Cuomo’s Letter on New York Educational Issues Causes Stir


New York State Education Commissioner John King is stepping down to take a post in the Obama administration, but he is not leaving without a making important recommendations. King wants Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature get rid of any restrictions on the number of charter schools that can be opened in the state.

There should not be a limit on opening high-quality schools, King has said. In fact, King encourages them to get rid of the cap altogether. Writing for the New York Post, Carl Campanile reports that the state law currently allows no more than 460 charter schools operating statewide. However, in New York City, where a majority of the schools are located, education leaders are nearing the cap of charter schools.

The biggest demand for charter schools is downstate, and 231 charters are open or have been approved to open in NYC. That means, under the cap, that just 25 charter school slots remain for the city, while parental demand for charter schools is steadily increasing. Outside the city, there can still be 132 new charters opened. King says if Albany would rearrange the cap, more charters in NYC could open.

“Overall, charter schools have much to contribute to education in New York state and New York City in particular,” King said.

As for Gov. Cuomo, he is seeking not only King’s opinion on a number of issues, but the opinion of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch as well.

Paul Murnane of WCBS-TV reports that Michael Mulgrew at the United Federation of Teachers says the governor’s letter is an example of the governor pandering to the hedgefunders who fueled his campaign, but James Merriman at the NYC Charter School Center likes what the governor is saying:

“You have the governor, who cares deeply about public education, Chancellor Tisch and Commissioner King having a public conversation about how we make our public institutions of education better,” he said.

Teachers unions last week condemned the governor’s letter and his exploration of reforms to state education. But Cuomo’s advisers disagree, says Denise Jewell Gee of The Buffalo News.

“Gov. Cuomo believes in public education – it can open up unlimited opportunity to our students,” wrote Cuomo’s director of state operations, Jim Malatras. “But the system must work. Virtually everyone agrees that the system must be reformed and improved.”

One issue brought up in the letter, written by a top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, was the state’s new teacher evaluation system, which Cuomo was behind in 2012. He now believes that the system needs to be reformed so that poorly performing teachers can be removed. Malatras asked how the current system could be working if only 1% of teachers are rated ineffective. Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore sent a memo to the governor and called these comments “offensive and insulting” and added the letter “demonstrates an abysmal and chilling lack of knowledge of what will improve teaching and learning.”

“Did he and his ilk ever stop to think that it is how they are misevaluating the schools and students that is the problem and that teachers, especially in urban and poor districts, are indeed performing miracles under extraordinarily difficult circumstances?” Rumore wrote. “Of course not.”

The New York Daily News reports that Malatras answered by pointing to recent state results which showed that only a third of third- through eighth-graders were rated as proficient in reading, math, and writing, even though the state is investing in high per-student spending. Earlier this year, legislators created a “safety net” to protect teachers from getting fired during a two-year period based on student performance on state tests based on the new Common Core standards. Cuomo has not yet signed the bill.

Another individual who was pierced by the arrows shot in the direction of unions was the unions’ “political godfather”, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Although Silver has been an ally of the governor and is a fellow Democrat, the governor’s popularity is dropping a bit and Silver may do battle with Cuomo and the Senate Republicans over Cuomo’s educational agenda. Several of the issues brought out in the letter are triggers for Silver and the teachers unions that support him. The unions have said that Cuomo is a puppet of the charter school movement and the wealthy sector who helped elect him.

“This isn’t about personalities,” a Cuomo official said. “This is about attempting to reform a broken status quo that’s been falling too many of New York’s children for too long.”

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