Sunday, December 20, 2015

Cuomo faces backlash if education reforms fail
By:  Fred LeBrun | December 19, 2015

This article appeared in the December 19, 2015 edition of The Times Union - here is the link

Cuomo's education law is garbage. Put it in a different bag, it's still garbage.

 While we haven't a clue even at this late date who among a kennel full of Republicans is likely to challenge Hillary for the job, short of a major cosmic collapse we can be assured there will be no President Cuomo next November.

For a fiercely ambitious politician with the highest aspirations, Andrew Cuomo has to be bitterly disappointed at the trajectory of his once-promising career, which is pointed at his toes. He isn't even remotely in the national conversation anymore. And even if he were to turn it around, the modern American political reality is even a George W. Bush gets two terms, so the earliest Cuomo could muster up a run of his own is for 2024. He'd be 65, still young enough. But between now and then, as Mario used to muse, a pope can be born.

Besides, Andrew will have to survive two New York gubernatorial elections to stay in the game. The thought of that is daunting enough, a reminder of his precipitous fall in popularity right here at home. Andrew Cuomo has been governed by the polls. Now the polls are burying him. On ethics and education he gets deeply failing grades from the public, and these are two categories about which the public cares deeply.

At the least, federal prosecutor Preet Bharara is making a fool of the governor every time there's a new conviction of a legislator, which seems to be a perpetual motion machine. Remember, the governor with characteristic hubris proclaimed he'd cleaned up political Albany. Bharara is showing us how very silly and ineffectual the governor's efforts have proven to be. Bharara has also taken the cocksure out of the governor's step, the brash arrogance. Now, what Andrew can do to get Preet off his case may be out of his control.

But on reforming the reform of public education in New York, Gov. Cuomo created the problem. He can resolve it. But he's going to have to work a lot harder at it than he has to reverse tumbling poll numbers because he's lost the trust of the electorate on this. Getting it back will not be easy. Nor is a meaningful reversal amenable to shortcuts. The good news for the governor is that this sort of dilemma plays to his strong suit, adeptly moving pieces to achieve a particular result.

However, the time line is working against the governor.

Let's cut right to the chase: the penalty if he fails. A manure wagon load of rejection from irate parents across the state as Opt Out numbers soar. The sleeping giant is the electorate rebelling, about the worst nightmares any politician can imagine, because what began as the forceful and effective rejection of the governor's education policy can easily enough morph into a rejection of the governor himself.

In April, the next round of required standardized tests in English language arts and math for grades 3 through 8 grades will be administered in 700 plus school districts in the state. As a consequence of the adoption of emergency regulations by the state Board of Regents last week, which may be finalized in January, there will be no consequences for teachers in their job evaluations or students in their records for the grades on these tests. These exams, by the way, will be the last from the international testing firm Pearson before a new national testing company, Questar, takes over next year. The no-consequences moratorium extends for four years, and is one of 21 recommendations recently made by the governor's task force on rebooting Common Core in New York.

Last spring, 20 percent of New York students, which translates to about 30 percent outside New York City — over 200,000 — refused to take these deeply flawed, pointless Common Core standardized tests. Last week, the Opt Out movement announced that while the governor's task force report delivers a mostly credible outline of what went wrong with the implementation of Common Core in New York, and provides a commendable road map for how to fix it, it's just a report. A step in the right direction, but that's all. The devil, as we know all too well with this administration, is in the details and implementation.

As of now Opt Out continues, as it should. Signaling change is not change. Trading one set of idiotic tests for another is not necessarily progress, particularly if there is far too much testing to begin with. The governor seems hellbent on keeping his signature Education Transformation Act codifying the public education atrocity we currently have, and simply substituting a state created set of educational standards in line with Common Core for the commercially prepared ones. But the bogus philosophy of test-driven education and teacher evaluations inappropriately tied to testing results lives on after the four-year moratorium dries up. Four years is not a long time considering the turnaround task ahead.

Cuomo's education law is garbage. Put it in a different bag, it's still garbage. That law needs to be rewritten top to bottom, which is where the Legislature, the Board of Regents and state education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia come in. It's got to be a collaborative effort. A spirit of total transparency and the inclusion of every stakeholder group blatantly ignored up to now — the backbone concept holding together the governor's Common Core task force recommendations — must be represented in first rewriting the law, then implementing those recommendations. It's a package deal, or no deal at all.

And the Opt Out organizers, a great credit to the organizational power of social media, will be watching with eagle eyes.

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