Friday, December 26, 2014

Divide and Conquer—Cuomo Style

Part-time progressive Bill DeBlasio and full-time douchebag Andrew Cuomo are hearing it from unions these days in New York. Members of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (PBA) turned their backs on DeBlasio in Brooklyn, while leaders of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) called Cuomo “clueless” and challenged him to a series of education shit shows town halls across the state. 

Cuomo, ever eager to bask in DeBlasio’s political fallout, has auditioned for peacemaker between the cops and the mayor, especially after PBA President Pat Lynch used the phrases “educate our children” and “blood on the steps of city hall” in back-to-back breaths following the recent murders of two uniformed cops.

In an interview before the shootings, Cuomo called Lynch a “friend” who was only doing his job as union president in moving to bar DeBlasio from police funerals:
"He was venting that emotion. He is standing up for the police, which is his job, and making the point that police need protection, too, in situations like this, and need respect and consideration in situations like this,” Cuomo told public radio’s “Capitol Pressroom” program.
On the other hand, Cuomo was outraged when NYSUT President Karen Magee vented her emotion and accused the governor of “doing the bidding of billionaires” when it comes to public education. The cowardly Cuomo responded through his spokeswoman, denouncing Magee’s statement as “mind-boggling” and “hostile.”
What would Cuomo have said if Magee had accused him of having the blood of public schools on his hands? 

The metaphor works in this case, since Andrew Cuomo has done more to destroy public education in New York State than Bill DeBlasio will ever do to destroy the New York Police Department.

Cuomo will never call for the same “respect and consideration” for teachers as he does the police. While public schools are a “monopoly” he’d like to “break”, the cops are the only ones blocking the barbarians from breaking down Cuomo’s gates.  

One can only imagine what Pat Lynch would say, for instance, if Cuomo threatened to break the PBA’s monopoly on law enforcement in New York City.    

It should surprise no one that the governor—who visited a whopping two public schools during his first term—was outraged more by comments aimed at hedge funders and their dystopian visions for public education than comments aimed at a fellow democrat and mayor of the nation’s largest city.

DeBlasio has at least attempted to stem the privatization of public education, and that alone quickly earned him a spot on the governor’s enemies list. 

A vindictive sociopath, Cuomo governs on personal vendettas, caressing his donors while plotting revenge against those who refuse to caress his fragile ego. 

Cuomo recently bemoaned being able to control education only through the state budget, even calling requests for more school aid “political correctness.”  
With schools across the state slipping toward insolvency, Cuomo’s only objective is to repay his donors with more privately-run charter schools and pink slips for teachers.  

As this blog has urged 
again and again, NYSUT must move beyond strongly-worded faxes and petitions and take the battle for public education to Cuomo directly. 

It remains to be seen if the Lobbyist for the Students will show up and share his pernicious bloviations about public education at the NYSUT town halls. Though Cuomo apparently has no difficulty speaking to billionaires about education, he’s apt to retreat to his cave at the whiff of educators and parents who actually know what they’re talking about. It seems Cuomo is comfortable talking about education only with those who have more money and less expertise than he does.    

Though Cuomo will likely ignore NYSUT’s invitation to the town halls, Magee must push for this and other specific actions, calling out Cuomo in the press and trailing the governor and his slimy associates across the state. NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn recently offered a speck of hope this might happen: 

What worked for the anti-frackers will work for NYSUT, since public education and our environment each face existential threats.  

Teachers have an opportunity to answer Cuomo’s questions about education in-person this New Year’s Eve at his mansion in Albany. Though Cuomo will likely filter public employees from the visitors list—a driver’s license number is required to register—teachers could take a big step toward Cuomo in 2015 by stepping through his door on the final day of 2014.
Like the anti-frackers did, New York’s teachers must get in Cuomo’s face—even if he tries to hide behind the police. After all, when Cuomo calls for us to protect the police, he’s really calling for the police to protect him and his wealthy donors. 

And as long as the police are on their side, Cuomo and others will keep attacking labor. For as both Cuomo and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker understand, workers must be divided before they can be conquered:

Saturday, December 6, 2014

With Liberty and Charter Schools for All

Where can 12 billionaires turn if they want education laws changed?

That’s right, their checkbooks.

