Education

NYSUT Passes On Cuomo, Again

The statewide teachers union is poised to unveil its endorsements for the upcoming 2014 elections, and once again, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has failed to make the cut.

An endorsement list obtained by SoP after NYSUT leaders met behind closed doors yesterday outside Albany, shows the union is – as we knew, thanks to the early decision on these races – supporting both of Cuomo’s fellow Democratic statewide officials, AG Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, for re-election.

There is no endorsement in the governor’s race.

It was not immediately clear whether Cuomo had even bothered to seek NYSUT’s support, or if the union had interviewed his opponents – Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Democratic Fordham Law Prof. Zephyr Teachout.

Efforts to reach the union’s spokesman to obtain answers to these questions were unsuccessful.

NYSUT’s new president, Karen Magee, was scheduled for a CapTon interview last night, but cancelled at the last minute because the endorsement meetings went long.

It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that NYSUT is sitting out the governor’s race. The union did the same thing in 2010, although it did not actively oppose then-AG Cuomo when it came time to decide the AFL-CIO endorsement, which is decided by a weighted vote. (He got the nod).

Magee has made clear since she ousted former NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi this past spring that her members were unlikely to back Cuomo this time around.

It would be generous to describe the relationship between NYSUT and Cuomo as “rocky.” The two have clashed numerous times over everything from the property tax cap and pension reform to teacher evaluations and the Common Core curriculum.

The union is also issuing a slew of legislative endorsements, backing mostly – but not entirely – Democratic Senate and Assembly candidates.

NYSUT chose sides in some, but not all, of the contested Senate races as the Democrats and Republicans battle it out (yet again) for control of the chamber.

However, there are a number of races on Long Island where NYSUT is sitting things out at the moment.

For example, the union did not pick a favorite in the 7th SD race where GOP Sen. Jack Martins is battling Democrat Adam Haber.

It did back Democratic environmental advocate Adrienne Esposito over Republican Islip Supervisor Tom Croci, who was tapped to run when Town Board Member Anthony Senft quit the race in the 2nd SD (Sen. Lee Zeldin is running for Congress).

NYSUT is holding out on a number of incumbent Republican senators. It did not back a candidate in the 4th SD where GOP Sen. Phil Boyle is seeking re-election, or the 6th, where GOP Sen. Kemp Hannon is running againn.

The union notably remained mum on Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, who is running for another term in the 9th SD.

NYSUT is backing all the IDC members save one: Queens Sen. Tony Avella (11th SD), who is facing a strong primary challenge from former NYC Councilman John Liu. Liu has garnered labor support even though the unions are supposedly all in for the IDC-regular Democrat reunification effort.
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The union made no endorsement in the 17th SD, represented by Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who sits with the GOP; or in the 19th SD, where embattled former Democratic Senate Leader John Sampson is fighting for his political life in the September primary; or in the 32nd SD, represented by conservative Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr.

In other contested races, NYSUT supported Democratic candidates including:

Former NYC Councilman Leory Comrie against scandal-scarred Queens Sen. Malcom Smith (this is a primary); Bronx Sen. Gustavo Rivera over NYC Councilman Fernando Cabrera (also a primary); Dave Denenberg for the seat of former Long Island GOP Sen. Chuck Fuschillo; Democrat Justin Wagner for the seat of retiring Hudson Valley GOP Sen. Greg Ball; Sen. Terry Gipson, who faces a challenge from GOP Dutchess County Legislator Sue Serino; and Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, who is trying to fend off a second challenge from former GOP Assemblyman George Amedore; Sen. Ted O’Brien, fighting a challenge from Republican former Rochester TV anchor Rich Funke; teacher Elaine Altman, who is challenging GOP Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer; and attorney Marc Panepinto, who is trying to unseat GOP Sen. Mark Grisanti.

GOP Sen. Tom Libous made the cut with NYSUT, despite his health and legal troubles. He’s being challenged by former Democratic Vestal Town Supervisor Anndrea Starzak.

For the seat being left vacant by retiring GOP Sen. George Maziarz, NYSUT is backing Republican-turned-Democrat Johnny Destino. It also is supporting Sen. Tim Kennedy over his Democratic primary challenger, Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant.

Stop Common Core Effort a Boon for GOP

Gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino and his fellow members of the GOP statewide slate will be announcing the results of their very successful petition drive to create the independent “Stop Common Core” ballot line for the November general election.

At 9 a.m., the Republicans plan to file more than 62,000 signatures at the state Board of Elections in Albany.

