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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