Cuomo Hates Us:

Segregation, Hunger and Encouraging a New Generation of Teachers: Problems Governor Cuomo Might Have Addressed If He Cared More About Helping Children Than Hating Teachers

By Jane Weinkrantz

1/26/15  

  

 Governor Cuomo’s State of the State speech just reiterated what we already know: the Governor is proposing educational policies based not on his concern for children, but on his hatred for teachers. The hostility towards our profession and our union is palpable. The hubris that permits him to propose taking crucial decisions away from local school officials and handing them over to the state is stunning. The reforms the Governor suggests will not help children and they are not designed to. They will punish teachers for not supporting him in the recent election, and destroy the proud tradition of local school oversight while ignoring the true threats to New York schools.

The most pressing problem in New York education has nothing to do with teachers. In  “New York State’s Extreme School Segregation: Inequality, Inaction and a Damaged Future” released in March 2014 by John Kucsera and Gary Orfield, the authors find that New York has the most segregated schools in the country. That’s right, the country.  The most segregated schools are not in Mississippi or somewhere else down South, but right here in one of the most diverse states in the Union .

 

    Here is what Kucsera and Orfield have to say about the pernicious effects of segregation in New York , “Schools serving low-income and segregated neighborhoods have been shown to provide less challenging curricula than schools in more affluent communities that largely serve populations of white and Asian students. 102 The impact of the standards and accountability era has been felt more acutely in minority-segregated schools where a focus on rote skills and memorization, in many instances, takes the place of creative, engaging teaching.103 By contrast, students in middle-class schools normally have little trouble with high-stakes exams, so the schools and teachers are free to broaden the curriculum. Segregated school settings are also significantly less likely than more affluent settings to offer AP- or honors-level courses that help boost student GPAs and garner early college credits.”

  I understand something about that because I am a proud product of the Amityville Schools. I learned some wonderful things from some extraordinary teachers, and many of my classmates grew up to bring pride and fame to our Alma mater. Yet, for kids from schools like Amityville, there is always that one sad moment when you are a first-week freshman at college and you and your new friends are comparing yearbooks. Yours is thinner, there are fewer clubs, fewer honor societies, fewer teams…in short, it becomes clear that you had fewer opportunities to explore your interests and to be thoroughly prepared for college. The data in Kucsera’s study makes it obvious that it is not the teachers who are failing students in segregated schools. Instead, limited opportunities, course offerings and money prevent student achievement and the all-test, all-the-time, culture only makes it worse. Kucsera and Orfield suggest that agencies “develop policies that focus on reducing racial isolation, promoting diverse schools and ensuring an equal distribution of resources.” They recommend “magnet schools and interdistrict programs to foster integration and a promotion of integration as a positive part of education.” They also want to hold charter schools that intentionally recruit a segregated student body accountable for such odious policies.

   Yet, what did the Governor suggest? That we add more charter schools!  Governor Cuomo wants to raise the cap on charters from 460 to 560 and increase the aid they receive. An article by Iris Rotberg published in March 2014  in Phi Delta Kappan reports that charter schools leads to increased segregation., stating, “ Studies in a number of different states and school districts in the U.S. show that charter schools often lead to increased school segregation (Bifulco & Ladd, 2007; Booker, Zimmer, & Buddin, 2005; Cobb & Glass, 2003; Clotfelter, Ladd, & Vigdor, 2013; Frankenberg, Siegel-Hawley, & Wang, 2011; Furgeson et al., 2012; Garcia, 2008; Glenn, 2011; Michelson, Bottia, & Southworth, 2008; Nathanson, Corcoran, & Baker-Smith, 2013), a finding that is consistent with research in a number of other countries, including Australia (Luke, 2010), Canada (Yoon & Gulson, 2010), Chile (Elacqua, 2012), Denmark (Rangvid, 2007), England (Burgess, Wilson, & Lupton, 2005), Germany (Pietsch & Stubbe, 2007), Israel (Nir, Inbar, & Eyal, 2010), the Netherlands (Karsten, Felix, Ledoux, & Meijnen, 2006), New Zealand (Thomson, 2010), and Sweden (Böhlmark & Lindahl, 2007). In many cases, school choice programs exacerbate current school segregation and, in more heterogeneous settings, lead to the stratification of students who were previously in integrated environments.

