"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Why Cuomo Will Lose: Her Name is Zephyr Teachout

Hey--another smart, female, progressive professor running to replace the seedy, corrupt neoliberal good ole boy!  Wonder if Warren will come campaign for her.
In 2008 Microsoft founder Bill Gates, one of the world's richest men, decided that he should take charge of education policy. He promoted a single set of standards to measure our children's achievements in school. Since then Gates has spent more than $200 million to advance this idea, called the "Common Core." Gov. Andrew Cuomo, since taking office in early 2011, has supported the use of Common Core in New York schools.

The idea of a shared, high standard sounds appealing. But in practice what Common Core means is that students and teachers are subject to a grueling regime of tests that the citizens and families of our state never really had the chance to discuss. In the words of education historian Diane Ravitch, the imposition of Bill Gates' Common Core has been "the closest thing to an educational coup in the history of the United States."

Common Core forces teachers to adhere to a narrow set of standards, rather than address the personal needs of students or foster their creativity. That's because states that have adopted the standards issue mandatory tests whose results are improperly used to grade a teacher's skill and even to determine if he or she keeps their job. These tests have created enormous and undue stress on students, and eroded real teaching and real learning. What's more, there's sound reason to question whether these standards even measure the right things or raise student achievement. No doubt, many teachers have found parts of the standards useful in their teaching, but there is a big difference between optional standards offered as support, and standards foisted on teachers regardless of students' needs.

Widespread outrage from teachers and parents has led Gov. Cuomo to tweak the rules around the implementation of the Common Core and call for a review of the rollout. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not addressed the real problem with Common Core.

Bill Gates' coup

The fundamental issue is not the technicalities of how the standards are implemented. It is not even that Gov. Cuomo allowed this regime even as he was stripping schools of basic funding, leading class sizes to swell and forcing schools to slash programs in art and extra help. The root problem with Common Core is that it is undemocratic. It is a scheme conceived and heavily promoted by a handful of distant and powerful actors. Here in New York, it was adopted with insufficient input from local teachers, parents, school boards or students, the very people whose lives it so profoundly affects.

Bill Gates' coup is part of a larger coup we're living through today – where a few moneyed interests increasingly use their wealth to steer public policy, believing that technocratic expertise and resources alone should answer vexing political questions. Sometimes their views have merit, but the way these private interests impose their visions on the public – by overriding democratic decision-making – is a deep threat to our democracy. What's more, this private subversion of public process has come at the precise time when our common institutions, starved of funds, are most vulnerable. But by allowing private money to supplant democracy, we surrender the fate of our public institutions to the personal whims of a precious few.

Across America, people are rising against Bill Gates' overly centralized standards and governors are listening, scaling back or abandoning Common Core. Andrew Cuomo is not one of those governors listening. Despite all the outrage, he has not visited public schools to watch Common Core in action, and he shows no indication of halting the general top-down approach.

Education democracy

My principles are different. I went to a great public elementary school and high school in Vermont. My teachers were attentive because they had the time and support to see each child and teach us not only the basics, but also about creativity and civic responsibilities. Teachers and parents had a real say in defining and measuring our progress. After college, I worked as a special education teacher's aide in a rural public school, and I saw the hurdles to learning posed by emotional challenges at home. Top-down, highly regimented tests would not have worked, largely because it would have straight-jacketed teachers, instead of allowing them to respond to particular needs.

If I am elected governor, I will fight every day to make sure New York's children have the best schools in the country. I will immediately halt implementation of the Common Core. I believe the best path to high standards is to work more closely with teachers and parents, and with the Legislature and the Board of Regents. Where the problem is federal policy, I will lead a delegation of parents and educators to Washington to demand that federal officials stop dictating how we educate our own children.

As did the founding generation in America, I believe public education is the infrastructure of democracy. The best public education is made democratically, in the local community: when parents, teachers, and administrators work together to build and refine the education models and standards right for our children.

The writer, a Fordham University law professor, is seeking seeking the Democratic Party line for governor.


  1. Anonymous11:30 PM

    Thank you for an excellent post. My family will be voting for Ms Teachout this coming fall. Two more votes that went to Cuomo the last time that he cannot have this time around...Long Island for Teachout!

  2. Anonymous3:51 PM

    I too will be voting for Teachout in Tuesday's primary.