Opportunities Vs. Limitations

When I started as principal of Shaker Junior High School, it is safe to say that my beliefs, philosophies, objectives were not completely formed.  After all, my previous experience had been limited to one school, so I did not have any exposure to different district climates and expectations.  I was inheriting many existing programs and was in no position to analyze the effectiveness of those programs or even the need for any of them.  Thus, I felt an obligation to maintain them, which, given my lack of knowledge of alternatives, was rational and appropriate.

At that time we had one section of an enriched 7th grade math class that we called “Math Lab”.  This class was for the top level math students.  It was more demanding and would better meet the math instructional needs of these kids than would our regular math 7 program.  As would be expected, there were criteria that had to be met by students for them being considered for inclusion into this class.  Students who successfully completed Math 7 Lab, which was all of them given the rigorous selection criteria, would then take Algebra, an accelerated 9th grade Regents class, as 8th graders.  I, of course, believed that my task was to make sure that only those students who qualified for the class were included in it.  We didn’t want to “water down” the intensity or the expectations of the program and we didn’t want to include students who would be in over their heads.

Inevitably, I was contacted by a parent of a student who didn’t meet our established our criteria.  In my discussions with the parent, I made it clear what our criteria were for inclusion, pointing out where his son fell short.  He countered that his son was a very good math student, received top grades in 6th grade and wasn’t a particularly good test-taker, hence his failure to meet one or two of our entrance criteria.  I didn’t disagree at all, as his son appeared to be a very good math student, but the criteria were established for specific reasons and I would not allow his son into the program.  Part of my reasoning was that once you did so for a student, you could not say “no” to others.  If this was allowed to happen, you would quickly lose the Math Lab and would have a program that didn’t even closely resemble it…and, we would have students in an enriched program who struggled, who were better served being in the regular math program.

The father was not persuaded, believing that his son would be up to the task, and he asked me who he could call to appeal my decision.  I told him he should contact our superintendent.

I remember my resulting conversation with the superintendent very clearly.  It was short.  He asked me my reasoning for denying the boy enrollment in Math Lab.  I explained my perspective.  While he clearly understood where I was coming from, he asked me whose interests were being served by adhering so tightly to the criteria.  I told him we were working to protect the integrity of the program.  He wondered why?  I countered with including students who may not be able to handle the pace, the content, and the homework expectations.  He asked why I was concerned about that when the parent was not, when all other characteristics displayed by the boy in his previous years indicated he was a very good student?  I didn’t have a good answer to that.

He said that our job, especially at the junior high level, was to open up doors for students, not shut them.  We should be pushing kids to take advantage of realistic opportunities, not discouraging them from reaching.  He also said to enroll the boy.

The conversation turned out to be pivotal for me.  He was right, not because of his position, because he could have just told me to enroll the boy and not bothered with the discussion.  His reasoning, and philosophy for educating adolescents, reflected what we should be providing for students.  I took his comments to heart, thought a lot about them, especially given that initially I did not feel that I was being supported.  I discussed my developing thoughts with colleagues.  Most understood and agreed.  The math department did not.  They saw my thinking as the beginning of the end for our enriched and accelerated programs.

I quickly came to believe, no, to understand, that our responsibility is to put students into positions where they are challenged appropriately.  We should indeed provide students with opportunities to grow, not to limit them to only those programs that we know they can be successful in.  Specifically, in math this translated into giving more incoming 7th grade students the opportunity to take the more challenging math course of study.

On my end, I began to broaden our enriched and, thus, accelerated programs.  As I wrote, when I began at SJHS there was one Math 7 Lab section; consequently there was only one accelerated 8th grade algebra class.  That meant that only about 30 students, or 6-7% of our grade level enrollments, had the opportunity to earn a high school credit in algebra in 8th grade.  A similar situation existed in science, with only one section of accelerated Regents level earth science provided in grade 8.

Today, the climate couldn’t be more different.  We now enroll 30-33% of our incoming 7th graders in our enriched math 7 classes.  Some students realize that they are not quite ready for the work load so there’s expected drop-off, but we have between 25-30% of our 8th graders taking accelerated Regents level algebra.  In science, we enroll approximately 25% of 7th graders in our enriched 7th grade science program and have between 20-25% enrolled in Regents earth science in grade 8.  We also offer acceleration opportunities in studio art, foreign language and pre-engineering.  Our philosophy is one of inclusion not exclusion.  And we are a much better school because of it.

