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Advocacy News

Follow the Money - Democracy Now! Video

Why is Governor Cuomo so in favor of charter schools and testing? Why this intense push for “reform” now? When it comes to politicians, it always pays to follow the money.  As you can see in Rachel’s post below, in his latest column for the New York Daily News, journalist and Democracy Now! co-host Juan González did just that.

Andrew Cuomo is one of the most successful campaign fundraisers in the Democratic party and a big chunk of his campaign cash came from very wealthy hedge fund managers who have been pushing for charter schools for years donating tens of millions of dollars in New York state. Gov. Cuomo is the single biggest recipient, hauling in $4.8 million, according to the report. Cuomo’s spokeswoman told The New York Times that the governor’s proposals were necessary “because he will not continue the failed strategy of throwing money at a broken education bureaucracy.”

In light of these large campaign donations, it is hard to trust Cuomo’s uncritical acceptance of his donors’ solutions to New York’s problems with public education.

Please watch and share the Democracy Now! video explaining what  motivates these wealthy donors and why Cuomo may be pushing their agenda.

Democracy Now

Advocacy News

Hedge fund executives give ‘til it hurts to politicians, especially Cuomo, to get more charter schools

by Juan Gonzales


Wednesday, March 11, 2015,

Outside the Harvard Club in Midtown, a group of parents from the Alliance for Quality Education picketed as they chanted, “Public schools are not for sale!”

But the hedge fund chiefs inside had other ideas.

The title of the hedge fund bosses’ all-day symposium on Tuesday said it all: “Bonds & Blackboards: Investing in Charter Schools.” Sponsored by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, its aim was to convince investors there’s money to be made in charter schools.

Hedge fund executives have unleashed a tsunami of money the past few years aimed at getting New York’s politicians to close more public schools and expand charter schools.

They’ve done it through direct political contributions, through huge donations to a web of pro-charter lobbying groups, and through massive TV and radio commercials.

Daniel Loeb, chairman of the board of the Success Academy network, has given $62,000 to Gov. Cuomo.

Larry Busacca/Getty Images for The New York Times

Daniel Loeb, chairman of the board of the Success Academy network, has given $62,000 to Gov. Cuomo.

Since 2000, 570 hedge fund managers have shelled out nearly $40 million in political contributions in New York State, according to a recent report by Hedge Clippers, a union-backed research group.

The single biggest beneficiary has been Andrew Cuomo, who received $4.8 million from them.

Several of the governor’s big hedge fund donors, such as Carl Icahn, of Icahn Enterprises, Julian Robertson of Tiger Management, and Daniel Loeb, of Third Point LLC, are also longtime backers of charter schools.

Loeb is chairman of the board of the Success Academy network run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. He’s given $62,000 to Cuomo, while 18 other members of the Success Academy board or their family members have given nearly $600,000 to the governor, according to state campaign records.

Joel Greenblatt donated $45,000 to Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that, in turn, has given Cuomo $72,000.

Joel Greenblatt donated $45,000 to Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that, in turn, has given Cuomo $72,000.

But the direct donations don’t tell the full story.

In this era after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case, the indirect contributions are even more astounding.

Take, for example, a group called New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany. It financed a massive advertising campaign late last year aimed at keeping the state Senate in Republican hands, largely by blasting upstate Democrats as tied to Mayor de Blasio.

That group received $3.5 million from just six hedge fund backers of charter schools.


CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Carl Icahn, Chairman of Icahn Enterprises and founder of several Bronx charter schools, donated $250K to the group New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, which aims to keep the state Senate ine GOP hands.

Loeb contributed $1 million. So did Robertson, whose son Spencer runs a Brooklyn charter school. The others included Paul Tudor Jones, founder and chairman of Excellence Charter School, with $500,000; Icahn, who founded several Bronx charter schools, with $250,000; and Gotham Capital’s Joel Greenblatt, a founder of Success Academy, with $250,000.

The money they gave to New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany thus rivaled the $4.8 million that the teachers union, with its 185,000 members, spent on all political contributions.

But the same people also gave money to other pro-charter groups. Greenblatt, for instance, donated $45,000 to Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that, in turn, has given Cuomo $72,000.

