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Richard Brodsky was one of New York’s most enlightened state legislators. He is currently a senior fellow at the Wagner School at New York Univetsity.

In this article, he describes the new politics of education: the policy debates are now dominated by hedge fund managers and rightwing billionaires.

When people like me say these things, the corporate reformers say derisively, “Conspiracy theory.”

Brodsky is a level-headed veteran of state politics. This is what he says:

“The usual participants [in legislative debates about education] have been school boards, parents, unions, the education establishment and the occasional adventurous elected official. Starting a few years ago, and more so now, there are new players in New York. The brawny and outspoken new kid is the hedge fund community.

“Say what? Well, there are millions in hedge fund dollars now floating around. Generalities are a little dangerous, but it’s fair to say that a lot of it is from conservative, big money, Wall Street hedge fund types like Home Depot’s Ken Langone, head of Republicans for Cuomo, who says, “Every time I am with the governor, I talk to him about charter schools. He gets it.” The newest entry is something called “Families For Excellent Schools.” While there certainly are “families” involved, the organization is led and funded by hedge fund managers and assorted right-wing billionaires. They’re very anti-union, anti-tenure, pro-test and pro-charter school.

“Right-wing billionaires and hedge fund managers have a right to be heard. And sometimes they may offer intriguing and important insights. There are valid critiques of many of our current practices. And teachers unions can be criticized. But the issues are too important to be left to attack ads and lawsuits funded by wealthy elites.

“What’s worse is that huge amounts of public education dollars are involved. It turns out that hedge funds are using taxpayer subsidies to fund the charter school movement. Under President Bill Clinton, a tax break called the “New Markets” tax credit has provided a 39 percent tax break for hedge funds that invest in charter schools in underserved communities. Like Albany, for instance. It’s one thing for the financial community to speak out against teachers unions, to fund lawsuits against tenure and to push high-stakes standardized testing as a matter of corporate citizenship. It’s another matter when there are big tax subsidies at stake.

“If the candidates for governor won’t talk about how these things impact New York, we’re left with big corporate money, with a real financial interest in the outcome, dominating the debate.

“In the end, the charter school movement challenges the existence of public schools, not just some of its policies. The drive to privatize education is part of a national attack on government and the empowerment of large corporate interests.

“To me, a healthy debate about the policies could be a good thing. But if we’re going down a path of privatizing public education, I’m worried. Public schools created the American national success story. Whatever their real shortcomings, they need to be strengthened and they need to be funded. And I don’t want that fight to be distorted by huge tax subsidies going to charter schools, even as we reduce federal and state aid to public schools. That’s the wrong kind of financial aid to education.”

A little more than four months ago, New York’s Working Families Party threatened to nominate its own candidate against Governor Andrew Cuomo, because Cuomo had grown so close to his Wall Street campaign contributors and was often called “Governor 1%” for his intense desire to defend the interests of the plutocrats. The WFP was prepared to nominate an unknown law professor named Zephyr Teachout, who was an expert on government ethics.

Cuomo promised to work with the WFP to elect a Democratic majority in the State Senate so that the Legislature could pass progressive legislation, which died in the State Senate, abetted by a small caucus of Democrats who aligned with the Republicans to give them control.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, the state’s leading progressive official, worked hard to persuade the WFP to support Cuomo (even though Cuomo had just humiliated de Blasio by backing charter schools over public schools and gutting the Mayor’s power to regulate charters). De Blasio even nominated Cuomo at the state Democratic convention, burnishing his otherwise nonexistent progressive credentials.

Of course, the WFP gave its nomination to Cuomo, Teachout challenged him in the Democratic primary, and with almost no money, managed to win 1/3 of the vote and half the counties in the state.

Now, lo and behold, de Blasio is working hard to elect the Democrats who would shift the balance in the State Senate, but Cuomo has turned invisible.

The New York Times wrote:

“It has been more than four months since the fragile marriage between the governor and the Working Families Party was consummated: The group endorsed Mr. Cuomo, over many of its members’ objections, after he agreed to pursue a long list of liberal goals, as part of a deal that Mr. de Blasio helped broker.

“The top priority was an effort to tilt the balance of power in the State Senate, where Republicans currently share leadership with a group of breakaway Democrats.

“Less than a month before Election Day, with polls showing some key Senate races leaning in Republicans’ favor, the arrangement with the governor appears increasingly fraught. Despite his pledge to push for Democratic control of the Senate, Mr. Cuomo has at times seemed not to have a strong opinion about the outcome of the November elections.

“You can’t say, ‘Well, I can work well if they elect this party,’ ” he told reporters last month. “They elect a legislature: Democratic, Republican, whatever they elect. I think the job of the governor is to figure out how to make it work.”

