Governor Andrew Cuomo
Resistance to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s education reform agenda seems to be gaining steam. Cuomo has weathered several controversies, and though he won re-election, it wasn't an overwhelming victory.
And frankly, some of his statements about public schools and his relentless attacks on the teachers unions haven't made a lot of sense politically or in terms of policy.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll
shows that Cuomo's job approval has dropped to 50 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal, the lowest since he took office in January 2011. Education is where the governor took one of his biggest hits, with only 28 percent of voters approving of his reforms.
Though almost everyone agrees that the teaching profession’s standards need to be elevated, there is almost no consensus on how to get there. And certainly nobody wants teachers who are either incompetent or guilty of misconduct to be in the classroom.
But the public doesn’t seem to be in step with Cuomo’s insistence that incompetent teachers protected by unions are the main problem with the state’s education system, or that a tougher evaluation system is the solution.
No doubt some think that the state is hardly in a position to point fingers after the bizarre roll out of the Common Core curriculum.
It appears that the public has found that the counter-arguments being made by numerous superintendents throughout the state to be more persuasive.
More than a dozen superintendents from the Rochester region recently co-signed a letter to Cuomo expressing their concerns about Cuomo's budget allocations for education and about linking evaluation to test scores.
Kevin McGowan, superintendent of Brighton schools, has written a third letter
to Cuomo, criticizing the use of test scores in teacher evaluations. He also urged the governor to provide more financial aid.
Bill Cala, interim superintendent of Fairport schools, is an outspoken critic of the governor’s support for the Common Core. He's also critical of former State Education Commissioner John King. Cala recently wrote a letter (see below) to members of the Board of Regents calling for the removal of Chancellor Merryl Tisch from her leadership post. Cala doesn't speak for everyone regarding the governor and the Board of Regents, but many people listen when he does speak.
Dear Members of the New York State Board of Regents,
Over the past year, it should be apparent that the direction of education in New York is changing. Parents have raised their voices and are no longer willing to blindly accept the state and national agenda of testing and punishment to their children and their children's teachers. Parents have made it clear that they support their public schools and teachers and will no longer accept a rigid curriculum and testing regime.
Former commissioner King's management of curriculum, data, parents and the implementation of the common core (as well as the common core itself) surely precipitated his departure. Parents, teachers, school board members and the general populace demanded that the process of appointing members to the Board of Regents by the legislature dramatically change and that the process become more transparent. Those demands were so loud and deafening that the legislature had little choice but to listen. As a result, unprecedented turnover resulted. The most ardent supporter of John King was regent Robert Bennett. Throughout Bennett's term he has supported positions that have been at cross purposes with the wishes of parents and teachers. Before John King's departure, Bennett's praise for his policies were unwavering. In fact, when King resigned, Bennett was quoted as saying "...he is the best educator I have ever met." Quite curious that when interviewed for reappointment to the Board of Regents recently, the story changed. It became apparent that Mr. Bennett read the tea leaves and knew that support for John King would not secure reappointment. Fortunately the legislators paid attention and knew very well where he stands on the issues and this led to Mr. Bennett's withdrawal of his application. As you know, this was not the only incumbent who fell.
You all know the history and hopefully you all are aware of the movement for a more responsive government and a board of regents more receptive to the needs and desires of the people of the state of New York. The big question that remains is whether or not the new composition of the board will do "business as usual" or will this board respond to the outcry of parents and teachers. The most effective sign that the Regents are listening and care about the people they serve would be to elect a new chancellor.
Chancellor Tisch has vehemently supported the policies of John King and demonstrated an uncomfortable alliance with the draconian policies of Governor Cuomo. She has been unapologetic, unresponsive and deaf to the public she serves. Her continued leadership of the board will signal defiance of the will of the educational community and an arrogance of unmeasured proportions.
I trust that events of the recent weeks and months will bring a change of heart which subsequently will lead to a change of leadership so desperately needed in New York. Anything less will send a signal that the voices of communities across the state have been ignored.
William C. Cala Ed.D.
Lifetime New York educator and child advocate.