Monday, March 30, 2015

Required Reading

Before you buy the argument that the flap over Indiana's "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" is just about bad timing, read this. It is not identical to other such laws.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Cost of Charters

Just in case you think that charters don't really siphon money from the public schools, I learned last night that Dryden is sending 27 students to New Roots at a cost of $309,000, close to 1% of the district's budget. Enrollment data from the state indicate that the 2013-14 enrollment at New Roots was 150, which means that Dryden supplies 18% of the kids, a high number. The district doesn't really know why students are choosing New Roots; there are many possible reasons. But as Paul pointed out, it's worth finding out; with $309,000 a year (maybe less following start-up costs), Dryden could provide a mini school-within-a-school program that would keep kids in the district and perhaps meet their needs. And with the oversight that the district could provide, those kids might actually learn something and graduate.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Required Reading

Utterly believable and terribly depressing. An excellent recap of the buying of ed policy in NYS.

Putting it more explicitly, Jonathan Westin of the labor-backed New York Communities for Change, argues the main point of the hedge fund–backed education reform push is thus "about shaping and controlling the public school system so that they will continue to get away with not paying hundreds of millions in taxes."

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lobbying in Lansing

Statewide, Governor Cuomo’s approval rating is 50 percent. It’s safe to say that among the several hundred parents, teachers, administrators, and school board members in attendance at the March 19th “Because We Care” rally at Lansing Middle School, that number hovered closer to zero.

The rally in Lansing was one of dozens around the state planned for this budget season to protest Cuomo’s linkage of school funding to teacher evaluations and charter school numbers, among other proposed changes in state education. Other issues on the floor included eliminating the gap elimination adjustment (the money removed from every district’s state aid allocation to help offset the state’s revenue shortfall) and phasing out standardized tests as a means of measuring students, teachers, schools, and districts.

Many of the participants wore red t-shirts reading “Respect Public Education: It Works.” Signs read “Education Cuts Don’t Heal” and “Your ZIP Code Should Not Dictate the Quality of Your Education.” One presenter wore a t-shirt with a picture of Governor Cuomo and the word WRONG.

Dr. Matteson of TST BOCES addresses the rally

The Political View

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton started the evening off with bad news about the budget. Although the Senate and Assembly proposals for education were fairly close at $1.9 and $1.8 billion, reality had sunk in, and the money for that large an increase was simply not there. A more likely number was perhaps $1.4 billion. “We’re intentionally broke,” said Lifton, citing the recent cutting of taxes and failure to use the surplus or cash settlements from major financial forms to fund education. “In reality, we’re a wealthy state.”

She went on to say that there is “no political will in Albany” to impose a small tax on New York’s wealthiest citizens to increase school funding, and that the governor is “digging in his heels” on his proposed changes. Court decisions such as Silver v. Pataki (2004) give the governor tremendous power over the budget, and the legislature is disempowered. Although there were cheers from the audience for the idea of a complete government shutdown, Lifton warned that in such a case, no one who works for the state in any capacity would get paid. She deplored the “brinksmanship” that has brought the state to such a point.

Joseph Sempolinski represented Congressman Tom Reed’s office at the event and earned a laugh when he pointed out that the governor has “produced a unity we don’t often see.” Calling public education “the backbone of democracy,” he opined, “If you’re going to make educational policy, listen to the people who do it every day.”

Funding Inequities

Irene Stein, chair of the Democratic Rural Conference, spoke about her conference’s focus on school funding inequities, saying that “Every child needs the same pathway and ladder to a successful life.” Her concerns were echoed by Jeffrey Evener, who appeared both in his roles as the principal of Lansing Middle School and the Mayor of the Village of Groton.

“Poor students,” Evener said, “bear the brunt of the gap elimination adjustment.” He pointed out that Groton, a high-needs district with 25 percent special education population and 0.531 combined wealth ratio (where 1.0 is average in New York State), had lost $5.9 million to the gap elimination adjustment, leading to cuts in teachers, coaches, mental health services, and academic intervention services for students falling through the cracks.

Blaming the Schools

Don’t blame the schools for high costs, chided ICSD School Board Member Brad Grainger, pointing to the mandates that both state and federal government have piled on schools without offering a means to fund them. “We expect our government to be our partners, not our critics,” he added.

“The governor,” said Chris Pettograsso, superintendent of Lansing Central School District, “should thank us for our resiliency.” She insisted that it was not true that schools were failing; teachers were still teaching against all odds, with less and less support.

Jamie Dangler, Vice President for Academics of United University Professions and a board member of NYSUT, got a huge round of applause when she listed the ways in which she believed the governor was wrong, especially in his denigration of professional educators. “We’re educators,” she reminded the governor. “We’re willing to educate you to do what’s right.”

“Teachers are not the enemies of education,” said Trumansburg parent and teacher's aide Jody Latini. “Poverty is the enemy of education… Teachers are our best hope in combatting the enemies of education.”


