Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Qui Perdit?

As Speaker Shelly Silver teeters on the edge of irrelevancy, it's useful to think about who loses if he topples over. (1) NYSUT, I would think. SS would probably have been the wall that blocked the governor's proposed "reforms." Who's going to play that role now? Not Cathy Nolan, god knows. (2) Maybe Tom DiNapoli, whom Silver set on the Comptroller's throne and who doesn't seem to have many friends in the executive branch. (3) Fake Sheldon Silver, often a fun read. Who else? Maybe they have some ideas at The Albany Project.

Friday, January 23, 2015

In the Proud Tradition of Tammany

A very incomplete list highlighting just the past few years:

2008: Eliot Spitzer

2009: Tony Seminerio

2010: Hiram Monseratte, Pedro Espada, Alan Hevesi, David Paterson

2011: Carl Kruger

2012: Naomi Rivera, Shirley Huntley (The Year of the Woman)

2013: Vito Lopez, Nelson Castro, Malcolm Smith, John Sampson

2014: Tom Libous

2015: Sheldon Silver

LATER: The Buffalo News has a more complete list.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

NYS #SOTS2015: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Education-wise

I listened only to the education portion of the State of the State on my way to a meeting at TST. I'll have to listen to a rebroadcast or read a transcript to catch everything, but here are my first impressions.

The Good includes expanding pre-K to cover three-year-olds, although the amount of money attached is minimal. I'm not nearly as miserable as I expected to be with the charter plan, because it's vague and broad and actually requires charters to stop "creaming" (yeah, he said that), AKA skimming off the top kids and leaving behind English language learners, children with disabilities, etc.—and then using that creamy population to make wild claims about their own effectiveness. Adding 100 charters to the cap, when the original cap has yet even to be reached, does not distress me overmuch. And hooray for the Dream Act! Oh, and calling the current teacher evaluation plans "baloney" is actually rather kind. And I am in favor of expediting the 3020a disciplinary process for questionable teachers. And yeah, people who want to be teachers should be able to pass a literacy test, but it's not really clear what the State plans to do about the fact that one-third cannot.

The Bad includes his usual blather about how throwing money at the problem doesn't help. He talked about the division between rich and poor as though money were somehow not an issue. He wants to use the MA model for failing schools—having them taken over by not-for-profits, other districts, or turnaround experts. Not sure how it's working out in MA, and in fact, it may be too soon to tell. But I remember Edison Schools (NOT a nonprofit organization) and what a mess THAT was. It did earn founder Chris Whittle a nice little place in East Hampton, and he somehow survived, but it was a scandal and hurt more kids than it helped. And when the governor talks about the Bureaucracy of Education, I am not sure who's involved. Just the unions? Administration and unions? Organizations like NYSSBA and NYSCOSS? The Regents? Whoever it is, he just hates it. It would be nice to have a definition.

The Ugly Well, the part that will cause the greatest uproar will be the laser-like focus on teachers. Scrapping the evaluative APPR, which took so long to negotiate, and replacing it with 50% state tests and 50% classroom observations will make the unions see red. So will extending tenure to five years of effective or highly effective ratings. So will assuming that teachers booted for ineffective ratings are guilty until proven innocent—he wants them to prove their scores were invalid or get out. And here's a question: How does a school predict how many "highly effective" teachers they will have in a given year so that they can budget those $20K bonuses accordingly?

Strangely omitted from the speech: Anything on consolidation, which was his Big Thing in years past. Anything about the new Pathways to Graduation. Anything about supporting schools that are engulfed by onrushes of immigrant children. Anything on equity.

Friday, January 16, 2015

NYS Senate Wants to Eliminate Regents

It's not often that you see one branch of the legislature cede power willingly to another, but that seems to be the plan of the NYS Senate, which has introduced another bill to abolish the Board of Regents and put education policy in the hands of a Commissioner to be nominated by the Governor. (What do you suppose they are getting in return?)

While I do believe the Board of Regents is an antiquated system (which seems to be why the Speaker likes it, according to his quote in the article), I'm even less in favor of having governors in charge of education in the state. At least the Regents have tried to convince the governor of the need for more equitable distribution of funding, and at least they accept the counsel of District Superintendents statewide. Make the governor the commissioner's puppet master, and not only will we see major swings in education policy (and a new commissioner) every time there's a new governor, but also we will see education truly politicized, without the meager checks and balances that currently exist.

Gubernatorial control of education is happening all over, not just in NYS. Deval Patrick in MA made a grab in 2008, establishing a Secretary of Education cabinet post over which he had control. Other states are in a power struggle similar to the one that's about to happen here. This map is from 2009 and shows where governors had full control back then. But more important is this chart, which indicates that governors in many states with boards of education (like our Regents) often have full control over who gets appointed to those boards.