Translation: Cuomo hoodwinked the WFP, de Blasio, and the unions.

Governor Cuomo made clear that he thinks the current system of teacher evaluation in New York is inadequate. Too many teachers have been found to be effective or highly effective. In his way of thinking, the proportion of ineffective teachers would be as high as the proportion of students with low scores. With a “meets proficiency” rate of only 31% on the state’s Common Core tests, most teachers would be found ineffective, and there would be a whole lot of firing. Then Cuomo would have the challenge of replacing most of the state’s teachers. He knows nothing about education, about teaching, or about children. I could give him a reading list, but he wouldn’t read it. It is frightening to have consequential decisions made by a man who is so uninformed.


Cuomo, who never attended a public school, never taught a day in his life, never sent his own children to public school,  wants to crack down on teacher evaluation.


He seems not to know that New York has one of the most inequitably funded school systems in the nation. Certainly he knows nothing about the needs of children other than his own and those of his privileged friends. He thinks that breaking teachers and harassing them with test scores will drive up test scores. He is not a stupid man. He is just stupid on the subject of education. As we know, he is in love with charter schools. They get high scores by keeping out the hardest to educate chidden. That must be his ideal.


Statewide, the teacher evaluations found only 1 percent of teachers were rated “ineffective” and 5 percent of teachers rated “developing.” Cuomo, while not elaborating on any specific policy revisions, stressed the need for change in the current education system.
The governor also seemed to say that school funding could be based on performance, although a spokesman said he was speaking more narrowly about competitive grants.
“We’re now saying to the public education system, ‘You have to perform and you’re not just going to get funded for process, you’re going to get funded for performance.’ That is a big deal and that is a big shift,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo assailed the current budget process as well, in which school officials come to Albany each year to lobby for more money.
“We’ve gotten to a point where were spending more money per student than any other state in the nation and we’re in the middle of the pack,” he said. “And the whole culture of education in Albany is more money, more money, more money.”



A study commissioned by school leaders in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley reviewed the state’s teacher evaluation system and concluded that it was irreparably flawed.

“The study, released Friday, found that the state formula for calculating evaluations forces school districts to inflate classroom-observation ratings so teachers do not get poor overall scores.

“If districts were to give more accurate grades to teachers after classroom visits, the study found, many teachers would “unjustly” receive overall ratings of “developing” or “ineffective.” Such districts would “end up looking like they have an underperforming workforce,” the report said.

“This is not something that can be fixed; the state Education Department needs to start over,” said Louis Wool, Harrison schools superintendent, who was president of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents when the group commissioned the study last year.

“The study reviewed 2012-13 evaluation results for 1,400 teachers in 32 districts in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Dutchess counties. The superintendents group provided the data to Education Analytics, a non-profit organization in Madison, Wisconsin, which did the study.

“Researchers credited New York state with improving its methods of measuring teacher effectiveness. In fact, the report called New York “a pioneer” in developing a modern evaluation system. But researchers said there are few examples nationally of effective implementation and that strong use of data may not necessarily translate into good policy.”

The state apparently wants a system that gives many teachers low scores so they can be fired; schools and districts want to retain their decision-making power over which teachers should be kept or terminated. The state is trying to take that authority away from schools and districts by creating a mechanical formula. The formula doesn’t work, and no such formula works anywhere in the country. The biggest problem in teaching today is recruiting, supporting, and retaining good teachers, not finding and firing bad ones. Any administrator worth her salt knows how to do the firing part.

The state should not start over. The state should get out of the way.

Perdido Street predicts that Governor Andrew Cuomo will start a witch hunt for “failing” teachers as soon as he is re-elected.


Cuomo is fully in line with the failing national “reform” movement that relies on test scores to grade teachers. Despite a solid base of research that shows that this method is inaccurate and unstable, Cuomo will force through a statewide rating system based on test scores. The problem is that Cuomo has no knowledge of research; he never heard of the American Statistical Association statement on value-added methods, nor of the work of Edward Haertel at Stanford, or Jesse Rothstein at Berkeley, or any of the many others who have closely studied VAM and found it deeply flawed. He has, however, heard from Arne Duncan and the Wall Street hedge fund managers who generously support his campaign. They want experienced teachers gone and replaced by Teach for America or Educators 4 Excellence, or other bright young things who will not stay long enough to want a pension.


Perdido Street writes:


“But Cuomo’s framing this system just as the deformers are framing the system – test scores are the only valid measure and if many students are failing the new Common Core tests (despite the tests being rigged by NYSED and the Board of Regents to have just that outcome), then the teachers of those students must be failing as well.Beware the second term, folks – as the commenter at the Buffalo News story notes, this is a teacher witch hunt that we have coming and Cuomo’s going to be the head hunter.


