Saturday, December 20, 2014

Cuomo to Teachers: Drop Dead

If you have not yet seen the letter from Cuomo aid Jim Malatras to ed leaders Tisch and King, you can find a copy right here. If you want to see just how direct and ugly an attack by a governor on his own state's public education system can be, you should read it. If you are a teacher in New York, you should read it twice.

I'll hit the highlights, not because the letter's particularly hard to parse, but because some things are just so ugly, they need to be held up to the light as much and as often as possible.

It opens with the observation that New York's low success percentages for proficiency on the Big Test are simply "unacceptable" and therefore Cuomo will make sure that the cut scores are set at more acceptable levels as determined by educators and not politicians. Ha! Just kidding. He's going to pretend that those proficiency numbers represent something other than political gamesmanship by the governor's office.

Speaking of proficiency, the next paragraph opens with this sentence:

Governor Cuomo believes in public education it can open up unlimited opportunity to our students.

I believe Malatras he is not a careful proofreader. I sympathize. I am the king of speedy mistakes, as my readers can attest. But I'm not on the state payroll, writing documents of record.

Malatras goes on to say that "virtually everyone" thinks the system must be reformed and improved, and I wonder if he's counting the people who believe that reformation and improvement start with getting Cuomo's grabby hands off public education's neck. But no-- three guesses where efforts to fix schools must be focused:

Part of the package will be to strengthen one of our most important professions teaching. While some seek to demonize teachers, Governor Cuomo believes the exact opposite wanting to reward excellence in teaching and by recruiting the best and brightest into the profession. 

(Yes, the letter is riddled with mistakes. No further comment). Those damn teachers. those stupid incompetent teachers that Cuomo loves so very much.

Malatras goes on to note that the governor doesn't have a lot of control over education, and that this represents a wise and rational distribution of power in running a state. Ha! No, kidding again. Cuomo doesn't have that kind of power, so he's going to use the budget process to just take it. He's asking Tisch and King for their input on Cuomo's ideas as matter of policy (leave the politicking to the legislature). Here are Cuomo's Twelve Awesome Thoughts, with a bit of translation. You're welcome.

1) The teacher evaluation system sucks because it's not failing enough teachers. How can we jigger it so that more teachers are failed by it?

2) It's too hard to fire bad teachers. Hard work is hard. How can we make it less hard to get rid of the teachers that we'll be failing more of once we straighten out the evalouation process?

3) How can we make becoming a teacher harder? Because if we make it really hard to become a teacher, then teachers will be better. Can we give them all a competency test? Recruiting best and brightest would be cool.

4) Cuomo would still like to get merit pay up and running, because the fact that it has never worked anywhere doesn't change his love for how it would reduce payroll costs. Because recruiting teachers (point 3) goes better when you tell them they might get well paid if you feel like paying them more.

5) Could we make the pre-tenure period longer, and could we make their certification temporary so that they have to get re-approved every couple of years. We need to make them stop thinking of teaching as a lifetime career, because that's how you recruit the best and the brightest.

6) What can we do about schools that suck? Particularly Buffalo, because we would really like to accelerate the hand-over of Buffalo schools to charter operators, who make much better campaign contributions than low-paid teachers.

7) Charters? Charters charters charters. Can we just increase the cap in NYC? A whole lot?

8) Education special interests have resisted using courses delivered by computer. Could we just go ahead and do that anyway? Because one college instructor with a computer = 143 high school teachers we could fire.

9) What about mayoral control? It looked like a great idea in NYC until they elected some bozo who didn't get the deal with charters until Cuomo had the legislature rough him up a bit. Mayoral control is better than a damn elected board, but mayors are also elected and those damn voters are a pain in my ass.

10) Should we combine some of the 700 school districts in New York? (This might be the only thing on the list that isn't either evil or stupid. I would make fun of 700 different school districts in New York, but I'm in PA and we aren't any better).

11) The damn regents are appointed by the legislature. Do you think we should fix that, because having to work with people not under his direct control is a real problem for the governor.

12) We're about to replace Dr. King. Is there a way to have a transparent process to replace him with someone I pick?

