policy matters

The education governor's race: A Paladino and Cuomo primer

You may have noticed that we have a governor’s race going on in New York. But amid the love children, viral cell-phone videos, and upsetting e-mail forwards, policy issues are getting even more overshadowed than usual — including where the two candidates stand on education.

To remedy this, I’ve compiled a brief primer outlining the education stances of the Democrat, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and the Republican, Tea Party-ite Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, the state's attorney general, is in the Obama Democrat camp on education.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, the state's attorney general, sides with Obama and Bloomberg on education. (Photo via ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/saeba/4015439957/sizes/m/in/photostream/##Flickr## user ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/saeba/##saebaryo##)

Andrew Cuomo

HIS CAMP: Cuomo is framing himself as the great hope that Democrats for Education Reform activists once dreamed David Paterson would be — a “Barack Obama Democrat” on education, as one source put it to me. (Or, you might say, an “ideolocrat.”)

Cuomo kept himself out of the Race to the Top legislative battle (at least publicly). But his published platform mirrors DFER’s insistence on raising the cap on charter schools, and it quotes charter supporters’ warning that a union-backed push for more public consultation before opening a charter school would have amounted to a “poison pill.”

WHAT HE MIGHT DO: Cuomo’s decision to affiliate with DFER, Mayor Bloomberg, and the entrepreneurial camp on schools gives him a potentially long education wish list. That’s because almost all of the changes favored by these reformers are legislative; teacher tenure, “last in, first out” firing patterns, teacher pensions, and charter school growth are all matters of state law.

While other state Democrats (namely Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver) have allied themselves with the teachers union, Cuomo could act as a counter-force pushing for more changes to the state’s education law. It’s worth noting that nearly all of the education agenda Bloomberg laid out this week on NBC would require changes to state law.

WHY HE MIGHT NOT DO IT: Cuomo’s probably in for a fight with Silver and other Albany lawmakers, but will education be at the top of his list? The tough budget climate might give him even less leverage to pursue his agenda. A case in point is Eliot Spitzer, who balanced his endorsement of a charter cap lift with ending the long-running stalemate over the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. But the millions Spitzer promised have substantially tapered in the ugly budget climate, making “sweetener” deals hard to imagine.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, a Buffalo businessman, favors charter schools, vouchers, and firing the Board of Regents.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, a Buffalo businessman, favors charter schools, vouchers, and firing the Board of Regents. (Photo via ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/azipaybarah/4901884630/sizes/m/in/photostream/##WNYC's Azi Paybarah##)

Carl Paladino

HIS CAMP: Paladino’s campaign didn’t return my phone calls requesting information about his position on education, so I had to rely on his public statements (especially this Daily News interview) and a brief (and occasionally alarming) rundown of his education positions on his web site.

The statements suggest he would take Cuomo’s entrepreneurial endorsements (pro-charter schools, pro-Race to the Top) and raise them a long mile by endorsing vouchers, attempting to fire the entire state Board of Regents, repealing the 3020-A law that governs how teachers are fired, and overhauling education funding streams. He has promised to cut the state government by 20%, but this week he told the Daily News flatly, “I will not cut education funding.”

WHAT HE MIGHT DO: Paladino’s education statement also suggests creating “residential charter schools” that would begin in kindergarten. Paladino’s vision:

To ensure that no child is left behind, Carl will create residential charters in the worst urban school district where children reside starting at kindergarten. These charters will tackle problems created by dysfunctional homes such as ensuring proper dress codes, food is supplied and overall conditions provide a learning atmosphere.

The candidate also has specific plans for the members of the Board of Regents, who the statement says will have to “submit to the Governor signed and undated letters of resignation as of January 1, 2011.” The statement goes on, “As Governor, Carl will accept the resignation of those who think protecting union leaders is more important than not leaving any children behind.”

Paladino’s plans for the remaining Regents members, who govern the state’s education system, include this “demand”:

Carl will demand that the Regents Board remove the School Board and Superintendents of all school systems presently achieving a less than 60 percent graduation rate or having more than 25 percent of its schools in any form of academic distress and replace them with a competent “Special Master” with full authority to implement the changes necessary to effectively and quickly address the dysfunction.

WHY HE MIGHT NOT DO IT: Education officials and state leaders have sometimes quietly imagined a kind of state version of mayoral control that would dismantle the State Board of Regents, which oversees the state education system. But such an overhaul would be an uphill battle given that the Regents are appointed not by the governor, but by the state legislature.

Demanding resignations letters from Merryl Tisch and her fellow Regents would be a bully-pulpit move, but not a real request, and Paladino certainly would not have the authority to dictate how Tisch deals with local superintendents — nor could Tisch unilaterally fire local school boards and superintendents.

By a “residential charter school,” Paladino may have in mind something like the SEED School in D.C., a boarding charter school that is featured in the film “Waiting for ‘Superman.'” But SEED begins in middle school, not kindergarten.

the aftermath

What educators, parents, and students are grappling with in the wake of America’s latest school shooting

Kristi Gilroy (right) hugs a young woman at a police check point near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed by a gunman in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

It’s hard to know where to start on days like this.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead on Wednesday has elicited both terror and anger — and raised debates that are far from settled about how to keep American students safe.

Here are a few storylines we noticed as the country again grapples with a tragic school shooting:

1. You’re not wrong to think it: There have been a lot of mass shootings, and many recent ones have been especially deadly.

Data on school shootings specifically, though, is notoriously murky. As the Atlantic recently noted, varying definitions can contribute to either “sensationalizing or oversimplifying a modern trend of mass violence in America that is seemingly becoming more entrenched.”