‘If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have written over and over again that APPR was always devised to fire as many teachers as possible.


“It wasn’t a mistake that they rolled APPR out at the same time they rolled out the new Common Core tests that they rigged for 70% failure rates.


“The one thing the deformers didn’t count on was a revolt in the suburbs over the Common Core tests and the Common Core Standards themselves.


“After a year of furor over the CCSS, they had to de-link the Common Core test scores from APPR for teachers of 3rd-8th grade students.


“But make no mistake, the link is coming back and it will turn into a bludgeon they will use on you.”

The other day, I wrote a post chastising the League of Women Voters for planning a debate that included only Governor Cuomo and Republican candidate Rob Astorino. I thought it was unfair to exclude Howie Hawkins, who is running on the Green Party ticket.


I received the following response from Laura Ladd Bierman of the League of Women Voters of NYS:


The League of Women Voters of NYS, with its partners from WABC/TV, Univision and The Daily News, has been negotiating with the gubernatorial candidates to organize a televised debate in NYC. Based on the state League’s policies, the debates would have to include at least Cuomo, Astorino and Hawkins for the state League to be a co-sponsor. While two other debates have been offered to the candidates by other sponsors, our offer still stands.


I was misinformed, and I apologize to the League of Women Voters for my error. Thanks to the LWV for offering to sponsor the debate. Governor Cuomo refused to debate Zephyr Teachout, his primary challenger. I hope he accepts this offer to debate Astorino and Hawkins.

When will the media acknowledge that Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst is a rightwing group, not “liberal” or “Democratic”? When election time comes round, it reliably supports Republicans, who can be counted on to endorse school privatization and to undercut teachers and their unions (if they have one). Occasionally, StudentsFirst finds a Democrat who supports vouchers, but the overwhelming bulk of their money goes to Republicans, as in the current election in New York.

In 2012, while Rhee was still running the organization, 90 of the 105 candidates it endorsed were Republicans. This number included far-right conservatives in the Deep South. In 2013, StudentsFirst selected its “reformer of the year,” who was Tennessee Representative John Ragan, who was notorious for his “don’t say gay” legislation.

Liberal? No. Far-right, anti-union, anti-teacher, anti-public school. Willing to honor a stridently homophobic legislator. Sad.


PS: The New York Daily News reported that the $1.75 million was raised in one week from only 5 people. Two were named; they are hedge fund billionaire/millionaires.

Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester, Néw York, teachers’ union, is struggling to make sense of the state’s teacher and principal evaluation system, which varies wildly from district to district. Scarsdale, perhaps the most affluent and high-scoring district in the state, had no “highly effective” teachers. But Rochester, one of the districts with high poverty and low scores, had many. The reality is that none of the formulas for reducing teaching to a number make any sense. Teaching is an art, a craft, and a bit of science. A great teacher may be great one year, not the next, or great with this class but not another. (APPR in Néw York is the Annual Professional Performance Review.)

The ratings in Néw York are referred to as HEDI: Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, Ineffective. A commenter on the blog recently said that “Developing” is considered a low grade but she hoped that she was “developing” every day as a teacher.

This is what Adam wrote to his members:

“The Rochester Miracle?”

“Each year, we re-negotiate our APPR agreement with the District to do all we can to make it less damaging to our student and more fair to teachers.

“We are making progress in reducing the number of Rochester teachers (be)rated as Developing or Ineffective (40% in 2012-2013 but 11% in 2013-2014) and increasing the number rated as Effective or Highly Effective (60% in 2012-2013 but 89% in 2013-2014). Just one year ago, only 2% of Rochester teachers were rated as Highly Effective. This year, that number increased to 46%.

“Why such a huge fluctuation? Maybe it’s because we re-negotiated the agreement; or because teachers set more realistic SLO targets; or because the NYS Education Department adjusted the cut scores in ELA and Math; or because huge fluctuations are typical of invalid and unreliable evaluation schemes. Who knows? In any event, we continue to press for the total abolishments of APPR.

“Meanwhile, we are negotiating a successor agreement that would further diminish excessive testing of students and wrongful rating of teachers.”

I am casting a protest vote for the first time in my life. I am voting for the candidates of the Green Party, Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones. I voted for Zephyr Teachout in the Democratic primary for three reasons: her position on education, on public integrity, and on the environment. And these are the reasons I will cast my ballot in November for the Green Party.

