from the supporters of just ONE charter school chain, and jury rigging the state budget so that its investors can continue to secure more public money into entirely private hands.  And he has done this while simultaneously choking school districts across the state of critical state aid to the tune of $3-4 billion a YEAR in New York City alone.  This is the man we are poised to send back to the Governor’s Mansion for another 4 years.  No wonder students from Middletown High School in Orange County produced the following video:

Typical political wisdom at this point sighs, shrugs its shoulders, and laments that the “other guy” is even worse just before it either stays home and doesn’t vote or holds its nose to pull the lever for the incumbent.  In this case, the most viable “other guy” is Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.  New York Republicans have done a better job in selecting a candidate than they did in 2010 when they picked the entirely appalling Carl Paladino, but there are still substantive areas where Mr. Astorino is an unacceptable choice.  Mr. Astorino opposes abortion rights and gay marriage, despite his campaign assuring voters that he will not pursue substantive changes to existing state law.  Mr. Astorino has promised to withdraw New York from the Common Core State Standards and reduce the use of standardized tests for teacher and student evaluations if elected, but his education plan also calls for vouchers that can be used to send students to private or charter schools, which does nothing to slow down the transfer of public education money into private hands.

On the other hand, I cannot say that Albany with a Governor Astorino would be that much worse than one under a reelected Governor Cuomo.  Mr. Astorino is likely correct that he could do little in Albany to chip away at social issues where he is out of touch with New York voters, although that is not to say that he could do nothing at all.  It is also true that Governor Cuomo’s socially progressive accomplishments, while actually substantive, are not precisely areas where he took political risks. In 2011, New York support for same sex marriage was comfortably above 50% while opposition hovered around 35%.  Accomplishing same sex marriage in New York was a major victory for marriage equality, but the Governor did not risk his standing with voters to make it happen.  It worth noting that despite governing a state with a 27%  Democratic Party advantage in the electorate, the most progressive thing that Governor Cuomo has accomplished beyond marriage equality is hurting Sean Hannity’s feelings.

An Astorino victory could have two very positive outcomes.  First, it would signal to politicians seeking the Democratic nomination in races that they ignore liberal voters and kowtow to the entrenched money system that plagues our body politic at their peril.  As a liberal Democrat, I can tolerate elected officials more centrist than I am, but I cannot tolerate politicians who sell out the public good at the behest of billionaire donors with little regard for our state and national Commons.  Second, an Astorino victory could possibly embolden Democrats in Albany to do more than lay prostrate at the feet of the Governor’s office.  Andrew Cuomo is no doubt a brilliant political operator even if he is without his father’s rhetorical gifts.  What he has in abundance, however, is a willingness to threaten and place statewide Democrats in fear of angering him.  Is it possible that Assembly Democrats might see a Republican governor as an opportunity to advocate for their constituents instead of meekly to line up in fear of a governor who controls their party’s apparatus?  Possibly.  Is it likely?  I have no idea, but the exercise is worth considering.

With all of that said, will I pull the lever for Rob Astorino?  No, I will not.  If the Republican were within actual striking distance of Andrew Cuomo, I might consider the possibility of voting strategically, but since he is not, I intend to vote for the candidate who most represents my values, Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins.  It is possible that this makes me a part of the problem since my disdain for Governor Cuomo’s corruption will not lead me to vote for his most viable opponent in this race.  However, there are alternative fixes that need to be considered in future election cycles.

Money is buying policy.  There can be no doubt about that, but the officials who are bought when it comes to policy still have to stand for elections, and money does not always win at the polls.  Our corrupted government could be subjected to a slow and steady cleansing if politicians who consistently let themselves be bribed for the purpose of making policy were faced with robust and moderately financed challenges that more closely represent the wills of the voters.  Zephyr Teachout, with practically no campaign financing, an opponent and media that ignored her, and little name recognition, garnered 35% of the primary vote.  Imagine what a campaign with more time and even modestly raised financing from small donors (or – gasp! – fully public campaign funding) could have accomplished, but also it would take an electorate that is finally incensed about the state’s government swimming in what amount to endless bribes.