And that’s my perspective.

Posted in Administrative Experiences, Communication in Schools, School Climate, Student Characteristics | Leave a comment

Learning To Be A Principal: Lesson #7

I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I’ve only experienced seven lessons in my years long development as a principal.  Far from it!  It sounds like a cliché, but you learn from people and experiences on a very regular basis.  And many more of the learning experiences are based on positive actions of people rather than negative.  But, there are a few experiences in my career, just like in anyone’s, that stand out, events that provided a learning experience beyond the typical.  I’ve shared six such experiences in my blog to date, here’s another.

If you’ve read my previous posts, especially the six entitled “Learning To Be A Principal,” you know that when I was hired as principal here at Shaker JHS there was a small group of experienced teachers who were, to say the least, not interested in me messing with the status quo.  In fact, they openly battled against any initiatives or changes in practice that interfered with their visions of how our school should operate.  They were difficult and I was able to sustain our efforts despite theirs given the support I received from some other faculty members, my two hall principals, and my assistant superintendent.

The ringleader of the outlaws was a science teacher I’ll call Bert, changing his name for some reason I don’t think is any longer necessary.  Bert had taught the same courses for his entire 20+ year teaching career at SJHS.  He was the most vocal of the antis and he was the one who most often tried to intimidate me with threats of grievances, plans to have the staff evaluate me, chiming in with his opinions on most thing raised at faculty meetings, and negatively influencing his more timid colleagues into not embracing needed changes.

It was about my fifth year as principal and I had a science opening at the grade level not taught by Bert.  My immediate choice was to move Bert to the opening, knowing that he would not want to do it, that he would fight being moved and that I was pretty much doing this to get him back for the problems he had caused me.  But, I believed the move was solid instructionally and, more than just getting even with Bert, I would be sending a clear message to the rest of his group and to the entire faculty.  That message was that despite the problems these teachers had created, they would not prevail, they would not be the ones determining the directions our building was pursuing.  Order would be restored in everyone’s minds.  My assistant superintendent agreed with me, and supported my approach.

Being thoughtful, I sent a note to the science department members asking if anyone was interested in moving to the open position.  Surprise, no one wanted to move.  So, instead of waiting to see who we hired, I informed Bert that he would be moved to the opening, leaving his comfortable surroundings for the first time in his career at our school.  He was not happy and he immediately filed a grievance.  The grievance procedure followed its mandated contractual steps, including a meeting with me and a subsequent meeting with the superintendent.  At both of these meetings the grievance was denied, with both myself and the superintendent citing as reasons the district’s right to assign staff as deemed appropriate and the educational benefits of moving a veteran staff member into this position.

The next step in the grievance process was an appeal to the Board of Education, which was made.  The meeting was held and the BOE supported the decision to move Bert, denying the grievance.  During the appeal hearing, unfortunately, colleagues of Bert lied about the process followed.  One, Fred, even said that he was interested in moving, he had just never been asked.

Well, imagine Fred’s dismay when the district’s attorney pulled out the note I sent to the teachers asking for volunteers!  Fred was forced to admit that he was “mistaken”, he had been asked and had not responded.  I believe the BOE was going to deny the grievance anyway, but the deliberate lie sealed the deal.  And it certainly hurt the credibility of the teachers involved and the teachers association.

The last step, yes, grievances can go on for a long time, was appealing the decision to binding arbitration.  You’d think the teachers association would have seen the writing on the wall, but they moved blindly ahead.  We received the decision shortly after filing our response to the appeal.  We were upheld.  Districts have the right to assign teachers as deemed necessary, seniority is not the determining factor, at least per our teachers’ contract language.  Bert now had to finally accept my decision.

It was a drawn-out process that was observed by all.  But we had stuck to our objectives, not being deterred by the association’s efforts.  Bert was changing job assignments, the outlaw posse was put in its place, my authority had been validated, it was clear to all that I had the support of the district, and our school moved forward.  The negatives became a lot less vocal and visible and the situation was soon forgotten by most.

And that’s my perspective.

