Archives for category: New York

Governor Cuomo reached a compromise with teachers’ unions and legislators to protect teachers who received the lowest ratings on the Common Core tests. Such teachers will not be evaluated by the tests. Only 1% of the state’s teachers were rated ineffective. What this deal really means is that a meaningless and deeply flawed teacher evaluation system, cobbled together to get Race to the Top funding, is now rendered utterly meaningless.

Unfortunately for students, there is no relief from the many hours required for Common Core testing. Kids will continue to sit for three hours for each exam, plus dozens of hours of interim testing. Perhaps this is early preparation for the SAT or bar exams, starting in third grade.

Last week, I posted Dave Cunningham’s excellent response to an editorial writer at Newsday who voted against an increase in the budget of the West Babylon public schools in Long Island, where his own daughters got a great education and went on to outstanding colleges. The budget went down to defeat, and a new vote was scheduled for June 17. Because of Governor Cuomo’s tax cap of 2%, school districts need a supermajority of 60% to increase their budget to meet rising costs. One district in New York was supported by 59.9% of voters (which would be considered a landslide in an election for public office), yet the whole school district lost the vote because of the lack of a single vote to reach 60.0%.

In his letter, Dave Cunningham pointed out that the West Babylon schools had lost $4 million a year for four years due to Cuomo’s “gap elimination” program. The schools were hard-pressed to provide the same quality of education that the editorial writer’s daughters had received before in the era before budget cutting became the new normal.

The district budget came up for re-vote yesterday, and it passed easily, with a yes vote of 72.5%. Any elected official would call that a landslide. The budget that passed involved deep budget cuts: “West Babylon’s budget will raise spending 0.63 percent and taxes 1.36 percent. In trimming that budget, the district cut the equivalent of 9.9 teachers, 18 hall monitors and a number of off-site sports.”

Michael Dobie, an editorial writer at Long Island’s Newsday, wrote an opinion piece in which he explained with a certain amount of embarrassment why he voted against the school budget for the West Babylon public schools, where his daughters attended, graduated, and went on to outstanding colleges.


West Babylon asked voters to approve its budget because Governor Cuomo put a tax cap on every district in the state, and the cap can’t be raised unless at least 60% of voters approve. The budget in West Babylon was turned down. The assumption of the Cuomo tax cap is that schools will keep their costs down, but costs keep rising, so budget cuts are inevitable.


Dobie wrote (in a piece behind a paywall, sorry, so I can post only the beginning and I have no link):


What have I done?
I’ve been asking myself that a lot, after I did something for the first time since I moved to Long Island 24 years ago.
I voted against a school budget.
Until this year, I never had rejected a budget proposed by my district, West Babylon. Do it for the kids, right? But this time the district was pitching to pierce its 1.36 percent state tax cap by well more than double — in a year when taxpayers will receive state rebate checks for their tax increases when their districts stay within the cap.
So I said no, as did enough other voters to defeat the budget. My hope was that West Babylon would then turn to its teachers union — personnel costs are the bulk of every school budget — to get the savings needed to stay within the cap for the budget revote to take place June 17.
Instead, the district killed the high school bowling, gymnastics, swimming and golf teams, eliminated a bunch of clubs and activities at all grade levels, and fired 18 part-time hall monitors, among other things.
Officials saved $1.3 million and got within the cap, but look at the cost. Kids lost teams and clubs, and adults lost jobs.
I’m not naive — this is usually the way such things work out. But this is my first personal experience with the consequences of voting against a budget, and it’s distressing.
It turns out the administration didn’t believe it could ask teachers for concessions because two years ago, the union agreed to open its contract and spread out one 2.3 percent salary increase over three years. That helped the district in another difficult budget year.
But the teachers have continued to get step increases — essentially, annual longevity raises. West Babylon’s teachers are due an average 3.25 percent step increase next year, which, combined with the 0.75 salary increase, means they’ll get a 4 percent raise. Who gets a 4 percent raise these days?
Please understand, this is not a screed against teachers. It’s an argument against an unsustainable system…..