Further, labor unions, especially teacher’s unions, should take a much more principled stand in endorsements for candidates, especially on issues that directly effect teachers, schools, and students.  Playing along to have a seat at the table is no longer viable, and the New York State United Teachers union demonstrated this in the summer by refusing to endorse Andrew Cuomo for reelection.  It would have been better to have endorsed Zephyr Teachout, but this was a step in the right direction.  However, it needs to go further.  Unfortunately, the Connecticut Education Association has offered endorsement and campaign literature in support of Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy, whose education policies have been a reflection of Andrew Cuomo’s, even seeking to change the state school aid formula in a way that would cut state funding from districts like Hartford and New Haven.  Although Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has announced that she will not run against incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel as she recovers from cancer,  Mayor Emanuel only has a quarter of Chicagoans on his side on school issues, and he should face a robust challenge for the office. It is past time for unions to worry less about access to corrupted politicians and to help elect politicians who will put children and their teachers and schools ahead of the interests of billionaire profiteers.

It is at this point that some anti-union activists will scoff at the idea of cleaning up the corruption of money in politics with the assistance of unions.  After all, unions do spend money, often a lot of it, on political races, and unions collect large sums of cash from the dues of their memberships.  While true, this misses several important distinctions between union influence on politics and that of entirely private individuals.  Unions have monetary resources at their disposal, but they also have operating expenses, sometimes on behalf of memberships that number from the 1000s to the 100s of 1000s to the millions.  All of their cash cannot in practice flow into politics, while the personal wealth of a Michael Bloomberg or a David Koch stays in his bank account until it is donated.  Second, despite attempts to portray the situation otherwise, union political spending is being dwarfed by the flood of money from so-called “dark money” sources, and you have to ignore that spending to place unions at the top.  Unions regulated by the NLRB have to disclose all of their outside payments, but no such requirements exist for shell organizations set up to funnel undisclosed money into the system.  Regardless, Koch brother money alone in 2012 spent on PAC, individual candidates, and outside groups is estimated at over $400 million, which outstrips the top ten labor unions combined.  And that only reports money spent through foundations and nonprofits.  If recent patterns in spending are replicated this year, the 2014 election cycle may potentially reach as much as just under $1 BILLION in dark money.

To be sure, a reformed political system that brings the corruption of spending to bay will take a toll on union spending, but for the sake of their members and the students that they serve, the AFT and NEA must send notice that they will no longer trade a seat at the table for politicians who insist on trading their campaign contributions for sending billions of dollars of public education money into the hands of profiteers.

If voters listened, we might gain some of our democracy back — and our public education as well.

 

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Filed under charter schools, Common Core, Funding, Media, politics, Unions

Cuomo Lost My Vote, But Teachout and Wu Have Earned It

Back in April, I wrote extensively about how New York Governor Andrew Cuomo lost my vote, not merely in the primary but for any election he intends to run in, ever.  The upshot is that his treatment of public in education in New York State has been so harmful and so devious that it is obvious that he has no interest whatsoever in doing anything for schools other than acting at the behest of his donors.  Governor Cuomo’s budgets have strangled local school aid, and his tax policies have prevented districts from making up shortfalls.  His Common Core implementation has been overly disruptive, and his administration is enthusiastic about using poorly designed examinations to fuel statistically invalid evaluations of teachers.  The governor reached a breath-taking low in Eva Moskowitz’s campaign to prevent her charter school chain from having to pay rent in New York City, and the governor, as reported in the New York Times, did not merely stand by her — he actively made her rally in Albany against Mayor De Blasio happen.  Thanks to his efforts, the state budget REQUIRES New York City to pay Moskowitz’s rent even though her charter school chain is so flush with cash from hedge fund donors that she can unleash a multi-millon dollar attack campaign on almost no notice whatsoever.

All of this is tied fairly directly to the overlap of donors between Cuomo and the charter school market in New YorkCharter school investors have managed to make them work as an investment vehicle for themselves, and they have donated heavily to politicians who they believe will keep ordering more charters to open.  If you want to know how Governor Cuomo will decide on an education issue, you can save yourself the trouble and consult the wish list of “Democrats for Education Reform“, the astroturf organization set up by hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson mostly to put political pressure on Democratic politicians to support unfettered expansion of charter schools and to do so by funneling money donated from interests like the Walton Family Foundation through them and to candidates.