Posted in Administrative Experiences, Communication Clarity in Schools, Communication in Schools, Ethics in Schools, School Climate | Leave a comment

Measles: A Good Opportunity For Thought

In New York State, which is probably similar to other states, parents must demonstrate that their children have received certain required inoculations for enrollment in school.  The proof is provided typically by the children’s doctors who will provide a record of the inoculations received.  This requirement, that kids be inoculated against several childhood diseases, was put in place years ago as a matter of public health.  What better way to insure that children are vaccinated then placing the burden on schools.  All kids have to attend school, so schools are the best place to build in a check system to monitor that kids are indeed being inoculated.  If a parent attempts to enroll a child and the records are not available, or are incomplete, or show that the child has not received all required inoculations, the school then takes on the mission of ensuring that it’s done.  The child will quickly receive the needed vaccinations and good public health is maintained.

I’ve been around a while and I well remember the inoculations I received as a child.  I can’t say I remember them all, but I remember many of them.  I can even remember one time where all of us kids were inoculated in school.  We were all taken to the gym where we were all given a shot for something, what it was I cannot remember.  I was a kid so I wasn’t involved in adult discussions about these preventative measures, but I don’t remember having any classmates who did not receive the inoculations.  We all got them.  Because of the serious effects of diseases such as chicken pox, diphtheria, measles, pertussis, and others, our national and state health organizations realized that the only way to lessen or eliminate certain childhood diseases was via a program of required inoculations.  If all kids are inoculated against a specific disease, like measles, eventually the disease will no longer surface, and in effect it will be eradicated.  The idea was, and continues to be, solid, rational, and certainly beneficial to the entire population.  The conscious move to eliminate specific childhood diseases was successful…until now.

The recent outbreak of measles, which began at Disney World in California but has since spread to 13 states, should serve as a reminder to us all why required inoculations are needed.  I don’t think you’d find any dissent from the medical field; probably to a person they believe that good public health demands it.  No, where the problem lies, and where it typically lies, is at the feet of legislators.  I’ve written before about legislators meddling in fields, particularly education, in which they have certainly no expertise and even less knowledge.  But, legislators have allowed this public health priority to become something a lot less, to the degree that we now have an outbreak of a childhood disease that was once considered to be eradicated…and you can bet that it won’t be the last.

How have legislators done this, you ask?  By allowing parents to opt their children out of these required immunizations.  I know, you’re incredulous, you’re wondering why they would ever do such a thing.  And to that question I can only respond, because they don’t possess the moral fiber to take a stand, to tell individuals that their personal beliefs need to take a back seat to the public good.  Because they don’t want to be accused of not respecting individuals’ rights, doing so could cost them votes.  Because there wasn’t a problem, so what was the harm?  Guess you could call that a lack of foresight, another common affliction of law makers.  (There’s an idea…if only there were immunizations for legislators that prevented them from acquiring the common legislative maladies of no spine, no insight, thinking they know more than experts, the list goes on…)

A few years back I received a request from a parent of a new entrant requesting an exemption from the required immunizations.  The loophole that legislators created allows parents to request an exemption based on their own “personally held religious beliefs.”  The materials presented to me by the parent included nothing from an organized “religion” or church, or recognized theory of religion that I could discern.  I denied the request, fully realizing that a principal in a previous school had consented to the same request.  The parent appealed my denial to the (then, since retired) superintendent.  We met to discuss the request and my reasons for denying it.  The parent quoted several verses from the Bible that she believed supported her view.  I asked her if she ate pork.  She looked at me with a questioning look and said that, of course, she did.  I asked her if she realized that in the Bible it specifically states that pork should not be eaten.  (Not the same wording, the Bible discusses meat from beasts with cloven hooves.)  I also noted that she had a short haircut, and the Old Testament clearly forbids women from cutting their hair.  I pointed out that the Bible includes many things that are no longer relevant because of changes in health practices today, that taking an isolated quote out of context from a passage does not a mandate make.  I made my point; unfortunately the past superintendent chose not to fight the battle.  The exemption was granted.

Really?  We’re allowing a potential health risk out of deference to someone’s personal thoughts on the subject?  There are people who believe that a link exists between inoculations and autism, despite very clear science that affirms there is no such link.  So now someone only has to say that their opposition to immunizations is based on a personal religious belief, quote a couple of Bible verses, and they get their exemption, and expose their un-inoculated child to the general population (including medically fragile children who are unable to get vaccinations and are at the greatest risk).  And our state legislators are ok with this?

