Can Cuomo become the next education governor?
Having proved himself the “steamroller” governor that his defrocked predecessor Eliot Spitzer had promised to be, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo strode into a packed Empire State Plaza auditorium in Albany on Wednesday for his second State of the State address to rousing applause and, perhaps taking a page from Fordham’s Rethinking Education Governance initiative (which Board's Eye View will be doing a lot of thinking about), proposed a “reimagining” of state government that was credible.
His hour-long speech may have been short on specifics, but it was long on principals that promise to make a difference and masterful in its rhetorical and political flourishes. Much of the applause came from a state legislature that the gifted politician – who grew up in politics and was a senior aide to his popular two-term governor father, Mario, before he turned 30 – rescued from laughingstock status – he got the dysfunctional body to close a $10 billion budget gap and deliver it on time, pass a same-sex marriage law, and new ethics laws, and in the process earned a national reputation and whispers about a 2016 presidential bid. In a wonderful flourish, showing his command of the stage, Cuomo had the State Senate and Assembly stand to receive public congratulations. Who wudda thunkit?
So, with last year’s track record firmly in hand and with few doubts about Cuomo’s ability to make things happen, the education part of his talk garnered much attention, even before the speech. And he didn’t disappoint, promising to make public education “the priority mission for this state government.” A Democrat, Cuomo has had a Nirvana moment about education reform, and it seems to have infused his entire approach to government reform:
Today, we are driven by the business of public education more than the achievement in public education. Maybe that's why we spend more money than any other state but are 38th in graduation rates. We have to change the paradigm. We need major reform in two areas: Teacher accountability and student achievement. We need a meaningful teacher evaluation system. The legislation enacted in 2010 to qualify for Race to the Top didn't work. Management efficiency. We must make our schools accountable for the results they achieve and the dollars they spend.
Cuomo proposed a new state education commission to work on his education reform agenda. (Leaving her new establishmentarian robes at the door, in a blog for the New York Times Diane Ravitch proposes a solid list of questions for the new commission.) But it was his promise to take on a second job – as lobbyist for students – that won Cuomo some of the loudest applause of the day. (Watch the speech below – the education section is at minute 38. See other reports about the speech here, here, and here.)
I learned my most important lesson in my first year as Governor in the area of public education. I learned that everyone in public education has his or her own lobbyist. Superintendents have lobbyists. Principals have lobbyists. Teachers have lobbyists. School boards have lobbyists. Maintenance personnel have lobbyists. Bus drivers have lobbyists. The only group without a lobbyist? The students. Well, I learned my lesson. This year, my friends I will take a second job -- consider me the lobbyist for the students. I will wage a campaign to put students first, and to remind us that the purpose of public education is to help children grow, not to grow the public education bureaucracy.
Perhaps the best compliment Cuomo could have gotten, by reformers’ standards, was this report from a Binghamton newspaper after the speech: “Local school officials said Wednesday they felt vilified by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's comments on public education in his State of the State address.”
It’s a speech worth watching.
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About the Editor
Peter Meyer is an adjunct fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Since 1991, Meyer has focused his attentions on education reform in the United States, an interest joined while writing a profile of education reformer E.D. Hirsch for Life. Meyer subsequently helped found a charter school, served on his local Board of Education (twice) and, for the last eight years, has been an editor at Education Next.
May 16, 2013
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