Is it any wonder that when the supposedly independent Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption actually dared to do its job that Governor Cuomo abruptly shut it down?

So Governor Cuomo cannot have my vote, but I am happy to say that Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu can, and for positive reasons, not simply as protest votes.  The reasons that I am voting for Teachout and Wu:

  • Teachout and Wu offer a positive vision of governance.  Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu endorse the vision of an “open democracy” that would enhance the values of our society and live up to the towering but often unfulfilled rhetoric of American inclusiveness.  America’s greatest stories are those when we have enlarged the franchise to embrace historically marginalized and ignored populations, and the Teachout/Wu ticket endorses this openly.
  • Teachout and Wu are not bought.  Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University shook up the political and pundit classes with their study that concludes the United States has become an oligarchy.  Their conclusion was based upon analysis that found policies were more likely to become law when backed by the small proportion of the population that wields economic power — even when such policies are disliked by super majorities of the voting population.  Governor Cuomo, as demonstrated by his public education policies, listens to the donors who can marshal 100s of 1000s of dollars for his campaign coffers even when it comes at the expense of properly funding our schools.  Having candidates like Teachout and Wu on the ballot allows voters to endorse representatives who are not bought and paid for by the current campaign finance system and who have pledged to change that system.  And despite the depressing conclusions about our current oligarchical trend, I see hope because money may sway policy, but it does not always sway elections.  If money always won at the ballot box, then Linda McMahon would be a United States Senator (twice), so voters still hold one power that gets elected officials to sit up and notice: the power to keep them from office via the vote.
  • Teachout and Wu have the expertise we need today.  Zephyr Teachout is a nationally recognized expert in government corruption.  Tim Wu is a fierce advocate of an open Internet and coined the expression “Net Neutrality.”  What are two of the most pressing issues for the future of our democracy?  Corruption and whether or not our digital infrastructure will remain a place of opportunity and equal access.  Unfortunately, our government is not listening to the experts on these issues, falling again for the advocacy of cash.  If the government will not listen to expertise, then it is perhaps time to place expertise in the government.
  • Teachout and Wu believe the education is a vital part of our national commons.  For the past dozen years, our education system has been warped far from its role to provide individual opportunity and to provide our citizenry with the knowledge and skills to fully participate in a democracy.  Current education “reforms” make education serve private interests and, preversely, private profit while claiming the mantra of civil rights and educational opportunity — even while they increase segregation and starve fully public schools of funds and resources.  Teachout and Wu see through that veil to the fundamental threat to public education and, by extension, to the threat to democracy itself.
  • Even if Teachout and Wu lose, we can win something important.  Governor Cuomo has ambitions.  There is little doubt in my mind that he sees the Oval Office in his future.  Given the version of corrupt, oligarchical politics that he represents, it is vital that he not cruise back into office in November.  If Teachout and Wu gain even a significant minority in the September 9th primary, Governor Cuomo’s armor will be tarnished on the national stage, and national Democrats will have to acknowledge that they cannot ignore the liberal vote in pursuit of unlimited campaign cash.  This is not as impossible a task for national Democrats as it may seem.  In poll after poll, the national electorate favors policies that are far more progressive than are politically viable because of the campaign financing system under which we currently suffer.  If voters finally refuse to vote for politicians tied to oligarchs instead of to the people, that can begin to change.
  • When I disagree with Teachout and Wu, the reasons do not make me angry: Governor Cuomo’s education policies are disastrous, and, worse, he arrived at them by doing the will of campaign donors who are serving their own interests.  I do not agree with Teachout and Wu on every single issue, but those positions are the results of their personal convictions and their study.  Those are differences with which I can discuss and for which I have respect.
  • Teachout and Wu dance while campaigning:

I am happy that I will be voting FOR Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu on September 9th.  If you are a Democrat in New York, I urge you to do the same.  We need to send a message.  We need to vote for values that truly resonate with our own.  We need to say that we demand better.

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