And that’s not just my perspective…

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Cuomo Continues His Assault On Public Education

What is with this guy? Public education is a necessary institution and it has served well the vast (and I mean vast!) majority of New Yorkers for as long as it’s been in place. I realize that there are people who are products of private education (Cuomo being one of them) who prefer the private route to the public. But private schools aren’t accessible to the masses and some, in fact, are quite exclusive. Public education fills the needs of most New York children and, thus, the needs of New York State. Why then would our governor, the self-proclaimed advocate for the children/students of our state, continue to work to undermine this necessary system?

Mentioned in his State of the State address was a reference to an education tax credit (ETC) of which I, probably like most New Yorkers, was unfamiliar. In effect, the ETC, which is currently in place in 13 state, would allow Individuals and corporations to claim a state tax credit for donations made to nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships to private and religious schools. On the surface it seems like not so bad an idea. But think of the larger picture and what this could lead to.

A wealthy individual, perhaps someone who supports religious education, makes a large donation to a specific organization. This individual would then receive a dollar for dollar credit on their state taxes. So far, that seems fair. But this organization that received the donation then turns the money into scholarships for x number of students to attend religious schools. In effect, the state, via a tax credit, would be subsidizing private and religious education. I would assume that these donations could also turn into an additional benefit for the donors; a charitable contribution for federal taxes. Donors would have a double benefit, a state tax credit and a federal tax deduction and both the state and federal government would be directly supporting private and religious schools…when their obligations are to public schools.

Just taken at face value, this seems contrary to the idea of supporting public education. Dollars are scarce, and this ETC would take money away from both the state and the federal governments. More specifically, taking money out of the state coffers via state tax credits will harm public education. There will be less to spread around among the many often competing interests in NY State. Also, publicizing the increased number of scholarships that will become available will draw more students away from public schools. This bodes ill for these students, as private and religious schools do not have to adhere to the same curricular and credit earning mandates as public schools do. While there are certainly some very good private/parochial schools, that is not typically the case.

Cuomo and his acolytes are pushing the program as an opportunity for poor students to attend private and/or religious schools, but the experience of the 13 states that currently have an ETC paint a different picture. According to an Op-Ed piece, “Tax credit could drain education”, in the January 29 edition of the Albany Times Union, statistics assembled by the Friedman Foundation (look it up, it is an organization working to undo public education) indicate “…the average scholarship is $990, but the Center for Education Reform puts the average private school tuition at $8549. So, the scholarships are only viable for families able to make up the difference.” Clearly, that does not include your typical poor family.

No, Cuomo is continuing his vendetta against public schools. Not only is he currently holding all public schools across the state hostage by not allowing state aid runs to provide districts with needed budget building information, now he wants to attack from another direction, quietly undermining the appropriate use of tax dollars while continuing to promote non-public school education.

It is not surprising that Cuomo did not make a big deal of pushing the ETC in his annual speech, I’m sure he would prefer to work the backrooms and alleyways that pass for our legislature and coerce members to get on board, unfortunately a skill he possesses in abundance. Wasn’t the timing of the break of the whole mess with Sheldon Silver, a public school supporter, of course, convenient? Just during budget time when Cuomo is getting vocal pressure from legislators to increase aid to schools…one can only wonder.
So, voice your concern about the ETC…it is yet another attempt to undermine public education while providing a boost for private/parochial schools. Cuomo has become, unfortunately and to all of our chagrin, the “Private School Advocate.”

And that’s my perspective.

Posted in Administrative Experiences, Communication in Schools, Education Legislation, Education Reform, Life Experiences, School Climate, SED Regulations | Leave a comment

Why I Won’t Be The Next Commissioner

With King leaving the state’s top education post, a vacancy exists, of course.  The NY State Education Department needs to have a person at the top, someone filling the commissioner’s position.  Looking at the responsibilities from my perspective, which I realize may be somewhat limited, I think I could handle them pretty well.  I believe that a building principal’s position is the best position to prepare any educator for leading a district or an education agency.  You deal with so many of the same things as a building principal that you will as a superintendent or commissioner that you are ready to face anything.  I also have to be realistic, however, and look at the other qualities that the Regents may be looking for in the next commissioner.  I should add that these are qualities the governor may also find desirable, as with the cloud hanging over our state legislature he may be able to step into the vacuum and exert undue pressure.

