Politicians whine. Politicians bluster. Politicians blame. New York State Governor Andy Cuomo does it with the worst of them, especially when it comes to education. It is easy to blame teachers; but it is much harder to take responsibility for your own failures and the failure of state government to live up to its constitutional mandate to educate all children.
In his latest report, "The State of New York's Failing Schools," Cuomo placed most of the blame for educational failure on teachers and an inadequate and too lenient teacher rating system that he himself put in place. Failing schools were defined as schools repeatedly in the bottom 5% of combined student English and math scores on standardized tests or schools with a graduation rate below 60% for the past three years.
According to Governor Andy, "It is incongruous that 99% of teachers were rated effective, while only 35.8 percent of our students are proficient in math and 31.4 percent in English language arts." Andy rhetorically asked, "How can so many of our teachers be succeeding when so many of our students are struggling?"
But the answer is in the report. "Statewide, more than 9 out of 10 students in failing schools are minority or poor." It easy to blame teachers for poor school performance when the real problem in New York State is not education, but racism and poverty.
If you read the report carefully, New York State's urban minority schools in low-income communities uniformly perform poorly. Maybe the schools needed to do a better job teaching Governor Andy, who graduated from prestigious Archbishop Molloy High School, Fordham University and Albany Law School, how to do math and read better.
There are also numerous errors in the Cuomo school failure report and I suspect heads are going to roll. I compared % of Free and Reduced Price Lunch Students (FRPL) on the Cuomo report with % free lunch eligibility on the New York City Department of Education (DOE) School Quality Guide for 2013-2014. FRPL is a measure of students living in low-income families. Cuomo's report says that 9.1% of the students at John Adams High School in Queens County are eligible for free or reduced priced lunch. The NYC guide puts the number of students "Free Lunch Eligible" at Adams High School at 74%. The pattern of error continues at other Queens County high schools. According to the Cuomo report, 3.3% of the students at Martin Van Buren High School are FRPL eligible. The actual figure according to the DOE is 59%. There are similar errors in reporting for Flushing, Cleveland, and Long Island City high schools.
Cuomo does have a school improvement plan, sort of. Governor Andy proposed that when a school fails for three years, a nonprofit, another school district, or a turnaround expert take over the school. It would be a good idea to consolidate racially and economically segregated school districts, but I do not think that is what is being proposed. I suspect Governor Andy is really offering to pour public dollars into profit-making non-profits and "experts" that come out of the charter school / hedge fund movement that supported his campaign for reelection.
On Cuomo's statewide list 178 schools with over 100,000 students received a failing grade. New York City has almost 100 failing schools with more than 50,000 students including about 40 high schools. In every high school but two over 90% of the students are listed as "minority" and in most of these schools the figure is well over 95%. Buffalo has eight failing high schools. In seven of the schools, over 85% of the students are listed as "minority" in the Cuomo report and over 75% of the students are eligible for free or reduced priced lunch, which means they are from poorer families. Albany's failing high school is 77.6% "minority" with over 50% of the students eligible for free or reduced price lunch. Yonkers' failing Roosevelt High School is 90.8% "minority" with over 85% of the students eligible for free or reduced price lunch. In Rochester and Syracuse failing high schools are at least 65% "minority" with most over 90% and large numbers of the students receive free or reduced price lunch.
In the rest of the Hudson Valley, Mt Vernon's "failing" middle school is 94.2% minority and almost 70% of the students receive free or reduced price lunch. At Newburgh's "failing" Temple Hill School, over 85% of the students are minority and over 85% are poor. The figures are approximately the same at Poughkeepsie's "failing" high school.
On Long Island, Central Islip's Ralph Reed school has 95.6% minority students and 80.5% of the students receiving free or reduced price lunch. In Hempstead and Roosevelt, the middle schools and high schools all have 100% minority student populations and all are listed as failing, as is Wyandanch's 100% minority student middle school. Recently released studies by Erase Racism and the Long Island Index document unequal educational opportunity on Long Island. Based on graduation rates, only 3% of the region's Black students and 5% of its Latino students live in and attend school in the highest-performing school districts. Meanwhile, from 2009 to 2011 the average Black and Latino student in a high poverty school district saw spending on their education decrease by an average of $1,100 a year.
In his state-of-the-state address, Governor Andy pledged to increase school aid by $1.1 billion, or a 4.8 percent increase, if the state legislature would agree to his plan to change teacher evaluations, tenure systems and the expansion of charter schools. Otherwise schools would only get an increase of 1.7 percent, or $377 million.
The New York State Campaign for Educational Equity, which won a major school funding court case against the State of New York in 2006, charges that by "making state funding for a sound basic education contingent on specific education policies" Cuomo is violating both the court ruling and Article XI section 1 of the state constitution. A lawsuit by New Yorkers for Students' Educational Rights estimates that the state is still about $5.6 billion a year short of its commitment under the court imposed funding formula. A second lawsuit claims that per pupil funding in a number of smaller New York State cities with an average student poverty rate of 72% is between $2,500 and $6,300 less than it legally should be.
According to 2014 study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, New York State has the most racially and economically segregated schools in the United States. As long as government officials pretend that the problem in low performing schools is the teachers and not under-funding, poverty, and racism, nothing is going to change, which as far as I can tell, is just fine with whining, blustering, blaming politicians like New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.