Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Is Education Reform Dead in New York State?

This weekend the Daily News Editorial Board published a condemnatory piece called “RIP, NY School Reform.” The evidence behind this morbidity and mortality presentation  is not Gov. Cuomo’s cop-out on standards and accountability in order to preserve his white suburban constituency. Instead, say the editors, this fatality is the fault of the political process by which New York State grants authority to the Board of Regents.

The editors write,
The era of fighting to improve education in New York, including for low-income kids, is over. 
Welcome to the age of inertia. The only question: How much will the state Board of Regents water down standards and retreat from holding adults accountable for student performance? 
But the Assembly is dominated by allies of the teachers’ unions — and those unions are verging on a takeover.
According to the State, the Board of Regents is “responsible for the general supervision of all educational activities within the State, presiding over The University and the New York State Education Department.” In other words, pretty powerful. And who appoints members to this august body? Members of the State Assembly.

Here is where it gets politically messy, a reflection of the disarray that currently defines New York’s governing body. One year ago Sheldon Silver, who presided over the Assembly for over twenty years, was found guilty of multiple federal corruption counts.  He was replaced by Carl Heastie, a Bronx assemblyman who has a mixed record on education reform, deploring co-location of charters but ostensibly supporting charters; flip-flopping on mayoral control of New York City but criticizing the linkage of teacher evaluations to student outcomes.

However, the New York State teachers union seems sanguine about his ascendency.  Michael Mulgrew told Chalkbeat that “he expects the new speaker and the Assembly’s Democratic majority to back the union in opposing Cuomo’s agenda.”
“Carl really understands education,” he said. “And his conference is very, very upset about the governor’s proposals on education.
So how does this all relate to the Daily News’ prognosis of education reform’s early demise?
Speaker Carl Heastie, has surrendered the keys by letting individual members fill Regents seats that represent their regions. Those members march in lockstep with the unions. 
Between retirements and force-outs, the 17-member board[of Regents]  at present has 11 reform-minded members and six union-pliant, reform-resistant members. More will soon fill vacancies and tip the majority against reform. 
The emerging majority looks poised to elevate Betty Rosa of the Bronx, a union ally, to chancellor when Tisch departs in March.
Hence, write the editors, “the union coup is complete.”

I'm not sure it's quite so dire. Silver was dearly beloved by the NYSUT, yet managed to balance Assembly Regents selections, as well as the appointment of reform-minded Merryl Tisch to the post of Chancellor of the Board of Regents.  Maybe my Bronx roots are showing, but let's give Speaker Heastie a chance.


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