But by NBC News’ count, 20 people have been killed and more than 30 have been injured in school shootings this year. That’s a lot — and more news organizations are now trying to keep a careful tally.

2. The consequences of traumatic events like the shooting at Stoneman Douglas are likely to be felt for some time.

A number of studies have found that violent and traumatic events in and outside of school do real damage to student learning, as we’ve reported — particularly among students who are already struggling. Here are some resources for teachers who need to talk to their students about trauma.

3. The tragedy is already renewing debates over whether or how to arm teachers.

Education Week gathered some of those calls from politicians Thursday. “Gun-safety advocates say that teachers can’t safely and quickly move from the mindset of teaching to being asked to fire a gun at an active shooter,” the story also notes.

This doesn’t even get at the debate about whether anyone should have access to the kind of gun the shooter used. Students from the district, for their part, told Broward schools chief Robert Runcie Thursday “that the time is due for a conversation on sensible gun control,” the Miami Herald reported.

Whether other technology and infrastructure can help keep students safe is a topic of ongoing discussion in communities across the country. Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill to help schools buy communications systems that would allow them to talk directly to police and other emergency responders. Officials from districts that already use this equipment described them as a way to increase safety without “turning our schools into prisons,” even as they also assured lawmakers that the radios were just as useful for serious playground injuries and broken-down buses as for the much rarer active shooter situations.

In Tennessee, one school district near Nashville announced plans to close schools next Monday to review all safety plans with school staff and local law enforcement.

4. In some places, the shooting is unlikely to change the school safety debate at all.

In New York City, for example, conversations about school safety in recent years have revolved around discipline policies and metal detectors (though police have seized an increasing number of weapons from city schools). There’s little appetite there to arm teachers.

5. But all across America, the shooting and others like it have added a frightening tone to what it means to teach and learn in schools today.

“I know you are waking up this morning to a nightmare,” a former educator wrote in a “love letters to teachers” on Teaching Tolerance. “I know you are frustrated, tired and weary of the news. I know you are wearing your coat of bravery today.”

“I’m so, so angry and I’m having a hard time today looking at my students and not thinking about what happens when it’s my school’s turn,” wrote one commenter on the Badass Teachers Association Facebook group.

getting to graduation

New York City graduation rate hits record high of 74.3 percent in 2017

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the 2017 graduation rate at South Bronx Preparatory school.

New York City’s graduation rate rose to 74.3 percent in 2017, a slight increase over the previous year and a new high for the city.

The 1.2 percentage point increase over the previous year continues an upward climb for the city, where the overall graduation rate has grown by nearly 28 points since 2005. The state graduation rate also hit a new high — 82.1 percent — just under the U.S. rate of 84.1 percent.

The city’s dropout rate fell to 7.8 percent, a small decline from the previous year and the lowest rate on record, according to the city.

“New York City is showing that when we invest in our students, they rise to the challenge and do better and better,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement Wednesday.

More graduates were also deemed ready for college-level work. Last year, 64 percent of graduates earned test scores that met the City University of New York’s “college-ready” benchmark — up more than 13 percentage points from the previous year. 

However, the gains came after CUNY eased its readiness requirements; without that change, city officials said the increase would be significantly smaller. But even with the less rigorous requirements, more than a third of city students who earned high-school diplomas would be required to take remedial classes at CUNY.

Phil Weinberg, the education department’s deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, noted that CUNY’s college-readiness requirements are more demanding than New York’s graduation standards — which are among the toughest in the country.

We will work toward making sure none of our students need remediation when they get to college,” he told reporters. “But that’s a long game for us and we continue to move in that direction.”

The rising graduation rates follow a series of changes the state has made in recent years to help more students earn diplomas.

The graduation-requirement changes include allowing students with disabilities to earn a diploma by passing fewer exit exams and letting more students appeal a failed score. In addition, students can now substitute a work-readiness credential for one of the five Regents exams they must pass in order to graduate — adding to a number of other alternative tests the state has made available in the past few years.

About 9,900 students used one of those alternative-test or credential options in 2017, while 315 students with disabilities took advantage of the new option for them, according to state officials. They could not say how many students successfully appealed a low test score; but in 2016, about 1,300 New York City students did so.

The news was mixed for schools in de Blasio’s high-profile “Renewal” improvement program for low-performing schools. Among the 28 high schools that have received new social services and academic support through the program, the graduation rate increased to nearly 66 percent — almost a 6 percentage point bump over 2016. Their dropout rate also fell by about 2 points, to 16.4 percent, though that remains more than twice as high as the citywide rate.

However, more than half of the high schools in that $568 million program — 19 out of 28 — missed the graduation goals the city set for them, according to a New York Times analysis based on preliminary figures.

Graduation rates for students who are still learning English ticked up slightly to 32.5 percent, following a sharp decline the previous year that the state education commissioner called “disturbing.” City officials argue that students who improved enough to shed the designation of “English language learner” in the years before they graduated should also be counted; among that larger group, the graduation rate was 53 percent in 2017.

Meanwhile, the graduation-rate gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers narrowed a smidgen, but it remains wide. Last year, the graduation rate was about 83 percent for white students, 70 percent for black students, and 68 percent for Hispanic students. That represented a closing of the gap between white and black students by 0.4 percentage points, and 0.1 points between whites and Hispanic.

Asian students had the highest rate — 87.5 percent — a nearly 2 point increase from the previous year that widened their lead over other racial groups.

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.