It was a bit like watching tag-team wrestling. The governor of the nation’s third-largest state public education system and the mayor of the nation’s largest single school district taking turns body-slamming teacher unions; governance at its rawest.
First, on January 4 Governor Andrew Cuomo, in a bold State of the State address, promised to be the state’s lobbyist for students and “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.”
Then, the next week, Michael Bloomberg delivered an equally hard-hitting State of the City address, his penultimate as mayor of New York City, most of it devoted to education. He proved, as Crain’s Business Review put it, that he was “not resigned to the malaise of a lame-duck term or the limitations of a constrained budget” and “made clear his frustrations with the city's teachers' union, which has long resisted reform.”
Indeed, the Bloomberg speech made it clear that Gotham’s three-term mayor was intent on making the remaking of the city’s public education system his legacy.
Nine years ago this month, on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, I gave a speech outlining our plans to transform a badly broken school system. Back then, the graduation rate had been stuck at 50 percent or less for decades. Violent crime, social promotion, hiring based on political connections – they all plagued our schools. Parents had too few choices about where to send their children
That’s the headline above Paul Peterson’s better-than-nifty essay on the Ed Next blog.
Peterson, director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard and Executive Editor of Education Next (of which I am a contributing editor), uses the Mac the Knife reference to suggest that loyalties can be bought “for a pittance.” In this case, it’s the National Education Association (NEA), which can, Peterson argues,
…collect multi-millions of dollars through a check-off system that generates revenues directly from teacher paychecks (unless a teacher specifically objects),” and, a la the villain of Mac the Knife, “invest in the work of less-advantaged non-profits that ostensibly have entirely different agendas. Even a little bit of money can produce a valuable ally somewhere down the line.
It’s a short essay, but is packed with evidence (from the Education Intelligence Agency) of NEA’s multi-tentacled reach, from a $250,000 grant to the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (“which has migrated to the University of Colorado at Boulder, which received another quarter million in direct funding,” says Peterson) to $100,000 for Media Matters, “a group that attacks conservative groups and commentators” and $35,000 for “the anti-accountability group,” FairTest.
“The list goes on and on,” says Peterson, who suggests keeping it handy “if one wants to understand the interstices of the debate over school reform.”
What is also problematic about all this is that the list doesn’t even include the millions given directly to legislators and other policymakers. And therein is an existential problem that, despite the lull in the fighting in Wisconsin and Ohio,
The responses to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent claim that he was going to be a lobbyist for public school students because no one else was reminded me of the old television game show, “What’s My Line?” wherein a celebrity panel got to quiz three contestants and then guess which one actually performed the job they all said they performed. In the aftermath of Cuomo's State of the State address, lots folks came clamoring with their student lobbyist creds. “A-hem,” wrote commenter SLBYRNES on BuffaloNews.Com:
Apparently, the Governor hasn't noticed the work of Citizen Action and the Alliance for Quality Education on behalf of children and the community's schools for well over a decade. Or the District Parent Coordinating Councils, PTAs, etc…. Part of the reason we struggle so hard for school improvement may be that he hasn't "heard" clearly or loudly enough about, or from, us. See you next week, Sir. Oh, and we'll be looking for that 4% and the CFE [Campaign for Education Equity] funding we fought for 12 years, were awarded, and the state reneged on...just saying.
Money seemed to be a theme of many of the protestors, but one of my favorites was the video retort, which you can watch below, from the president of the New York State School Board Association (NYSSBA), Tim Kremer, who was almost as strident as Cuomo:
Well, I have to respectfully disagree, governor. School board members are lobbyists for students. School board members are
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
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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.
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