    The primary exceptions to increased student stratification are in communities that are already so highly segregated by race, ethnicity, and income that further increases are virtually impossible, or they occur in school choice programs that are targeted to increase diversity — not a goal of most charter schools or school choice programs generally (Kahlenberg & Potter, 2012; Ritter, Jensen, Kisida, & McGee, 2010). Certain design features magnify the risk of segregation. For example, a growing number of charter schools target specific racial or ethnic groups and therefore lead directly to increased segregation (Eckes, Fox, & Buchanan, 2011; Institute on Race and Poverty, 2008). In addition, several other designs are particularly vulnerable to increased segregation. Segregation effects are especially pronounced in charter schools run by education management organizations (Miron, Urschel, Mathis, & Tornquist, 2010) as well as in large, unregulated choice programs (Johnston, Burgess, Wilson, & Harris, 2007; Gill et al, 2007). Partial government vouchers or subsidies to which families must add the remaining tuition costs virtually guarantee increased segregation because many families can’t afford the costs (Arenas, 2004; Luke, 2010). Increased segregation is also a predictable outcome for programs that select students based on their achievement levels because of the high correlation between socioeconomic status ( SES ) and achievement, compounded by the fact that low- SES students are often less likely to be referred to selective programs even when their achievement levels are high (Contini & Scagni, 2010; Olszweski-Kubilius & Clarenbach, 2012; Pietsch & Stubbe, 2007; Soderstrom & Uusitalo, 2010; United Federation of Teachers, 2010; West & Hind, 2007).

    So the Governor’s approach to New York education would actually worsen our state’s segregation problem. But, wait---there’s more. Not content with increasing the cap on charters, Governor Cuomo also proposed a tax credit for those who support private and charter schools. Let’s call this what it is: a voucher to attract children and funds to private and charter schools which, as we just read, “ virtually guarantee increased segregation.”  Nice.

    Another really heart-breaking problem in New York education is hunger. Feedingamerica.org’s  study “Map the Meal Gap” provides this grim statistic: New York ranks 26th in the nation in child food-insecurity with an overall child food-insecurity rate of 21.8% or 927,150 children under 18 living in food insecure households (High school students may be as old as 21, so the total number is probably slightly higher.) Childhood hunger has a profound and permanent effect on intelligence and achievement.  According to “Map the Meal Gap,“ Although food insecurity has the potential to lead to negative outcomes for individuals of any age, it can be particularly devastating among children. The structural foundation for cognitive functioning is laid in early childhood, creating the underlying circuitry on which more complex processes are built. This foundation can be greatly affected by food insecurity. Inadequate nutrition can permanently alter a child’s brain architecture and stunt their intellectual capacity, affecting the child’s learning, social interaction and productivity. Several studies have demonstrated that food insecurity impacts cognitive development among young children and is linked to poor school performance in older children. (Gundersen et al., 2011.)”

    Well, if there’s anything that fits Governor Cuomo’s claim that education is in crisis, the food insecurity problem might be it.  But, he had nothing to say about childhood hunger and its impact on education. The Governor offered no proposals for an expansion of school breakfast programs or providing food vouchers for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch to use during school holidays and summer months. He didn’t even suggest a George H. Bush “thousand points of lights” kind of call for New Yorkers to participate in charitable actions to feed hungry school children. What did he have to offer the nearly one million New York children who go to school hungry each day? Not even the courage to say the word “hunger”.

    Then, there’s the problem of the pending teacher shortage. According to Marc Bernstein of Fordham University Graduate School , by 2020 our country will be facing a shortage of qualified teachers as a result of new, stricter guidelines by CAEP (Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation) for acceptance into ed. school.  Bernstein writes in The Huffington Post, “ There is little doubt that the pool of future "qualified" applicants will shrink significantly because of this change unless the federal and state governments step-in with incentives to encourage high school graduates who previously shunned teaching as a career due to the cost of four to six years of college and graduate school tuitions and the prospect of low career earnings (emphasis added). This problem will be greatest at the middle school and high school levels where individuals who are considering teaching as a profession possess interest in specific fields such as mathematics and science  (but also art, foreign language, and music, to name a few) where alternative areas of employment are available and often more lucrative (“The Impending Teacher Shortage”  Huffington Post 1/23/14)  The new CAEP policy requires applicants to education programs to have 3.0  GPAs and ACT, SAT or GRE scores in the 50% by 2016-2017, the top 40% by 2018-2019 and the top 33%  by 2020.

    Combine that with an increase in retirements as teachers who entered the classroom during the last teacher shortage, around 1986, become eligible for retirement and are driven out by a series of reforms that render their profession unrecognizable and one can deduce that New York should be creating programs that would make a teaching career actually appeal to students with 3.0 GPAs and strong SAT test scores, if every New York child is to have a qualified and professional teacher in a class of an appropriate size.

   With that in mind, what did the Governor do to make teaching an attractive career for New York ’s next generation of professionals? Did he offer help with student loan forgiveness or suggest a new Christa McAuliffe style scholarship for those who pursue certification in hard-to-staff areas? Did he suggest alternative routes to certification?  Did Governor Cuomo even say anything nice about the hard work teachers do? No. Not only doesn’t he appreciate our hard work, he’s unapologetically angry that so many of us were rated “effective” or “highly effective.” In a nutshell, Governor Cuomo is mad because not more of us suck.

