By Karen Dewitt, New York Public Radio Capital Bureau Chief
In his State of the State speech, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a new commission to reevaluate the state’s education system. A day later, it’s receiving a mixed response.
Cuomo set up a potential fight with the education establishment during an otherwise mostly congenial State of the State speech, when he chided them for what he says is putting their own interests before those of school children. He told the crowd that superintendents, principles, teachers, and janitors have their own lobbyists.
“Even the bus drivers have lobbyists,” said Cuomo. “The only group without lobbyists are the students.”
Cuomo, to even more applause, declared that he would be the student’s lobbyist in Albany.
“I’m taking a second job,” Cuomo said.
The governor says while New York spends more per student than any state in the nation, high school graduation rates ranks at number 38 in the country. He says those two numbers need to be switched. And he criticized what he says are other recent trends, including an increase in school administrators, saying the purpose of public education is not to grow the “bureaucracy”.
“We are driven by the business of education, more than achievement in education,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo says he views the commission as a joint venture with the legislature, which would be permitted to appoint members to the panel.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, gave a lukewarm response to the idea.
“I don’t know the details,” said Silver. “We have a board of Regents in this state who I think do a terrific job and work very hard to promote education.”
Unlike other state operations like transportation, health and motor vehicles, Governors of New York do not have direct control over the state’s education department. The State Board of Regents is appointed by the legislature. In recent times, that has meant that Assembly Democrats have the greatest influence in choosing Regents, since numerically they are the largest voting block in the entire legislature. The Regents then choose the Education Commissioner.
In current circumstances, though, the State Education Commissioner, John King, seems in agreement with some of Governor Cuomo’s views. King recently expressed extreme frustration with the teachers union and school administrators in several large cities downstate and upstate, over what he said was a failure to come up with a teacher evaluation plan by a December 31 deadline, to meet requirements for the federal Race to the Top grant awards. As a result, Commissioner King pulled funding slated for some of the schools.
Cuomo, in his speech, declared the new teacher evaluation process, begun in 2010 a failure, saying “it just doesn’t work”.
“Two years and it hasn’t even started yet,” said Cuomo “Out children deserve better than that.”
The President of the state’s largest teachers union, New York State United Teachers, disagrees. Richard Iannuzzi says the 2010 teacher evaluation law is not a failure, but admits the process has failed to move along quickly and has bogged down.
“That law creates an excellent framework for looking at teacher effectiveness,” said Iannuzzi. “There’s got to be ways to jumpstart the process, and there’s certainly a great deal of bureaucracy that interferes.”
Iannuzzi says if Cuomo wants to reduce the schools bureaucracy, he should address the State Education Department’s denial of some of the federal Race to the Top funds. The teacher’s union is suing the Education Department over the teacher evaluation process, and won a partial victory in state court last summer.
The President of the teachers unions does take issue with Cuomo’s claim that the governor is the only true lobbyist for the school children.
“Students have lobbyists in their parents, they have lobbyists in terms of their teachers who see them every day,” said Iannuzzi. “And they could use a lobbyist in government, so we welcome the governor to join us.”
The governor is not setting his sights just on teachers, he’s also calling for more accountability from school administrators, and in his speech, he asked for a reevaluation of the schools management system as well.