So in looking at some of the personal experiences and characteristics of our recently departed commissioner I offer the following reasons why I am qualified for the job, but would never be considered.

I’m a product of (mostly) public education.  My elementary, middle and high schools, all in the same building, were in a public school district.  My BA, MA and Ph.D. were all earned at public (SUNY) colleges.  (Only my second Masters degree, in educational administration, was from a private college, St. Lawrence University.)  I never attended a Montessori school, or a private boarding school, or an Ivy League school, or any other private school up through grade 12.  I value public education and see its tremendous worth and advocate for it.  If I had kids I can honestly say that they, also, would be public school students.  They did well by me, they would do well by my kids.

I’ve taught.  I taught for ten years.  Mathematics, grades 7-12, in a rural public school.  I worked with the top students (AP calc) and I worked with individuals and classes of students who struggled.  I know what it takes to motivate and push good students.  I also know how to cajole and push, in a different way, students who have difficulty with not only math, but with learning in general.  I worked with kids whose parents did not value education, for whom academic achievement was a foreign term and who didn’t put any value in it.  I worked with farm families who wanted their sons and daughters home right after school for chores, and who couldn’t attend summer school because it was planting, or farmers market, or haying season.  It’s not urban education, but there were many similarities.

I’ve been an administrator in two different public schools.  I know how schools operate, I have experience working with a professional staff, I understand priorities, I know how a school must fit into a district.  I know how curriculum must make sense and provide a sequential development of content and skill knowledge for students.  I have a good knowledge of appropriate parent involvement and the importance of providing opportunities for students.  I realize that good schools focus on the needs of students while providing a balance between the interests of communities, teachers and schools themselves.   Being an administrator, I’ve also seen the regulations that come out of SED, and realize firsthand how unreasonable and poorly thought out most of them are.  Many are based on good ideas, but the implementation requirements are not practical.  I’ve blogged about several of these regulations over the past year; I’m sure I’ll be given many more opportunities in the future.  But, the key point is that I have seen over and over how SED regulations are promulgated with no input from practitioners in the field, input that would prove to be invaluable in ensuring that rules made sense and were, in fact, doable.  I guess you could say that I value and respect the expertise that professional educators bring to the table, and I am comfortable tapping into that expertise as needed.

Another advantage I have, different from our last commissioner, is that I’ve seen initiatives through.  I’ve worked with colleagues to develop ideas into programs, I’ve been there from the initial stages through the implementation of the end product.  I know that roadblocks will inevitably arise and I’ve learned the value of perseverance with colleagues to see worthwhile improvements made.  I’ve never been one to get halfway into a project and then abandon it for greener pastures.  Of course, I’ve never been one to look at my job solely as a stepping stone to another.

I’ve had to confront conflict, fairly often when you look back over my experience.  This includes conflict with colleagues, teachers, parents, my supervisors, you name it.  I know, you’re thinking that maybe it’s me…sometimes, sure.  But mostly it’s that if you do your job honestly and stay faithful to your beliefs and priorities you will have conflict, with someone.  It comes with the job, again, if you do your job with integrity.  I’ve never walked out of a parent or teacher meeting because it was getting a little hot.  I’ve also never said that I won’t hold any more meetings because the last one was a little too heated.  You need to be able to handle conflict.

Lastly, I’m not political.  I’ve never considered who was involved before making decisions.  I treated Board of Education members’ kids the same as any others.  In fact, I made it a point to not ask what BOE members’ kids were even in my school…I didn’t want to know.  It has never mattered who the parents of a kid were, disciplinary consequences were consistent.  I don’t hang around after BOE meetings to schmooze…I am not a schmoozer.  The lack of political “sensing” has hurt me at times; there are some parents, BOE members, teachers, etc. who expect special treatment.  I just don’t buy into that.

It must be fairly obvious that I do not possess the qualities that the past commissioner exhibited.  I figure my application would be DOA at the Board of Regents.  Oh well, might as well submit it anyway, let them do what they will.  I’ve done that before…

Posted in Administrative Experiences, Communication Clarity in Schools, Communication in Schools, Education Legislation, Education Reform, Life Experiences, SED Regulations | Leave a comment

Why Go Into Administration?

