Today in New York, the lavish sponsors of the year-long, “Don’t Steal Possible” ad campaign, Families for Excellent Schools—the people who support Eva Moskowitz’s New York City Success Academy Charter Schools—are holding a rally in Albany, the state capital. Success Academy charter schools in New York City are closing and busing families to Albany for the event, which is scheduled to compete with a teachers’ union lobby day on the topic of the state budget. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a stalwart supporter of Success Academy Schools, and long the beneficiary of campaign cash from the hedge fund managers who dominate Eva Moskowitz’s board, has again and again promoted such events that publicize the public-charter controversy. He orchestrated a similar rally last spring at Moskowitz’s request.
While NYC mayor Bill de Blasio and his schools chancellor Carmen Farina have launched a comprehensive three year improvement plan for the city’s lowest scoring schools, Cuomo has countered with a plan by which, according to Geoff Decker for ChalkBeat New York, “the state should be allowed to seize control of the schools and hand them over to outside organizations. Cuomo’s takeover plan would allow ‘receivers’ to restructure the low-ranked schools, overhaul their curriculums, and override labor agreements in order to fire ‘underperforming’ teachers and administrators.”
While Cuomo doggedly blames school teachers and claims that punishing and firing teachers will address low achievement at school, the Alliance for Quality Education, a statewide advocacy group, recently released a report that blames Cuomo for Record Setting Inequality. The AQE report notes that as a candidate in October of 2010, Cuomo declared, “I think the inequity in education is probably the civil rights issue of our time. There are two education systems in this state. Not public private. One for the rich and one for the poor and they are both public systems.” AQE instead charges that during Governor Cuomo’s first two years in office, the gap in spending between poor and wealthy school districts, “shot up from $8,024 per pupil to $8,733 per pupil. The gap of $8,733 per pupil is the largest educational inequality gap in New York State history.”
Governor Cuomo recently released a report identifying 178 “failing” schools across New York in which he believes the state should intervene. As he announced the release of his new report, Eliza Shapiro for Capital NY quotes Cuomo’s declaration: “This is the real scandal in Albany, the alarming fact that state government has stood by and done nothing as generation after generation of students have passed through failing schools.” Shapiro notes the political theater that currently dominates the debate in Albany over the education budget. She points out that Cuomo’s report listing failing schools “was sometimes indistinguishable from the eight reports on struggling schools FES (Families for Excellent Schools) has sent reporters since the summer.”
How to sort it all out?
First, Horace Meister, a pseudonym for a former policy analyst for the New York City Department of Education, contributed an analysis earlier this week to Diane Ravitch’s blog. Meister examines data for 31 of the schools identified as “failing” in Cuomo’s report and located in areas of New York City that overlap geographically with the Success Academy charter schools Cuomo continues to brag about. “The data are incontrovertible. Success Academy serves a much more privileged student body. The 31 ‘failing’ schools serve an average of 22.9% English Language Learners, 25.6% special education students, 7.9% high need special education students, 22.8% students living in temporary housing, 70.7% students receiving public assistance, 83.4% students receiving free lunch, and 5.4% students entering middle school overage. On the other hand, Success Academy schools in the same geographic region serve on average 4.9% English Language Learners, 13.9% special education students, 0.7% high need special education students, 7.9% students living in temporary housing, 55.7% students receiving public assistance, 72.3% students receiving free lunch, and 0% students entering middle school overage. It is obvious, as has been shown again and again in every data set ever studied, that the measures currently used to identify failing schools fail to accurately measure true school performance. Instead they largely penalize schools that serve the neediest students.”
Finally there is the recent analysis of Governor Cuomo’s report on “failing” schools in New York from Bruce Baker, the Rutgers University school finance professor: Angry Andy’s Failing Schools & the Finger of Blame. It seems appropriate, as numbers are being freely thrown around from all sides in New York, to go to an expert, and one from New Jersey—outside the New York political bubble—to try to help sort it all out. Professor Baker sides with the Alliance for Quality Education and Horace Meister against Cuomo. The problem is lack of funding that is exacerbating already wide inequality. Baker writes that Cuomo’s “report identifies 17 districts in particular that are home to failing schools. The point of the report is to assert that the incompetent bureaucrats, high paid administrators and lazy teachers in these schools simply aren’t getting the job done and must be punished/relieved of their duties. Angry Andy has repeatedly vociferously asserted that he and his less rabid predecessors have poured obscene sums of funding into these districts for decades. Thus—it’s their fault—certainly not his, for why they stink!”
Baker then lists conclusions he has demonstrated over the years with research: “I have addressed over and over again on this blog the plight of high need, specifically small city school districts under Governor Cuomo:
- On how New York State crafted a low-ball estimate of what districts needed to achieve adequate outcomes and then still completely failed to fund it.
- On how New York State maintains one of the least equitable state school finance systems in the nation.
- On how New York State’s systemic, persistent underfunding of high need districts has led to significant increases of numbers of children attending school with excessively large class sizes.
- On how New York State officials crafted a completely bogus, racially and economically disparate school classification scheme in order to justify intervening in the very schools they have most deprived over time.
Baker concludes: “Districts across NY state have funding gaps for a variety of reasons, but I have shown in the past that it is generally districts with greater needs—high poverty concentrations & more children with limited English language proficiency, as well as more minority children—which tend to have larger funding gaps.”