I like their platform on the issues that matter most to me. I oppose hydrofracking ( yes, there was a recent study that said that hydrofracking did not cause pollution, but the faulty wells dug during the process of fracking caused pollution; forgive me for saying that is a distinction without a difference).

Cast your vote as you choose. This is my choice.


BAN FRACKING: Protect New York farms from the air, water, and land pollution, climate change, and degradation of rural infrastructure and property values that hydrofracking of shale formations for natural gas would bring to rural upstate New York.


Build in 15 years a full clean energy system based on:
*energy production from distributed solar, wind, wave, tidal, hydro, and geothermal energy production, where every home, office, and factory is retrofitted to be a solar power producer;
*energy storage from electrolytic hydrogen, battery, potential, and thermal energy;
*transportation through electrified vehicles and rails;
*heating and cooling by electricity-powered air- and ground-source heat pumps, heat exchangers, and backup electric resistance heaters;
*an interactive smart grid to match energy supply and demand and sales and purchases of distributed energy producers and consumers.



30 state legislators have been indicted or pushed out of office for ethics violations since 1999, including 11 since Governor Cuomo took office in 2011. Cuomo promised in his 2010 campaign to establish an independent ethics commission. Instead, we got the Joint Commission on Public Integrity (JCOPE) and the Legislative Ethics Commission (LEC), both of which are compromised by segmented jurisdictions and leadership appointed by and staffing drawn from staffs of the very politicians they are supposed to monitor. Then in 2014 Cuomo shut down the Moreland Commission to investigate public corruption before it could complete its work. We need strong ethics reforms to end this epidemic of corruption.


Bring the Moreland Commission back to finish the investigations it began. Give it the funding it needs and the autonomy to let the commissioners hire staff this time without interference from the governor’s office or the legislature.


Establish a truly independent ethics commission with comprehensive responsibility for ethics enforcement. Give it the resources necessary to vigorously investigate and punish ethics rules violations by members of both the executive and legislative branches. Operate it under the following rules:

No elected officials on its governing board.

A five-year revolving door restriction for recent politicians or their staff members to serve as board or staff for the Ethics Commission.

Apply Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Laws to the Ethics Commission.


County DAs need additional resources in order to enforce public ethics laws in addition to their work on street crime.


Bar income from outside work while serving a term in office. Legislators should be public servants, not politicians getting rich from the work (show or no-show) they secure because they are legislators who influence legislation. They should devote their full time to the people’s business.



Fully fund public schools with an equitable state aid formula.

Eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment and the state-mandated local tax cap.

100% Foundation Aid for public schools.

Fully funded, full day, and developmentally appropriate Universal Pre-K and Kindergarten with certified and unionized educators.

Opt out of high-stakes testing for students, teachers, and schools.

Opt out of Common Core and Race To The Top.

Opt into common standards, curricula, and diagnostic tests written by professional teachers in the schools, not by outside corporate contractors.

Opt into teacher and school evaluation based on collaboration.

Opt into affirmative action to reduce school segregation by race and class, such as regional inter-district transfer programs.

State legislation to reduce class sizes and case loads.

Free Tuition at CUNY, SUNY, and Community Colleges.


The full platform is online here:

Our regular reader and commenter Laura Chapman offers us another nugget of informed analysis and wisdom:

She writes:

A press release dated NEW YORK, Oct. 28, 2013 /PRNewswire/ announced that The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust was investing $3 million “to establish a rigorous research project to modify and align the Framework for Teaching with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

This project will happen in four districts. One of these (unnamed) is in NY state.

You can find the application to market the 2013 Danielson Framework in NY state at

There you will see that the application required empirical evidence in support of “each rubric.” Whatever that “each rubric” meant, the application was approved with very brief references to eight “empirical” studies, three with more elaborate descriptions of the methodology.

In addition to the questions I asked about the full spectrum applicability of the Danielson protocol, I should have asked about studies that paid attention to the “demographics” in the classrooms observed—the proportional composition of students who qualify for lunch programs, those in gifted programs, special education, students still learning English, recent transfers, and so on.

Every teacher knows how these distributions shift from class to class and make a huge daily difference in what is taught, how, and so on.

For a recent summary of the many problems with this and related high stakes evaluation schemes see Leading via Teacher Evaluation: The Case of the Missing Clothes?
(July, 2013) Joseph Murphy, Philip Hallinger and Ronald H. Heck

See also a 2014 VIP article by David C. Berliner in Teachers College Record. His online summary of the craze to evaluate teachers by flawed methods closes with this great sentence:

“In fact, the belief that there are thousands of consistently inadequate teachers may be like the search for welfare queens and disability scam artists—more sensationalism than it is reality.”


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