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Is the tug of war on education policy between liberal "reform proponents" and the unions, as the NY Times argues, or the 1% and nearly everyone else?
NY Times ran a front page article on, focused on the tug of war for Hilary Clinton’s soul, supposedly between the teacher unions and the big donors, mostly hedge fund operators, who want to privatize public schools and ramp up high-stakes testing, weaken teacher tenure and base their evaluations on student test scores. Value-added test based teacher evaluation has proved to be highly unreliable, and many expert groups, including the American Statistical Association and the National Academy of Sciences, have concluded that it could have damaging impact on morale and the quality of education.
In the article, the hedgefunders make it clear that they will threaten to withhold their contributions if Hillary does not adopt their positions:
“This is an issue that’s important to a lot of Democratic donors,” said John Petry, a hedge fund manager who was a founder of the Harlem Success Academy, a New York charter school. “Donors want to hear where she stands.”
We also pointed out that DFER’s founder, hedge fund operator Whitney Tilson, admittedthat the only reason he put “Democrats” in the organization’s title and focused on convincing Democrats to adopt their pro-privatization agenda was that GOP leaders were already in agreement with most of their positions. The following is an excerpt from a film made by Tilson called “A Right Denied”:
In addition, by characterizing the struggle on education policy as being a conflict primarily between the teacher unions and big donors, the reporter misses the boat. Indeed, the only mention of parents in the piece implies that they are allied with the DFER privateers: “Reform proponents include donors, but also a cross section of parents and business advocates.”
Hopefully NY Times readers and especially Hillary will smart enough to reject this claim, if they merely looked at Governor Cuomo’s plunging popularity. Cuomo’s poll numbers are dropping like a stone, largely because his positions on education are in thrall to his big donors in the DFER/hedgefund crowd. He has pushed hard on test-based teacher evaluation and other favorite talking points of the corporate reform contingent.
According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, Cuomo’s approval ratings on education are at a tepid 28% - while 63% of voters reject his views on school reform. 65% of voters reject the notion that teacher tenure should be based on student test scores; 71% reject the idea that teacher pay should be based on scores, and 55% trust the teacher unions on education, compared to 28% who trust Cuomo.
And the overwhelming rejection of Cuomo's views is shared among rural, suburban, urban voters, Republicans and Democrats alike.
Interestingly, instead of citing any of the many polls that show voters overwhelmingly reject the corporate reform/hedgefund education agenda, the NY Times article uncritically links to a leaked “memo” from Joe Williams of DFER, to “Board members and Major Donors,” citing polling results that supposedly show that “voters agree with our policies.”
Let’s hope for more accurate and less biased education reporting from the mainstream media in the future. The tug of war on education is not primarily between liberal reformers and the teachers union – but between the 1% and nearly everyone else.
Update from Albany: call your Senators now! No delay in education funding linked to high-stakes testing
Update from Albany on the budget negotiations: According to Speaker Carl Heastie, there will be no deal in the budget on a voucher-like private school tax credit giveaway that could yield huge financial benefits to billionaires and corporations but drain state revenue of $100 million.
Raising the charter cap will likely not be included in budget deal but may be addressed later in the year linked to extension of mayoral control in NYC.
Biggest threat right now: an agreement cooked up by Gov. Cuomo and the GOP-led Senate to create a Commission to determine how much teacher evaluation and tenure should be linked to test scores—and to hold up any increase in education funding till then.
You should call your Senator today but especially if s/he is a Republican – and if not, call the leaders of the Senate, Senators Skelos and Jeff Klein, to tell them you will hold them responsible if education funding is delayed and linked to an undemocratic Commission with the unilateral power to double-down on high-stakes testing by increasing the link between test scores and teacher evaluation.
You can find your Senator's contact information here.
Message: Do NOT delay an increase in education funding by creating a Commission with the power to increase high-stakes testing. We do NOT want teacher ratings determined by test scores, period.
Send a letter to your legislators and the Governor: fund our schools, don't dismantle or privatize them!
Please help us protect our public schools by send a letter here to your legislators and then signing a petition to Gov. Cuomo, Speaker Heastie, and Majority Leader Skelos Now!
Throughout NY state, parents, students, and teachers have rallied to protect our public schools from Governor’s Cuomo’s attempt to hold school aid hostage to his damaging policies to double-down on high-stakes testing, and divert funding to private schools and charters. Yet the Governor has called these peaceful protests “a tantrum of special interests,” adding: “Frankly, the louder special interests scream … the more we know we’re right.”
We need to send a message to the Legislature and the Governor that parents are NOT a special interest. We cannot allow our precious resources to be siphoned off to allow Cuomo and his billionaire donors attain their goal of privatizing our public schools.
Below is the testimony I gave today in front of the NYC Council Education Committee, in favor of the resolution opposing the Governor’s proposal on receivership -- the state taking over our struggling schools.
I am here to testify in support of the resolution against the Governor’s proposal to expand state receivership of allegedly low-performing public schools. The state has no track record of improving schools in receivership. When the State Education Department took control of the Roosevelt school district in 2002, and ran it for over a decade, there was little or no improvement, as reported in a Newsday 2013 article:
Albany's intervention ends Monday, after 11 years and more than $300 million in extra state spending. The period -- marked by limited scholastic progress and memorable mistakes by state officials and their appointees -- was the first and only time the state ever managed a local school system.