In and by itself, there is no career ladder in teaching.  You teach, year after year.  I suppose you could say that you’ve moved up some ladder as you graduate from teaching all intro/basic level courses to teaching upper level and AP courses.  I enjoyed that shift when it happened with me.  I started out teaching 7th graders, after a few years moved to algebra and trigonometry, and ended my ten-year teaching career being responsible for AP calc.  I have to say I loved the more challenging content, but you can’t beat 7th graders for a fun teaching assignment!

Salaries are structured in a fairly consistent manner.  There is always a salary schedule, composed of perhaps 25 or so different salary levels.  You move from one level to the next by coming back in September.  Yup, your base salary is based entirely on the number of years you taught.  There are also some add-ons for salary.  For example, earning a second Masters degree could boost your base salary by a set dollar amount.  Your subsequent annual increases would be based on the new base salary.  So, your salary generally increases each year.  There exist few opportunities to remain in teaching yet increase or broaden your range of responsibilities.  As a result, there are also few ways to bump up your salary beyond the negotiated increases.

Other than leaving the profession entirely, that leaves moving into administration.  I made that decision partway through my ten year teaching career.  I always had in the back of my head that I would consider doing so, but I wanted to wait and teach for a while to see if I wanted to leave teaching.  That was the question…did I want to give up working daily with kids to work daily with adults.  That takes pondering.

There are some who want to make more money, for sure.  In the wide world of education, making more money is the wrong reason to do anything.  This is probably true in any field, but you go into education to work with kids, not to make money.  To lose that desire to work with kids for a focus on making more money is just wrong, and should make someone question their decision to teach in the first place.  One should go into administration realizing that a loss accompanies doing so, the very real loss of the great relationships you develop with children.  An overlooked loss is the collegiality with fellow teachers, as you will move from being an accepted friend and colleague to who knows what type of relationship.  If you’re good, and have some luck, you will eventually develop solid professional relationships with your staff.  But that takes time, and the loss of collegiality does not.

You have to want to influence a wider range of professionals and to be involved in and assume responsibility for many different instructional issues.  You have to understand that, for the typical entry level administrative position, you will be working with kids again, but on the disciplinary side.  That daily grind can take a toll.  I can say that I didn’t like or enjoy my first two years; my primary responsibility was the day-to-day attention to student disciplinary issues.  My principal, Ken McAuliffe, was understanding, having previously been in the position himself, and he allowed me to involve myself in many programs other than discipline to keep me sane, and to give me helpful experience.

As building principal, I am involved in any and all programs, activities, process, etc. that take place at Shaker JHS.  I get to work with students at times, but I interact mostly with adults.  Believe me, working with kids is much more interesting and rewarding, but my job necessarily requires involvement on a different level.  It’s funny, when people ask me what I do and I say I’m a junior high principal, I get a lot of reaction focused on how hard it must be to work with so many adolescents, the headaches they must cause!  My response is always that kids are the easy part, you expect them to act like kids and you know how to address their behaviors.  It’s the adults who cause the headaches…you expect adults to act like, well, adults, and so often they do not!

And, as an administrator, you need to understand that you will regularly be dealing with the after effects of actions that were not yours.  Someone did something they shouldn’t have, showed poor judgment, said the wrong thing, you name it, you will be handling it, and you had nothing to do with it in the first place.  Again, kid behaviors you expect, kid-like adult behaviors you do not.

But, I prefer my current job to teaching.  I miss the constant interactions with kids, but I like having my fingerprints on all that we do as a school.  I like being a part of a good organization and having the perspective and involvement that I do.  Even though trying at times, I enjoy (enjoy may be a tad strong) working with adults to influence directions and programs and work toward our mission.  I like being the one ultimately responsible for what occurs here and I’m so pleased that I have had a real role in hiring the excellent faculty who make up our number one asset.  I can’t go back to teaching.  Yup, I make a really good salary, but that’s just the gravy on the main course that is my work.

And that’s my perspective.

Posted in Administrative Experiences, Communication in Schools, Life Experiences | Leave a comment

Why Is Cuomo At War With Educators?

What is Governor Cuomo trying to prove? Why is he making education his main (negative) focus for the here and now? What does he really want to gain?

Cuomo is aligning himself for a run for president. He has lofty goals, and one is the presidency, a goal his father, Mario, couldn’t achieve. In fact, his father was counseled out of the final push for a presidential nomination to clear the way for the party’s favored candidate. One thing national political parties don’t want is a party split; they need to work to unify the party behind one and only one candidate, and it wasn’t Mario. So, for one thing, Junior wants to finish the job his father couldn’t.