The rest of the article continues in that vein, inveighing against teachers’ pay.


Dobie thinks that the step increases for teachers must end. Period.


Dave Cunningham, a veteran teacher in the West Babylon schools, wrote to Dobie to explain why he was wrong. A native of Babylon and a graduate of its schools, Dave has taught elementary school and coached high school sports in West Babylon since 1990. Here is Dave’s letter:


Hi Mike,
I’m happy to see that some of your writing is appearing on Newsday’s pages again. In fact I’ve been meaning to contact you to see if Newsday had any interest in giving a full, honest analysis of the daily assaults on public education in our state and in our local communities. Alas, my hopes were dashed when I read your column this morning.

Newsday’s stance on public education can be summed up thusly: TEACHERS BAD! AND THEY GET SUMMERS OFF! You probably know that the chief purveyor of this nonsense is your education pointman/hachetman, John Hildebrand. He never pens a story without some part of his twisted agenda being validated. On the day of the recent budget vote, he did a great job of finding two aggrieved senior citizens, ages 79 and 81, who gave him statements to support his thesis. Who amongst us wouldn’t sympathize with elderly people living on fixed budgets, besieged by high taxes which according to Newsday, are fueled by the greed of public school teachers? I’m sure they’d make good use of a $98 check from the state. How are those checks not seen as a bribe, used to influence an election?
Had Mr. Hildebrand ventured inside of Santapogue School, (rather than using it for a convenient photo op) he would have found a thriving place where nearly 40% of our students receive free or reduced lunch. He would have seen an “international” school where ELL teachers perform daily miracles with children who speak one of fifteen different languages. Had he spoken with parents and teachers, he would have also discovered that due to the state’s gap elimination program, that West Babylon had lost about $4,000,000 in state aid per year over the last four years. Such facts don’t fit the narrative, so they’re not reported.
The overarching story that Newsday continues to neglect is the stealthy, insidious campaign to privatize public education , here and around the country. I’ll leave it to you to do some research for yourself, but any honest assessment of education in New York will show that NYSED is slowly and quietly outsourcing its authority, its operations, and its soul to the British conglomerate, Pearson. The truth is that the hard-working, overtaxed people of our state are seeing their money spent on tests, standards, curriculum, and materials produced by the non-educators hired by Pearson, often at minimum wage salaries. My experience has shown me that most anything that Pearson produces is either developmentally inappropriate, substandard in quality, or both. Yet the state and school districts continue to buy their products. Pearson writes the state tests, which are not “more difficult” as Newsday and other supine media outlets report. They are designed to produce failure, adding to the narrative of TEACHERS BAD! AND THEY GET SUMMERS OFF! A google search of Pearson/Campaign contributions will tell you all you need to know. Pols from both major parties have benefited from Pearson’s largesse.
Diane Ravitch’s blog, is a treasure trove of information about public education. Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post has an excellent blog which often features the work of Southside HS Principal, Carol Burris, who is one of the most sensible, articulate voices in the push back against the hostile takeover of our schools by corporate interests. There is a ton of excellent archived work on the site: If you still have anyone at Newsday who is interested in some honest, investigative reporting, (and maybe earning a Pulitizer, to boot!) please share these links with them. FOIA requests should yield information about how much school districts have been mandated and forced to spend on the implementation of Common Core and its attendant exams and assessments. In my 39 years in education I’ve never seen anything as onerous and threatening to education in this country. It’s costly, it’s wrong, and our people deserve better.
I assume that you struggled with your decision to throw the children of WB under the metaphoric bus. I’m sure today’s column wasn’t easy to write. So your takeaway that step increases are the big villain, while popular with the trolls who inhabit Newsday’s comment pages, misses the larger point. You state that the WB district was reluctant to ask the teachers for help because we probably wouldn’t be receptive. We as a faculty have “given back” on numerous occasions during the last ten years. You asked, “Who gets a 4% increase now?” Easy answer: the wealthiest. Since 2011, more than 90% of the income gains in this country have gone to the 1 %. Yet our feckless politicians, their corporate enablers, and an AWOL media rig the game against the working and middle class families who populate our communities.
On a personal note, you should know that I haven’t received a step increase in years. Since I haven’t maxed out my graduate credits, I’m nowhere near the top of the pay scale. So you and the other aggrieved taxpayers of WB are getting a bargain with me; a teacher with nearly 40 years experience at a salary of a 25th year teacher. Silly me, I should have been in grad school when I was coaching WB kids 24/7, 365 days a year. I have no regrets, my former players and students visit every now and then to say thanks and to let me know how they’re doing. Those moments represent the true rewards that a teacher receives. Those are things that nobody at Newsday will understand any time soon, apparently. Enjoy your reading assignments! I look forward to hearing from you. Pay it forward!