   Once upon a time, the ability to work creatively and closely with children, the chance to design exciting lessons, the desire to immerse yourself in content you enjoyed, the prospect of being a role model for the next generation and the opportunity for earning tenure and thus some measure of job security---though never, never what Campbell Brown would call a job for life--- drew many wonderful people into teaching, in spite of the relative lack of pay and prestige.

 

   Now, as universities step up the admission requirements for teaching degrees, the Governor and Chancellor Tisch conspire: to counting scores on standardized tests of very dubious quality based on standards formulated with a very suspicious political agenda as 50% of teacher evaluations, to extend the pre-tenure, probationary period to five years, (My husband always wonders why it even takes three currently. He frequently reminds me that in business, a typical probationary period is 3-6 months.), to make instruction center around test prep, to make test results trump classroom observations in potential “ineffective” ratings, to make teacher evaluation the responsibility of the state rather than the district administration and to have 3020a hearings mediated by state officials rather than hearing officers, with all of these reforms accompanied by a soundtrack of the vilification of New York’s teachers sung day and night and by Andrew Cuomo and  his Deep Pockets Charter/Hedge Fund Back-up singers, it seems increasingly unlikely that anyone with any other career option at all would become a teacher. Yet, Governor Cuomo isn’t only not encouraging people to become teachers; he is hell-bent on firing as many of us as possible.

 

   Last year, only about a third of New York ’s students passed the new Common Core ELA and math exams. If that happens again this year, and Governor Cuomo’s reforms pass, that means districts could have to fire a majority of New York ’s teachers. Let’s say we catch some slack and only half are fired; still, who would be standing in front of 50% of our classrooms on the first day of school? Is the Governor still clinging to the myth of the golden-haired, Ivy Leaguer fresh from Teach for America and eager to help the great unwashed? Teach for America closed its New York headquarters, due to declining interest as potential TFA candidates learned that teaching effectively in a high-needs school with nothing but good intentions, an eye on your resume and a five-week crash course is really, really difficult…maybe even impossible. Who does Andrew Cuomo think will do a job that requires an expensive advanced degree and 175 hours of professional development every five years, starts at a salary that pales in comparison with other professionals of similar training, hinges on test scores affected by any number of factors beyond the teacher’s control and is routinely scapegoated for all of society’s ills?  Who would volunteer to teach special populations such as the disabled or English Language Learners, knowing her job was dependent on the progress made by those often less able to make progress?  Let’s say a young person ignores all that, becomes a teacher, works for five years, but in the last two years, is found “ineffective.” Who will hire him once he’s been fired? What will he do with the next 25 years of his career? How will he pay off the loans for that pricey M.S. in Education? Most importantly, how can a constant churning of faculty, preventing the evolution of beginners into “master” teachers, be good for New York ’s children?

    One last thing Governor Cuomo seems not to grasp is that every teacher does not teach a class that has a corresponding state test.  The current evaluation system is “baloney” as he told us, not because the majority of New York ’s teachers were effective or highly effective, but because teachers of classes that do not culminate in a state assessment are sometimes forced to take a percentage of their Annual Professional Performance Review from the state test scores of teachers in other disciplines. If Cuomo has his way, a photography teacher could be rated “ineffective” because 50% of her APPR came from low New York State English Regents scores---scores she had nothing to do with it. Would Governor Cuomo like to be evaluated based on Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal, using the logic that they are both governors from the tri-state area? The critical thinking skills reformers are so desperate for us to impart to our students seem to be in short supply at our Governor’s house.

  

   To combat these ruthless attacks and return attention to the the real threats to public education, teachers have to speak up, but so do parents, administrators, Board members, and any New Yorkers interested in the future of education in our state. The small-government, local-control world of education where teachers “come up” in a school and teach two generations of a family in a district where specific traditions and philosophies are reflections of the priorities and identity of that district’s educational community is being threatened by Andrew Cuomo and his reform friends. He’s hoping to wipe out the gentle, local, nurturing approach that has worked so well for places like Plainview-Old Bethpage.  In Cuomo’s new world, students and teachers will only be as good as their test scores used in the Value Added Model (VAM) of teacher evaluation. There is very little data to substantiate VAM. We don’t get the sense that Cuomo’s particularly bought into its efficacy; if he had, he’d be trying to convince us that making 50% of a teacher’s evaluation was the right thing to do by using actual studies and research.  Instead, he’s a petulant and angry man who is using VAM and unreasonable evaluation practices to bully the people who work with New York ’s most precious resource: its children. This vengeful attack is Governor Cuomo’s Bridgegate - an act of retribution on a group that didn’t support him. It’s up to us all to make sure New York understands that and takes back its classrooms.

 

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