Astorino, his running mate, Chemung County Sheriff Chris Moss; Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci, the GOP state comptroller candidate; and state attorney general candidate John Cahill will then be making public appearances across the state to discuss the filing.

(Moss and Antonacci will be in Syracuse, while Astorino and Cahill will be on Long Island; details of these events appear below).

The Stop Common Core ballot operation was organized by veteran GOP political operative Vince Casale and Astorino’s campaign manager, Michael Lawler.

The Republicans believe this is the largest petition operation in New York history, surpassing the Working Families Party’s 1998 filing, which organizers said included some 60,000 signatures.

In 1994, then-state Sen. George Pataki’s campaign filed about 54,000 signatures to create the “Tax Cut Now” party.

The Stop Common Core operation will qualify in all 27 congressional districts, organizers said. State Election Law requires a minimum of 100 signatures from a majority of districts.

According to Casale, this effort brought together volunteers from across the state – Democrats, Republicans and independents; teachers, students and parents – all united in their opposition to the controversial new standards.

The issue certainly resonates with voters. Yesterday’s Siena poll found 49 percent of New York voters – including 53 percent of independents and 60 percent of Republicans – believe the Common Core standards should be stopped, which is something Astorino has pledged to do if he’s elected.

Cuomo has sought to distance himself somewhat from the Common Core, taking action this past legislative session to temporarily shield students’ test scores and teacher performance evaluations from being impacted by the state Education Department’s flawed rollout of the standards.

But the governor continues to support Common Core as a concept.

Today is the first day to file independent petitions; Tuesday, Aug. 19 is the deadline. Several thousand more Stop Common Core signatures are expected to be filed by that deadline by Senate and Assembly candidates who also want the additional line.

The GOP isn’t alone in its effort to create an independent line for its candidates to run on in November.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his fellow Democrats are doing with the same thing with the “Women’s Equality Party” – an effort to harness the power of the abortion-rights debate, which served President Obama so well in his 2012 re-election campaign.

It just so happens that Cuomo’s running mate, former Rep. Kathy Hochul, is holding the latest in a series of events on the Women’s Equality Party today. She’ll be appearing in Kingston with Democratic state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk.

Gibson: ‘Common Sense, Not Common Core’

Rep. Chris Gibson may have taken a pass on running on the “Stop Common Core” ballot line being created by GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, but he’s doubling down on his opposition to the controversial curriculum with a new web video that touts a “common sense” approach to education reform.

The video, which the Republican congressman released earlier today, is light on details. It features Jennifer Pelesz, a parent from Valatie, who touts the fact that the congressman lives locally and understands her concerns about Common Core, and Gibson’s wife, Mary Jo, who says that testing kids as a means to evaluate teachers’ performance is “not an effective way to really evaluate.”

“As a parent of three children attending our local public school, I understand firsthand the necessity of ensuring local teachers and parents have input in our education system,” Congressman Gibson said in a statement. “Washington mandates, excessive standardized testing and New York State’s implementation of Common Core have significantly hurt the education of our students. I am proud to lead efforts in the United States Congress to reduce unnecessary standardized testing and will continue to fight to increase the influence local administrators, teachers, and parents have on their child’s education.”

Common Core has been largely a state-level issue, but Gibson has been voicing opposition to the standards – and to what he believes is over-testing of public school students – for some time.

Gibson is facing a challenge from Democratic political newcomer Sean Eldridge. In the most recent fundraising quarter, Gibson out-raised his opponent, who is relying heavily on his personal wealth to fuel his campaign.

Filing For The Anti-Common Core Line

From the morning memo, ICYMI:

Count Sue Serino in for the ballot line opposing the Common Core education standards.

Serino, a Republican running for the Hudson Valley district held by Democratic Sen. Terry Gipson, yesterday afternoon announced she would circulate petitions for the ballot line, Stop Common Core.

“We need to get government out of the classroom, and turn to our teachers and education stakeholders for guidance on how to improve the education system in New York,” Serino said in a statement. “Our children’s education is far too important to leave up to bureaucrats concerned with manufactured numbers, rather than our community’s needs. I will be petitioning to get on the StopCommonCore line to stand up for teachers, parents, and students who feel as though they have been failed by Albany. I’m inviting mothers, fathers, students, teachers and more to volunteer their time to ensure we are able to vote on this important issue in November.”

Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino announced the formation of the line last week as a way for voters to air their opposition to the controversial standards.

State lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year approved delayed implementation of certain aspects of the standards for students and later for teacher evaluations.

Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican running for re-election in the overlapping House district, has indicated he won’t seek the line, citing “legal” concerns.

Gibson Forgoes ‘Stop Common Core’ Line

…and Item III from the Morning Memo:

Rep. Chris Gibson, who is in the DCCC’s crosshairs again this fall, has been outspoken in his criticism of the controversial Common Core curriculum.

But don’t look for the Republican congressman to be joining up with the state GOP’s effort to create a “Stop Common Core” ballot line anytime soon.

In an email to supporters over the weekend, Gibson’s campaign manager Kevin Crumb announced the congressman had decided not to pursue the independent line “after consultation with our attorneys.”

“Our attorneys advised us that we will face significant legal hurdles as federal candidates,” Crumb wrote.

“First, case law is unclear regarding who is legally able to carry/witness petitions for us. Second, having already secured three ballot lines, we would have faced a challenge over our right to create another line.”

“Our volunteers will continue to carry petitions for state candidates because their legal case is much stronger and because this is such a meaningful issue at the local, state, and federal level,” Crumb continued. “This will remain a team effort to help us all win in November.”

Gibson already has the Republican, Conservative and Independence Party lines. He faces a challenge from Sean Eldridge, who is running on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines.

Tenure Track

Also from the Morning Memo:

Michael Rebell, a veteran education advocate, expressed doubt during an interview on CapTon last night that an effort to duplicate the results of a California lawsuit that overturned teacher tenure laws in that state will be equally successful here in New York.

Rebell said he’s not even sure this issue is one the courts should be addressing.

“On the one hand, the law – at least the way it’s getting enforced – does keep certain people who are not effective teachers on the job,” he explained.

“On the other hand, I think it’s a positive in terms of recruitment, job stability for teachers – and let’s face it, teaching is still a relatively low paid job. So it may be if you eliminated tenure, we would be worse off because we’d be recruiting fewer capable teachers.”

“I don’t know the answer to any of this,” Rebell continued. “And unfortunately this judge in California really didn’t either, because I don’t think he really examined all sides of the issue.”

“Kids do have a right to effective teachers, but what the best way to get that is a very complex question.”

Rebell was co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, which successfully maintained that New York was shortchanging New York City public school kids when it came to providing enough funding to assure their constitutional right to a sound, basic education.

Now, Rebell is suing the state yet again over inequity in education funding – this time as executive director of a new organization called the Campaign for Educational Equity.

Former CNN anchor-turned-education reform activist Campbell Brown recently announced that her organization is providing support to six families in New York who plan to challenge teacher tenure laws in court.

Rebell said he finds it ironic that Brown and others – many of whom have accused judges of “activism” when they rule in favor of fiscal equity cases – are now involved in lawsuits that ask the court to be “much more involved in educational policy than I have ever asked for.”

NYSUT Pledges to Defend Teacher Tenure Against ‘Celebrity Dilettantes’

NYSUT is pledging to defend New York’s teacher tenure system in the face of a legal challenge backed by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown’s education reform organization.

In a lengthy statement, NYSUT President Karen Magee said the more than 100-year-old teacher tenure system in New York is “wildly misunderstood,” insisting that it is neither negotiated by teachers as part of their contract nor a promise of a job for life – even with poor performance or a history of mistreatment of students.

“Earning tenure in New York simply means that, if a teacher is accused of incompetence or wrongdoing, she is entitled to a fair hearing before she can be fired,” Magee said. “In the United States, we call that due process of law.”

“Well-off schools with the highest student test scores come under the same tenure law as struggling schools in high-poverty areas. Tenure is not a cause of low student achievement.”

Brown’s organization, the Partnership for Educational Justice, is assisting the families of six students in their plan to challenge New York’s tenure and seniority laws, arguing that it is too expensive, time-consuming and burdensome to get rid of bad teachers, which prevents kids from receiving their constitutionally mandated sound, basic education.

The move by Brown & Co. follows a ruling in California that struck down that state’s laws on tenure, dismissal and seniority on the basis that they disproportionately impact students in low-income and minority communities.

Magee said Brown “has got it all wrong” on teacher tenure, arguing that it protects students and teachers alike.

“While tenure is a necessary safeguard for a teacher wrongly accused of misconduct or incompetence, it also protects children’s right to a good education,” the NYSUT president said.