Many in the room had objections to standardized testing—the amount of it, the use of it to rate teachers and schools, and the connection to publishing giant Pearson. “Support limitless learning, not endless testing!” cried Lansing Faculty Association president Stacie Kropp to loud applause.

Local Control

Keeping education local and out of the hands of politicians and profiteers was a theme throughout the evening. TST BOCES District Superintendent Jeffrey Matteson pointed to the history of America’s 373 years of public education and said that local control was worth preserving. Quoting Woodrow Wilson, he insisted that “not all change is progress,” and he ended by asserting, “I don’t want my granddaughter’s education subject to the whims of those seeking to make a profit off of her.”

Sarah Vakkas, Director of Instruction for Trumansburg Central Schools, thought that the governor was misconstruing his obligation. “Instead of feeling responsible for students,” she said, “the governor needs to feel responsible for funding education.”

Director of Curriculum Adam Bauchner of Dryden Central Schools pointed to some bright spots in current educational trends, but he admitted that they meant little when Dryden was forced this year to propose a budget with zero dollars for classroom supplies. “Decisions about how we want to use our dollars,” he said, “are not aligned to our values.”

Fighting Back

Along with a petition drive, organizers of the evening’s event suggested other ways to fight against the governor’s budget proposal. “We need to be brave,” said Adam Piesecki, president of the Ithaca City School District’s Teacher’s Association. “The future is counting on us.” One parent invited the crowd to join the anti-GEA movement by signing up with SOS Election Boosters on Facebook (

“Resist, refuse, and rebel!” cried Trumansburg Board of Education member John White to loud cheers from the crowd. And Lee Howard Adler from Cornell’s ILR School echoed that emotion by telling the audience to take to the streets, with picket lines at State Senators’ offices and coalitions of police, fire, and other public employees.

The event ran long, and there was no time for questions, but everyone left with a little orange slip encouraging them to call their state senators, connect to NYSUT, talk to friends and colleagues, and contact the governor.

The constitutional deadline for the budget is April 1. Speaking for myself, I'm more confident in my picks for the Final Four than I am in the likelihood of an on-time budget in this contentious year.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Reading List

Heartbreaking. And gorgeous.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Floridian Thoughtcrime

'You think, I daresay, that our chief job is inventing new words. But not a bit of it! We're destroying words—scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. We're cutting the language down to the bone... Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?'

No, that's not Florida Governor Scott telling his troops to ban the terms "climate change" and "global warming" in all government correspondence, although it could be. Nor is it the NYC Council arguing over the use of "bitch" and "ho." It's the venomously orthodox Syme talking to Winston in George Orwell's 1984.

Syme understands that if you curtail language properly, you limit the range of thought and eliminate the possibility of thoughtcrime. In Florida, admitting human's control over climate is thoughtcrime. In Oklahoma, suggesting that America is unexceptional is thoughtcrime. In South Carolina, putting together the words "evolution" and "fact" is thoughtcrime.

1984 was 31 years ago, but some states are just catching up.

Required Reading

The Selma speech. Favorite parts: Equating immigrants crossing the Rio Grande with Soviet defectors, name-checking of American authors, reference to "airbrushed history," reminder of what it means "to love America," vote-shaming those who "casually discard the right for which so many fought."

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Post Selma: How Are We Doing?

Selma was about a specific cause: The right to vote. Having worked so hard to gain that right, first for white male landowners, then for African-Americans, then for women, you'd think we'd do better than we do at actually exercising it. Countries in Europe manage to hit 80 percent voter turnout. Here, we manage 60 percent only in presidential years. Obama's candidacy led to a quick growth in African-American and youth voting, but turnout fell with enthusiasm by 2012.

We have all kinds of excuses for failing to vote, and there is no doubt that current rule changes, particularly in Southern states, make voting harder for the poor and the elderly. But just about 25 percent of those eligible to vote are not even registered to vote, taking them out of the statistics entirely. We can blame the system for that if we like—same-day registration should be an option in this mobile society, and we need to modernize the process. I still have people on my voting lists who died or moved years ago. But ultimately, it comes down to individual choice and thus individual responsibility. If you don't vote because you think America doesn't represent you, well, that's the definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy, isn't it?

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Great and Scandalous Email Flap

Who doesn't use government email but should? Most of our local school boards, including mine. Most legislators in a nearby county. Who sometimes uses government email when he or she shouldn't (as for personal contacts or campaign-related issues)? Just about every politician I know, at one time or another.

Who knew that Hillary Clinton was using private email for government correspondence? Anyone who received an email from from 2009 to 2013. Why is this just being made public now? You tell me. Was Clinton's email more or less vulnerable to hackers? Ask Wikileaks, which published plenty of emails but none from Why are so many people who should know better pretending that a policy was a law? Again, you tell me.