“Follow the Money” was the advice Deep Throat gave Woodward and Bernstein in the book All The President’s Men. NYTimes reporter Kate Taylor did just that in researching her article titled “Groups that Back Bloomberg’s Education Agenda Enjoy Great Success in Albany” and here’s what she found: three individuals who are on the Board of StudentsFirstNY, the lobbying group that advocates for “Bloomberg’s Education Agenda” contributed over $250,000 to Cuomo’s re-election campaign and are in the process of amassing a “War Chest” to make certain legislators who believe in “Bloomberg’s Education Agenda” are elected in 2016 so that Cuomo can pass the bills that will permanently enshrine those policies. And what are those policies?
Making teacher evaluations more dependent on test scores, reforming tenure and increasing the number of charter schools in the city were all priorities of StudentsFirstNY and became significant pieces of the governor’s agenda for the 2015 legislative session, which he announced in his State of the State speech on Jan. 21.
This Governor, who managed to undercut any competition from the progressive voters in the State by winning the endorsement of the Working Families Party by promising to work tirelessly to get a Democrat majority in the Senate, acted to implement an education agenda from a group that was working twice as hard (and spending millions of dollars) to accomplish the OPPOSITE goal. From here, it appears that Mr. Cuomo used none of his political capital to promote ANY Democrat running for the Senate and used lots of capital from StudentsFirstNY to implement the market-based for-profit model Bloomberg advocates. And the billionaires funding StudentsFirstNY did act alone in advancing “Bloomberg’s Education Agenda” in Albany. Taylor’s article also profiles Families for Excellent Schools. who are they and what do they stand for? Taylor writes:
Last year, it spent $9.6 million on lobbying, more than any other entity in the state, according to state records. Much of this money was spent on advertisements attacking Mr. de Blasio for his opposition to charter schools and a later ad praising Mr. Cuomo for coming to their aid.
The group has also become closely associated with Eva S. Moskowitz, the chief executive of Success Academy, the city’s biggest charter school network, and one of Mr. de Blasio’s sharpest critics.
Families for Excellent Schools is approved by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 organization, referring to the section of the tax code regarding charities, meaning that donations are tax-deductible, and, under New York State law, it need not disclose donors.
So two lobbying groups, one of whom spent more than “any other entity in the State”, are promoting the “Bloomberg Education Agenda” and StudentsFirstNY has extraordinary influence in legislation:
(StudentsFirstNY) is so plugged into the capital that (it’s Executive Director) Ms. Sedlis has sometimes served as a go-between among different government offices, relaying messages and scouting information about education bills being considered.
When the Executive Director of a lobbying group that has three board members who donated $250,000 to the Governor’s campaign serves “…as a go-between among different government offices” it appears that our government has been bought and sold. Here’s hoping the NYTimes digs a little deeper to follow the money and amplify its corrosive effect on legislation.
The more I read about and think about the effort to repeal NCLB, the more I hope that no compromise will be reached. The latest brouhaha over the bill involves the Booker-Murphy Amendment, which is supported by the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) a think tank that supports the neo-liberal test-and-punish reforms advocated by the likes of Cuomo, Christie and Walker. Charles Barone, DFER’s policy director, summarizes the amendment’s elements as follows:
The amendment simply sets forth what we see as two non-negotiable principles that, in exchange for billions of dollars in federal aid:
1. States will assess school performance based on real and measurable results – not just for all students on average but for historically-disadvantaged groups of students including black students, Hispanic students, students from low-income families, students with disabilities and English Language Learners.
2. States or districts will intervene in schools where historically-disadvantaged groups of students consistently fail to meet state academic benchmarks.
“It’s on the second point that the underlying bill reauthorizing ESEA is most in need of improvement. Unlike the underlying bill, the Murphy amendment would not allow states and school districts to neglect schools that are chronically under-performing. It would not dictate hopelessness to parents whose children are trapped in those schools. It would not accept dropout factories that perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline.
What’s not to like about these premises? Well, in an open letter to Bernie Sanders who signed on to this amendment, a group of disaffected teachers and unions leaders argue against any quantitative measures:
Quantitative measures are invalid. They are masks for social inequalities. They merely highlight and then reflect economic and racial inequalities. Mel Riddile, “PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid'” at the blog, “The Principal’s Corner”, found that numerical performance of districts mirrors the scale of economic inequalities of those districts. Statisticians have proven over and over again that the use of value added modeling is logically flawed. NCLB drove the use of value-added modeling (VAM) which negatively transformed the teaching and learning processes in the nation’s schools.
It’s unclear to me that the amendment itself would require or even lead to the use of VAM. As I understand it, this rider requires that any test scores be disaggregated by race and socio-economic demographics and require that states do something about “chronically underperforming” districts.
I think that Bernie Sanders is placed in an awkward situation with this bill. He is clearly opposed to privatization of public services, clearly supportive of unions, and clearly supportive of social justice. I do not believe that his support of this amendment is a signal that he supports VAM or that he favors testing as the sole means of accountability. Moreover, the presumptive nominee for the democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, is not subjected to a litmus test based on her support for or rejection of this amendment. My belief: if Hillary Clinton was still a Senator this would be the Booker-Murphy-Clinton amendment.
As I’ve written frequently in this blog, the whole idea of giving STATES the responsibility for determining how to measure school performance is troubling, especially given the direction most States are heading when it comes to issues like VAM, funding equity, and racial discrimination. Here’s hoping the bill dies before the President gets a chance to sign it into law. If it DOES pass, we’ll have at least another six years of testing… and we won’t be testing climate change and evolution in at least nine states in the union.