All the Best,


Dave Cunningham

Somehow, Andrea Gabor got a copy of most of the New York State English Language Arts Common Core-Aligned State tests.


She describes them here.


She writes:


Once again I am in possession of a bit of educational contraband.

For the second year in a row, I have received a copy of the New York State English Language Arts tests for grades 6 to 8, which were administered in April. (Though, this year, my set appeared incomplete as it contained only books one and two for each grade–not the three books that were included last year and that I was told were given this year. So my analysis here is confined to only two booklets for each grade.)

Anyone who has followed the controversy around the introduction of the New York State’s “common-core aligned” tests, knows that there has been a growing backlash–and not necessarily against the common core itself. Rather, a great many educators object to the quality and the quantity of tests–in addition to six days of “common core” testing, New York kids are now finishing the Measurements of Student Learning (MOSL) tests, the sole purpose of which is to evaluate teachers, as well as field tests for next year’s “common core” tests. In the fall, students as young as kindergarteners endured base-line testing for the MOSL.

Most importantly, educators are outraged by the secrecy in which the tests are cloaked.


Pearson, which has a $32 million contract with New York, will not permit teachers or anyone else to see the exams.


They are hidden by a gag order.


This is insane.


The value of tests is to learn what students do and do not know or understand


If the students, parents, and teachers are not allowed to review the tests, then nothing can be learned from them.


There is no point in having tests that are hidden from the view of those who most need whatever information they provide.


Of course, the gag order also protects Pearson from public scrutiny and possible discovery of poorly written or inaccurate questions, like the Pineapple questions.


So who benefits from the gag order? Not the students.

Carol Burris has been one of the leading voices in opposition to corporate education reform in New York state. Whenever anyone tries to imply that opposition to the Common Core comes only from the Tea Party, there is Carol Burris–a progressive high school principal–as a counter-example.


Burris has led the principals’ revolt against high-stakes testing and against evaluating educators according to student test scores.


In this article, she describes the progressive revulsion to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is more attuned to the interests of major corporations and big-money donors than to parents and educators.


Burris sees Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout as the progressive who is likeliest to challenge Governor Cuomo in a Democratic primary, running against him on his left flank, where he has big vulnerabilities.


Given the upset defeat of Eric Cantor in Virginia, no politician can rest easy as they approach an election. In many states and districts, voters are angry and feel cheated.


Cantor was surprised. Let’s see if Cuomo coasts to victory, as he expects, and as Cantor expected.

The Working Families Party briefly flirted with the possibility of running an independent slate. Its candidate for governor was going to be Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law professor who specializes in investigating public corruption.

However, at the party’s annual convention, WFP endorsed Cuomo after he promised to govern like a Democrat instead of a conservative Republican.

Teachout has not given up. She may challenge Cuomo in the Democratic primary.

Here is her statement on education.

Take Action and Click Here to Demand the Release of the 3-8 Grade NYS Tests, Only 30 Seconds of Your Time

Dear Allies,

New York parents and teachers are outraged that they are not allowed to see the NYS Standardized 3-8 grades tests.

Before 2011, all tests were posted on the New York State Education Department (NYSED) website. That changed after the State Education Department signed a contract with Pearson in 2011 that doubled annual spending on NY State tests. Now, despite the already substantial increase in spending on testing, Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch say an additional $8 million is required to restore full transparency. According to the contract, Pearson must produce unique test questions each year. This further raises legitimate questions about the need for additional funds.