It's good to be the king. Not so good for Commissioner King, who is on his way to DC. What do you want to see in the next Commissioner? Something like this?

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Gathering Storm

The battle set to occur over public education in NYS reminds me of the strife in Syria, if only because there are no clear good guys. I am not a fan of the Board of Regents, whose fuzzy if well-meaning Good Ideas tend to translate into crippling unfunded mandates. I am not a fan of the Governor, whose lack of experience with public schools is matched only by the lack of experience of the members of his last Education Commission. I am not a fan of the unions, who have foolishly demonized the new standards and have too often fought tooth-and-nail to protect their worst instead of helping to raise them up or kicking them to the curb. In fact, sort of like with Syria, I am only on the side of the children, who are ill-served by everyone else in the battle and have neither voice nor power.

Cuomo's first shot across the bow in the most recent dust-up was his letter to the Commissioner and the Chancellor (or rather Director of State Operations Jim Malatras's letter on his behalf). Malatras ordered both to respond rapidly to his list of questions so that the Governor might include their ideas in his State of the State. The tone was brusque and not a little inappropriate—the Regents and their hire, the Commissioner, serve at the pleasure of the legislature, not the executive branch.

But despite the chill, the Chancellor responded as requested, whipping out a quick 20 pages on teacher evaluation systems, removal of poorly performing teachers, teacher training and certification, incentives for high-performing teachers, struggling schools, charter schools, technology and virtual learning, mayoral control of schools, the selection process for the Board of Regents and the replacement of the Commissioner, and school funding. Not surprisingly, the Regents are happy with their own selection process and their plan to choose a new Commissioner. They are fine with having the Mayor of NY run those schools but think extending mayoral control should be a local decision. They are okay with charter schools but suggest that the cap be raised in NYC, where there's strong demand—and that the state close charters that do not improve performance or provide equal opportunity. They think the school finance system continues to be inequitable. They are pretty happy with recent changes to teacher certification exams (which are, on the whole, much tougher than anything that existed 10 or 20 years ago). They point out that teacher evaluation is determined locally by negotiation, but they do suggest a variety of changes in the law that could add rigor. They suggest that removal of bad teachers takes forever due to the outsourcing of hearing officers, and that 3020-a reviews would move much faster if there were a State Office of Administrative Review.

Chancellor Tisch also managed to squeeze in comments at the end about school segregation and the DREAMers Act, neither of which the Governor's office mentioned. That racial and economic segregation and educating immigrants was not even on the executive branch's radar shows how removed the Governor and his people are from the day-to-day life of schools. Today's editorial in the NYT calls segregation and funding inequality the "heart of the matter" when it comes to the crisis in education today. It reminds the people who run our state that they owe the schools about $5.6 billion a year above what they've been paying. It points out that "New York State, which regards itself as a bastion of liberalism, has the most racially and economically segregated schools in the nation."

Do you think that might have something to do with low graduation rates, poor test scores, demands for charters, etc.? Is it possible that the problems in schools directly reflect the underlying problems in our increasingly unbalanced, unjust society? Nah, let's just juggle some percentages on our teacher evaluation forms and call it substantive reform.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

R.I.P.

I hadn't long been back in the region when our Dem Chair took me to an event where Mario Cuomo was speaking. He talked about "Why I Am a Democrat," and by the end, I was a forever fan, despite having been turned off by earlier encounters in NYC during the Cuomo v. Koch years. I wish that speech were captured somewhere, anywhere—bits and pieces of it appear in other speeches, but I would love to read and reread the whole. I wept, and then I was a complete blithering idiot when I got to shake his hand, but his words stirred me like no live speech has before or since.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gobsmacked

We'd already been shocked by Obama's opening of Cuban relations and Sony's closing of The Interview, and while I knew the health report on fracking was due out yesterday, I never imagined it wouldn't be followed by dithering, with the best possible outcome being a split decision: You guys who like fracking can frack; you other guys can sit around and watch. Well, I was wrong. Phillip Anderson of The Albany Project has the best synopsis of how local grassroots action led to a statewide ban. The IJ today points out Dryden's role in the decision.

To call the decision not to frack gamechanging is to minimize it. Not only does it set a precedent for other states on the fence (Maryland, Michigan, etc.), but it also pulls the rug out from under a lot of NYS politicians for whom this issue, pro or con, has been the bellwether. Here's hoping that a lot of that grassroots energy that underwrote the ban can be turned gently toward related issues of climate change and green technologies. Meanwhile, those of us who have built up calluses of cynicism are starting to crack and soften with this vindication of the more sanguine activists who led the way.