Cuomo's War Against Teachers Is an Attack on Women

On most issues New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo just can't seem to remember the position he took the previous week. But the one area where Andy seems to be consistent is his war against teachers.
01/22/2015 04:21 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2015

"He [Cuomo] has declared war on the public schools." - Karen Magee, President of New York State United Teachers

On most issues New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo just can't seem to remember the position he took the previous week. In 2013 he thought $8.75 an hour was a sufficient minimum wage for New Yorkers and that it had to be uniform across the state. In spring 2014, when he was seeking the Working Families nomination for Governor, Andy promised party officials to endorse a $13.50 minimum wage. This week, in his State of the State address, he called for a statewide $10.50 an hour minimum wage but an $11.50 minimum in New York City. Andy, or his advisors, needs to keep better track of his positions.

Maybe that is why he just hired Christine Quinn, former Speaker of the New York City Council and unsuccessful mayoral contender, as a special assistant. Or maybe he needs Quinn to smooth things over with one of the state's largest voting blocs, because Andy's war against teachers is an attack on a group that is largely made up of educated professional women.

The one area where Andy seems to be consistent is his war against teachers. Historically, teaching has been a woman's profession, although even there women had to fight for equal pay with men. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than three-quarters of the K-12 teachers in the United States are women, although a survey by the National Center for Education Information puts the figure at over 80%. Pre-school teachers are even more overwhelmingly women, with most estimates well over 95%.

In New York City, women made up 76% of the K-12 teacher work force in 2011-2012, up from 73% in 2000-2001. While a gender breakdown for New York State teachers as a whole is not available, New York City statistics suggest the percentage of women teachers in New York State is consistent with national trends.

These New York State women teachers are particularly well educated. In 2011-2012, New York had the highest percentage of teachers with advanced degrees of any state, 84.2% with Master's degrees compared to 47.7% nationally. An additional 8.6% had a degree beyond the masters.

During his reelection campaign for Governor, Andrew Cuomo had the audacity to present himself as the pro-woman candidate, going so far as to organize his own Women's Equality Party to endorse his candidacy. So why did the "women's candidate" declare war on teachers, a profession dominated by women, in the most recent State of the State address?

First, Andy's war on teachers and his attacks on public education are not new. In April 2012, Cuomo established a New NY Education Reform Commission dominated by business leaders and charter school advocates rather than educators. In January 2013, he started to press hard for increased testing for people who wanted to make teaching a career, for a new evaluation system for teachers, and to "incentivize" performance through bonus pay. And then in September 2014 he started to criticize his own teacher evaluation plan because teacher did better than he expected.

Andy Cuomo, of course, is not the first or only man disregarding or making war on women as teachers. Since 1904, every one of the twelve New York State Commissioners of Education has been male as has twenty-seven of the twenty-nine New York City Schools Chancellors.

In some respects, President Obama is not much better than Cuomo. On the federal level, the United States Department of Education website lists thirty-two senior staff members, only fourteen of whom are women. Of these fourteen women, only three list K-12 teaching experience on their online resumes. In 2009, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared teacher education programs and the female teachers and the female teachers that graduate from these programs "mediocre" and unprepared for "the realities of the 21st century classroom." Duncan is an Obama appointee, as is Ted Mitchell, the U.S. Undersecretary for Postsecondary Education. Mitchell, who as far as I can tell never worked in a K-12 classroom, is the founder and director of the New Schools Venture Fund that has championed market-based solutions to dismantle public education and an end to teacher tenure, proposals that would seriously undermine job security for teachers and change it from a career where women are welcome into a temporary low-paid job.

Andy' hostilities toward teachers, teacher unions, and women is so deep that in his 2015 State of the State address, he recognized that New York State schools need an additional $1.1 billion in state aid, but he will refuse to support the budget allocation unless the legislature agrees to allow additional non-union charter schools, make tenure for teachers more difficult to acquire, rework the teacher evaluation system so more passing teachers fail, and approve a back-door voucher plan transferring public money to private and religious schools. About our teachers and public schools, Andy told legislators, "Don't ask the taxpayers of New York to throw good money after bad."

Coincidently of course, the President of the State and National unions representing New York State teachers are both women. Andy clearly has a problem with public schools. Does he also have a problem with educated, professional women?