Right from the outset anyone who watches and listens to Cuomo knows that his eyes are elsewhere. Everything he does and says he does and says with a very different purpose than advertised.
Let’s start by understanding that education, per se, is not what he is after. An area in which he needs to build cred is in regards to organized labor and unions. He’s a realist and he knows he can’t take on labor directly; he’ll need their support for his long term goal. So he’s chosen education… not a traditional labor group. By doing so he can attack a union without attacking unions and organized labor. Why else would he label education as “…one of the only remaining public monopolies”? He can show his strength in taking on labor without drawing the anger of the national labor organizations. Those national labor groups don’t see education as being one of theirs, because it’s so different from what anyone considers to be “labor.” Really, when you think of labor and labor unions, do you ever think of educators?

Another concern of Cuomo is developing the financial capability needed to fund a run for president. That doesn’t mean getting his major supporters in line now, it means instead that he has to demonstrate that he is worth backing. If the large donor groups see him as bankable, the money will come at the right time. To show how he can generate the payback that corporations insist upon, one need only look at the ever expanding role that Pearson, a huge educational materials corporation, now enjoys in NY State. All of the student assessments currently in use across the state are created by, scored by, and analyzed by Pearson. Assessments used for teacher and administrator certification are created by, scored by and analyzed by Pearson. If there’s any area that requires assessment, count on Pearson to hold the contract. They have a stranglehold on this whole facet of education. There are multimillions of dollars flowing to one corporation annually. And there’s more to be had. Consider also the Board of Regents chair, Merryl Tisch, of the billionaire Tisch family. Hmmm, if Cuomo shows her that he’s worth backing, that he’ll push an agenda she approves of, the coffers of the Tisch family and the deep pockets of similar potential donors that they influence will open wide.

Going hand-in-hand with the money being funneled to Pearson, those private companies that create and manage charter schools stand to make a lot of money from Cuomo’s objective as well. Cuomo wants the cap on the number of charter schools allowed to be lifted entirely. First, there is mounting evidence that most charter schools do no better (often worse) than the public schools they are pulling students and funding from. Yes, charter schools derive funds from the public schools. For example, if Student A lives in my district but chooses to attend Anyone’s Charter School in a neighboring town, taxpayer dollars collected to fund my public school are now owed to the charter school. Yes, charter schools draw a significant amount of their money from public schools. How fair is that? A taxpayer in Latham who has to pay school taxes to fund the district in which he resides now has some of these very same tax dollars shipped to a private charter school in which he has no interest. He can’t even complain because charter schools don’t have Boards of Education made up of elected members of the community. In fact, there is no local oversight of the charter schools, and little oversight by the state. And Cuomo wants these public funding siphons to grow uncontrollably? And he calls public schools a monopoly? There must be some big money groups behind charter schools that he is catering to. Why else would Cuomo decry the amount of money invested in public schools while at the same time wanting dubious private schools which take away that money to proliferate without any means of control or oversight?

Lastly, Cuomo needs to show that he’ll base decisions on facts, that he isn’t swayed by the money people. To do so he wants educators to be evaluated. Fair enough, but here’s the problem…An evaluation based on one student assessment. Not a series of assessments, one. All that a teacher does over the course of a year would boil down to how students do on one assessment. A teacher’s annual evaluation would be predominantly centered on one state (read that Pearson) constructed assessment. Cuomo can say that data, information, facts, are being used to make decisions, regardless of how appropriate that data is for the purpose. He’s got to appear objective…and that he’s concerned about kids. That’s the old fallback. He’s doing it for the kids. Who can argue with that? He’s taking on the education monopoly for the kids. How noble.

Perhaps I’m wrong and Cuomo is just upset because he hasn’t always made the grade academically. Is he holding a grudge because of his own preparation? He can’t do much with private schools, which is what he attended, because private schools don’t fall within his domain. Maybe he sees himself in the struggling learners we all have and his approach is to go after schools, well at least those schools he can reach. He did fail the NYS bar exam four times (an assessment!), but he was bailed out by his dad, Mario, who was NYS governor at the time, who helped him get his first real job as an assistant DA. It’s hard to tell, but he certainly has no respect for public education or educators. Maybe he failed the bar four times despite having good teachers? Maybe, just maybe, he was the problem then…as he is now.

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