"I can tell you right off the bat that the state Education Department has no capabilities to run a school district," said Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who is Long Island's representative to the state Board of Regents. "We need other alternatives, if we're ever going to turn around other districts that are really not succeeding."
As Michael Petrilli of the Thomas Fordham Institute, a big supporter of the Common Core standards just wrote:
Some education reformers and media outlets are already using the results of the new, tougher tests to brand schools as “failing” if most of their students don’t meet the higher standards. Note, for instance, the Daily News’s special report, “Fight for their Future,” which leads with the provocative headline “New York City is rife with underperforming schools, including nearly two-thirds of students missing state standards.” This line of attack closely resembles the talking points of Eva Moskowitz and Jeremiah Kettridge of Families for Excellent Schools, who both promote the notion that in New York, “800,000 kids can’t read or do math at grade level” and “143,000 kids are trapped in persistently failing schools.”
These statements are out of bounds, and reformers should say so. They validate the concerns some educators voiced all along: that we would use the results of the tougher tests to unfairly label more schools as failures.
The results of the new Common Core exams are essentially unreliable. They were designed to find two thirds of students failing, and did so, not just in New York City but in the rest of the state as well. The reports by Families for Excellent Schools claiming a “crisis” of failing schools were put out by an organization that has received considerable funding from hedge funders and Wall Street financiers, as well as more than $700,000 over the past two years from the Walton Foundation, an organization that has an aggressive privatization agenda. The unreliable figures and claims of an education crisis cited by this organization were echoed in a report from the Governor’s office that has been described as “sometimes indistinguishable from the eight reports on struggling schools F.E.S. has sent reporters since the summer.” Not surprisingly, Cuomo himself has received huge sums from some of the same pro-privatization hedge funders and financiers. 
Yet Carol Burris, award-winning principal in the Rockville Centre School District, has shown how unreliable these figures are, based on cut scores imposed by the state that purport to show which students will be college and career ready. For example, while only half of the students in her district were said to be proficient in ELA and Math based upon their state test scores in grades 3-8, 100% of them graduate with a Regents diploma and 85% with an advanced designation. Over 92% of the these students not only go to college, but persist and are still there two years after their high school graduation.
Another such district is Oceanside, Long Island where 96 percent of students graduate with a Regents diploma, 58 percent with advanced distinction, and 92 percent go onto college (70 percent to four year colleges and 22 percent to a two year colleges). Yet more than two thirds of the district’s 8thgraders were labelled as not making the standards in math, according to the state’s Common Core exams.
When Michael Bloomberg was running for re-election in 2009, the state test scores purported to show that two-third of the city’s students had achieved grade standards in English, and 82 percent in math. Now the state says only about one third of them do. Clearly the cut scores were set for political reasons then and are just as politically motivated now. They were pre-ordained to fit the ideological goals of those who are intent on dismantling and privatizing our schools.
A few years ago, Rick Hess, a conservative commentator at the American Enterprise Institute, revealed the motives behind the Common Core exams in an eerily prescient column called the Common Core Kool-aid:
First, politicians will actually embrace the Common Core assessments and then will use them to set cut scores that suggest huge numbers of suburban schools are failing. Then, parents and community members who previously liked their schools are going to believe the assessment results rather than their own lying eyes… Finally, newly convinced that their schools stink, parents and voters will embrace "reform." However, most of today's proffered remedies--including test-based teacher evaluation, efforts to move "effective" teachers to low-income schools, charter schooling, and school turnarounds--don't have a lot of fans in the suburbs or speak to the things that suburban parents are most concerned about….Common Core advocates now evince an eerie confidence that they can scare these voters into embracing the "reform" agenda. 
If these scores aren’t ready to be used to judge students, they aren’t adequate to judge our schools or deem them “failing” either. They are certainly not reliable enough to ask the State Education Department to take over our public schools – which has had NO record of success in doing so.
 John Hildebrand, “NYS takeover of Roosevelt schools failed, some say,” Newsday, June 29, 2013.
 Michael Petrilli, “Eva et al. flunk the fairness test, “March 17, 2015, http://edexcellence.net/articles/eva-et-al-flunk-the-fairness-test
Robert Lewis, “Who Is Behind the Pro-Charter Schools Group Fighting de Blasio?” WNYC, Thursday, March 06, 2014.
Charter, union messaging creates New York echo chamber, “ Mar. 3, 2015. For example, “Cuomo's report, sent Feb. 26, cited 178 failing schools across the state, the same number F.E.S. used in a report sent Feb. 25.”
 Juan Gonzalez, “Hedge fund executives give 'til it hurts to politicians, especially Cuomo, to get more charter schools,” NY Daily News, March 11, 2015.
 Valerie Strauss, “The scary way Common Core test ‘cut scores’ are selected,” Washington Post Answer Sheet,
 Jennifer Medina, “Standards Raised, More Students Fail Tests,” NY Times, July 28, 2010.
 Rick Hess, “The Common Core Kool-Aid,” Education Week, November 30, 2012.
In ad, Cuomo cites 5-year delay on using Common Core scores,” Capital NY, Oct. 20, 2014
Another reason to opt out of the tests; read a good book instead!
A bookstore display in Oneonta NY with a sign and a suggested reading list provided by our statewide coalition, NYS Allies for Public Education.
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