Between late September and Election Day, a dozen hedge funders donated a combined $4.4 million to New York State politics, mainly to ensure that Governor Andrew Cuomo and his slimy associates will help publicly-funded, privately-run charter schools seep deeper into the state.
Led by the likes Paul Tudor Jones II, who recently hosted an education “summit” featuring Cuomo and other corpses, the billionaires see charters as investment windfalls. After all, those pesky teachers unions and their due process rights won’t be around to challenge every test and technology tonic sold to New York’s taxpayers once the metastasis of charters quickens.     

With minimal overhead and oversight, charters and their plutocratic backers can finally corner an elusive market in New York State—public education. In words reminiscent of showman P.T. Barnum, “there’s a sucker born every minute”, and the billionaires see no bigger sucker than New York’s working families, with snake-oil salesmen peddling toxic Common Core tests and standards as the panacea for underfunded public schools.

The billionaires would rather subsume these schools than fix them, however, and their sycophantic public servants are lining up to comply. Cuomo has said he wants to “break” public schools in his second term, and lest we forget what Secretary of Education Arne Dunked-on said just last year:

“…he [Duncan] found it “fascinating” that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”
In a recent interview, Jeremiah Kittredge, founder of Families for Excellent Charter Schools (an anti-labor, pro-douchebag super PAC which spent $9 million on the New York election) continued efforts to slime our schools. Kittredge’s organization is calling for an “epic infusion of excellent schools” to rescue 249,000 children supposedly “trapped” in public schools statewide. Kittredge wants parents to believe their local schools face a “crisis of epic proportions” for which charters apparently hold the cure. 

Kittredge says charters are “outperforming” public schools, but it doesn’t require a close-reading of Kittredge’s claims to reveal his simplistic and savage suggestion: charter school students are just better test-takers.

Yet even if their scores are higher—and study after study prove otherwise—most parents would rather raise compassionate, well-rounded human beings instead of test-taking cyborgs programmed by flawed standards. 

Look no further than Pink Floyd’s classic “Another Brick in the Wall” for an allegory of corporate charters and their subservient students. Note how the children in the video react after too many trips through the meat grinder of educational malfeasance: 

The rebellious students in the video throw their teacher on a bonfire, while the New York State Education Department (NYSED) throws teachers on the scrapheap in real life.

With allies like Kittredge doing their bidding—who in the same interview calls public school teachers the “worst servers” of special education and ESL students—
 Education Commissioner John King and Chancellor Merryl Tisch are paradoxically demanding more accountability for unionized teachers and less for charter chains, from the “board of trustees” down to the lowly teachers.

A glance at NYSED’s handy-dandy “Guide to Charter Schools in New York State”, for example, tells us that 30% of the teachers in a charter don’t need to be certified.
At least the important parts are in color

Meanwhile, Tisch seeks an “aggressive” proliferation of charters as her department makes it more difficult for those who would rather teach in unionized public schools to become certified—the majority of job seekers throughout the state. More and more of these applicants might soon find a home in New York’s charters, however, who will entice them with a logo only a hedge funder could love:

Sadly, the day when billionaires like Merryl Tisch control who gets to work in schools has finally arrived. Up-and-coming teachers are not far from signing contracts with corporate boards instead of boards of education, one bad test score away from working at Walmart.      

It was industrious journalism and not NYSED which exposed the fraudulent resume of “Dr.” Ted Morris, Jr., whose Greater Works Charter was revoked by the state after it was revealed Morris lacked both a doctorate and a high school diploma. Both Tisch and King disavowed responsibility for this gross oversight, with Tisch blaming her unnamed underlings and Director of Charter Schools Bill Clarke in hiding since the scandal broke.

With their schools tumbling toward insolvency and privatization, where can members of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) turn to preserve their profession?

From Manhattan to Massena, the state's teachers union is only as strong as its weakest links.

Though not yet an existential threat, non-urban locals should fight charters as much as urban locals should fight non-urban threats like the Tax Cap and Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA).

No teacher outside of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), for instance, would be offended if UFT President Michael Mulgrew suddenly spoke out against the Tax Cap, just like Mulgrew should not take umbrage if a teacher in Westchester spoke out against New York City charter schools.

Things might be different for NYSUT if Mulgrew had threatened to punch someone other than teachers who opposed the Common Core, or if American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten’s next arrest is outside the offices of Cuomo or NYSED.   

The privatization of public education is a many-headed hydra, fed by a handful of plutocrats.

This should be no match, however, for an organization fed by 600,000 workers instead of 12 billionaires.

NYSUT must lead this fight before public education starves to death.