Oddly enough, the Cuomo office has no interest in looking at rampant testing, craptastic canned curriculum, or widely unpopular standards. I would have said that it was hard to blame these not-beloved-by-teachers programs on teachers, but since Rudy Giuliani found a way to blame the death of Eric Garner on teachers, I'm going to accuse Cuomo of slacking on this department.

Several weeks ago Governor Cuomo said that improving education is thwarted by the monopoly of the education bureaucracy. The education bureaucracy's mission is to sustain the bureaucracy and the status quo and therefore it is often the enemy of change. The result is the current system perpetuates the bureaucracy but, fails our students in many ways.Tackling these questions with bold policy and leadership could truly transform public education and finally have it focus on the student as opposed to the bureaucracy. 

Because having power centered in places that aren't the governor's office is just, you know, bad.

In a charming coda, Malatras notes that King might now give even better advice now that he is unshackled from the political demands of his office, because you know that John King-- he was always so constrained by his deep concern about public opinion, and his willingness to listen to the public just tied him up. Now as a federal bureaucrat hired outside any sort of approval system, he'll be free to disregard public opinion entirely. Because A) that's a good thing and B) it's not at all how he conducted himself in his New York job.

Man, I just hope all those New York teacher union officials who carried Cuomo's water throughout the primary season are really enjoying this unfettered direct attack against the profession and the public schools. Tisch and King are supposed to get back to Cuomo with their advice on how best to kick New York's teachers in the teeth by December 31, so to all my NY teacher neighbors, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Enjoy the holidays, because 2015 will bring open season on public school teachers in the Empire State.


  1. NYSUT must organize specific actions in the coming weeks against Cuomo, and I don't mean more online petitions or faxes to legislators.

    Andy Pallotta's call for education town halls with Cuomo is a good start, and NYSUT must keep pushing for this even though Cuomo will likely ignore the request.

    NYSUT must put people on the street, and, like the anti-frackers did, follow Cuomo wherever he goes, providing answers to his "questions."

    Why not begin providing these answers this New Year's Eve outside (and inside) Cuomo's mansion in Albany? It would also allow NYSUT leadership to signal their resolve to confront this thug in 2015 and beyond.

    Register today:

  2. My thoughts as a life long New Yorker? I need to get the hell out of here.

  3. Plus, this is a pretty good indicator of how any education town hall meetings Cuomo would hold will go.

  4. I'm still stuck on #5, which states that lawyers get "recertified" every few years. What is he talking about? I'm only licensed in NJ, not in NY, but my husband is a NY and NJ attorney. A NY teacher must complete 175 hours of Continuing Education Units every 5 years (i.e., 35/year on average unless I'm missing something). I can tell you that an experienced attorney in NY must complete 24 Continuing Legal Education hours every two years (i.e., 12/year on average, which is the same as what we've got here in NJ -- and FYI, you can double-count your hours if you're admitted in more than one jurisdiction). There is no relicensing for lawyers beyond that in NY. You take the bar, you get admitted, and then you do a little bit of CLE every 2 years (most of which can be done online). That's it.

    It's bad enough to attack teachers -- in prose so bad that it made me twitch as I read it -- every which way. But at least get your facts straight when you attempt to make comparisons to other professions.

  5. I would just say about #10, Cuomo (through Malatras) suggests consolidation of districts because of "declining enrollments." Isn't a big factor in that the students being siphoned off by charters? Consolidation can lead to closing local schools and more layers of bureaucracy. And then in #7, he suggests raising the cap on charter schools "to improve charter schools' ability to serve all students." So, charter schools for all. The agenda's pretty clear.

  6. Previously public education was just a "monopoly" to be broken up, now its "bureaucracy" (meaning school boards, unions, administration, state education department) are the "enemy" of change. The expressions of the public are openly attacked. Also in #1 is the call to have teacher evaluation (APPR) removed from collective bargaining in favor of legislation.

  7. My response in the style of Malatras

  8. He's asking Tisch and King for their input on Cuomo's ideas as ...

  9. He's asking Tisch and King for their input on Cuomo's ideas as matter of policy (leave the ...