Parents and educators are denied access to the information they need to determine what their child got wrong and what is needed to improve learning. Just as important, any flaws in the tests and scoring are not subject to public scrutiny and correction.

Beneath it all remains research that refutes the validity of these tests not just in their accuracy and legitimacy for measuring student growth, but in measuring teacher performance as well. Failing to be fully transparent only escalates those concerns.

As was the case with NYSED’s refusal to act within its own authority to address parent data privacy concerns with inBloom, we call on the legislature to act now!

We are asking all parents, educators and community members to join us in demanding that elected and appointed officials in Albany RELEASE THE TESTS!

Again, Please Take Action and Click Here to Demand the Release of the 3-8 Grade NYS Tests.

Thank you,
NYS Allies for Public Education



Peter Goodman here tells the sorry story of how Governor Cuomo won the endorsement of the Working Families Party by promising to act like a Democrat. For example, he promised to help Democrats gain control of the State Senate and to let localities raise the minimum wage, which are not big concessions from a Democratic governor.

On education, where Cuomo has governed as a conservative Republican, he promised nothing of substance. Districts are still stuck with a 2% tax cap, which requires a 60% supermajority to overturn; New York City still has the most charter-friendly legislation in the nation; the state will still have highly inequitable funding.

In his first appearance after the WFP victory, at a parade in Manhattan, Cuomo began hedging on the commitments he had made to the WFP.

He said, “Cuomo, who indicated he’d back the party’s goals of helping Democrats take back the State Senate and allowing localities to raise the minimum wage, downplayed the boos and heckling he received in absentia this weekend at the convention of the Working Families Party, whose union and progressive members have long grumbled about Cuomo’s fiscally conservative policies and working relationship with Republicans.

“It’s very simple at these political conventions: you either win or you lose. Uh, and I won, and I’m very happy to have their support,” he said.

In other words, the promises were strategic. He won. That’s all that matters.

To many progressives, Cuomo is Governor 1%. As Peter Goodman suggests, they have a choice: Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones of the Green Party.

The New York State United Teachers issued a statement supporting th districts that are opting out of state field tests.

“ALBANY, N.Y. May 30, 2014 – As tens of thousands of students statewide prepare to begin vfield testing” questions for future state exams, New York State United Teachers President Karen E. Magee said today more time should be devoted to teaching – not testing – and called for an end to student participation in field tests.

The State Education Department is administering field tests from June 2-11 to try out prospective standardized test questions developed by the giant testing company, Pearson PLC. These tests do not count for students, teachers or schools and are solely used to “test the test.” Stand-alone field tests in English language arts and math will be administered in most schools to students who took the state’s 2014 Grades 3-8 Common Core ELA and math tests.

“New York’s over-reliance on standardized tests continues to have a negative effect on our students,” Magee said. “Teachers and parents are united in our concern that excessive state standardized testing takes important time away from instruction.”

Magee called on the state to grant the SED’s request for sufficient resources so it can develop a bank with enough age- and grade-appropriate, reliable and valid questions to entirely eliminate the need for field testing.

Magee noted a number of school districts – Comsewogue and Ossining, for example – are reportedly boycotting this year’s field tests.

“NYSUT applauds those school districts that have recently opted out of this year’s field testing. Just as we support parents’ rights to opt their child out of the state tests, we support those districts that are opting out of the field tests,” Magee said. “Why should New York state students be unpaid researchers for Pearson?”

“NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino, who oversees the union’s Research and Educational Services Division, added, “These upcoming field tests mean that, once again, too many students in New York state will be spending time on standardized tests that take time away from real learning.”

Governor Cuomo is trying to persuade other statewide candidates to refuse the Working Families Party endorsement if they choose an independent to run against him. His goal is to punish the party if it does not endorse him.

There is a battle going on for the future of the Democratic Party. Will it be a progressive party, or will it vie with Republicans to hold the line on taxes and budgets? Will it fight for public education or for privatization?


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