“Because tenure exists, teachers in New York state can — and do — challenge the state’s obsession with over-testing and how it hurts our students. Because tenure exists, teachers in New York state can — and do — stand up for decent class sizes, for art and music, and for the books and technology all students need.”

“Because of tenure, a teacher can stand up for his students in special education, for English language learners and for students who live in poverty. It means a teacher can’t be arbitrarily fired for challenging the status quo. While they may bill themselves as ‘reformers,’ the wealthy elite don’t want to address the real reason why some students in some of our schools are struggling — and that’s poverty.”

“If hedge fund millionaires and celebrity dilettantes were truly interested in guaranteeing students a quality education, they would join parents and unions in fighting for fair funding for all children, not just the affluent.”

The real problem, in Magee’s eyes, is that wealthy New Yorkers are trying to dismantle the publicly funded school system – complete with the powerful teachers unions – because they don’t want to pay their “fair share” in taxes to support the education of all children, not just the “elite.”

“NYSUT will mount an aggressive and vigorous challenge to any attempt to strip New York’s teachers of this essential and fundamental right,” Magee promised.

NYSUT Backs Evaluation ‘Pause Button’

The president of the statewide teachers union on Thursday backed an agreement that would delay the impacts of Common Core testing on teacher evaluations, calling the move a “pause button.”

“We’re excited we’ve reached a tentative agreement,” Magee told reporters. “Teachers will now have the opportunity to be treated like the professionals they are.”

The agreement, along with a program bill introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this afternoon, comes after the state budget agreed to delay aspects of the Common Core education standards for students.

The bill would suspend for two years evaluating teachers grade 3 through 8 in relation to Common Core-based tests.

Teachers covered on the deal are those rated “ineffective” and “developing” — a combined 11,000 members of the New York United Teachers union, Magee said.

Magee termed the bill a “pause” or a “reset” because it can allow for fixes to Common Core implementation.

“It’s not a delay or a moratorium, it’s a reset at this point,” she said.

The state Education Department remains pleased with the resolution as well, with Commissioner John King in a statement calling the bill a “safety net.”

“Despite that very small number, anxiety around the link between higher standards and teacher evaluation has persisted,” King said in a statement. “The short-term safety net around evaluation consequences proposed by the Governor and legislative leadership should relieve that anxiety while preserving a multiple measures evaluation system that includes student performance.”

Cuomo On The ‘Overkill’ Of A Teacher Eval Moratorium

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is opposed to a broad moratorium on the state’s teacher evaluation law, suggesting in a public radio interview he favored a more surgical “adjustment” to the 2013 measure.

“The question is: how do you do it, and without a moratorium?” Cuomo said on The Capitol Pressroom on Thursday. “Because the moratorium is overkill.”

The Democratic-led Assembly previously approved a two-year moratorium bill that would delay the use of teacher evaluations.

But Cuomo, who negotiated the law with teachers unions and the state Education Department, pointed to the evaluations only taking into consideration 20 percent of Common Core related-tests.

“I’m not in favor of a moratorium,” Cuomo said. “Would you be in favor of an adjustment for the possibility that the test scores are not correct? Yes, because that’s what we said—it would be illogical to say I see the inaccuracy for students and the potential harm but not for teachers. So can you find a way to do that? That’s what we’re working through on that issue.”

Cuomo in April said he wanted to make changes to the law in order to accommodate delays made to the implementation of the Common Core standards.

A broader moratorium is being pushed by the statewide teachers union, which began on Wednesday a $200,000 online campaign for the effort.

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan said earlier in the week he expected some sort of an agreement on changes to the teacher evaluation law by the end of the session.

NYSUT Pushes Web Campaign For Common Core Moratorium

The statewide teachers union on Wednesday launched a $200,000 online campaign pushing for changes to the teacher evaluation law in order to delay the impacts of Common Core testing.

The campaign includes a video showing students praising their teachers, with the message being that’s something that can’t be data-crunched through a teacher evaluation.

The state budget in March delayed the impacts of the Common Core standards on students, and Cuomo after the agreement said he would support changing the 2013 teacher evaluation law in order to accommodate those changes.

But talks appear to have stalled on that issue.

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan said in an interview this week he is still hopeful for an agreement on changing the teacher evaluation law.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, meanwhile, told Capital New York he did not expect an agreement to come by the end of the legislative session.

NYSUT insists that even with a delay in using Common Core tests to grade teachers, educators in the classroom will be evaluated just without the standardized testing related to the standards.