Two other pro-charter groups, Families for Excellent Schools and the political arm of Students First New York, spent more than $10 million last year on their lobbying effort.

Paul Tudor Jones, founder and chief investment officer of Tudor Investment Corporation, also donated half a million to the GOP-supporting group which blasts upstate Democrats as ties to de Blasio.

© Eduardo Munoz / Reuters/REUTERS

Paul Tudor Jones, founder and chief investment officer of Tudor Investment Corporation, also donated half a million to the GOP-supporting group which blasts upstate Democrats as ties to de Blasio.

All that money and lobbying triumphed when Cuomo and the Legislature approved up to $2,600 more per pupil for charter school facilities, with New York City expected to pick up a big portion of that.

Now, the governor wants the Legislature to increase the state limit on charter schools.

Little wonder the big-money hedge fund managers gathered at the Harvard Club. They were there to examine, according to program literature, “the current state of the charter schools facilities financing landscape and new innovative financing mechanisms.”

In other words, all that money thrown at the politicians is about to pay off.

“Their agenda has nothing to do with improving our public schools,” said Zakiya Ansari, spokeswoman for the parents picketing outside.

Advocacy News

The Case for Refusing the State Tests--A Video

Jeanette Deutermann, a Long Island parent, spoke last week at a NYC Opt Out event.  She makes a strong case that refusing to take the tests is the most  the most powerful stand we can take against the policies Governor Cuomo is proposing, which make the tests the only thing that matters.

Watch her speak.  It’s an amateur recording but an eloquent and knowledgeable delivery!

Advocacy News

Important Letter From Our Teachers!

We, the teachers at TNS, need your help!

Governor Cuomo has proposed major changes to teacher evaluations. If he has his way, 50% of teachers’ evaluation will be based on how their students do on state tests.

Dyanthe has sent you emails about this, but we want to let you know, from a teacher’s perspective, the changes this law could bring to TNS if it passes.

  • 50% of a teacher’s rating would be based on test scores. (Currently it is 20%.)

  • 35% would be based on the findings of an outside “professional” evaluator, who will conduct a one-time visit to the classroom. (This has never been done before; only Dyanthe currently observes and rates our teaching.)

  • 15% would be based on observations by the principal. That means the one person who knows our work the best will have the least input into our evaluation.

Any teacher who is rated ineffective two years in a row will be fired. Dyanthe would have no say in this.

So what might that do to TNS? Realistically, a large number of us could be fired.

Every year.

Here’s something parents need to understand: When most of our students took the state standardized tests, they did fine, but the teachers did not. The teacher’s rating was not based on the score for the year, but whether the student improved from one year to the next. Even though the tests were different from year to year. Even if the child did well both years. If a student with a “3″ got one fewer question correct the following year, the teacher was rated ineffective. That’s why so many schools in NYC spend so much time prepping for the tests. One or two wrong answers can make or break a teacher’s rating.

And that is why we might feel forced to do test prep. Even though we know that the tests do not give an accurate picture of student learning, or of the effectiveness of teachers. Even though we know that teaching to the test is bad teaching. Faced with the reality of the loss of a paycheck, we may well begin to teach in ways we know to be counterproductive. The TNS that we all love -- the TNS with active, engaged learners, the TNS with inquiry, questioning, creativity and joy in learning -- might cease to exist.

Time spent on test prep will mean less time for real learning and real curriculum study. Would we still have time for 3-day camping trips for our upper-grade students? For project time, and Sing, and all the other activities that make TNS special? Would we still have time to devote to the social and emotional needs of our students? Would the 1st and 2nd grade still be able to find time to run a school-wide post office and create restaurants?  What about our frequent field trips? Would we be able to afford the time out of the building and away from test prep?

And what about the social and emotional toll these changes would inflict on children? At TNS, we look at the whole child. We know how children exist and operate within a community, and we strive to meet their emotional needs. We want our students to become citizens of the world. Narrowing our focus to up our performance on standardized tests means losing sight of the whole child. Those of us who are parents of children who have gone to schools that focus on test prep know the emotional toll this takes on children. The genuine joy of learning disappears and is replaced with headaches, stomachaches and school avoidance. None of us want this for our students. We didn’t go into teaching to spend hours, weeks, months on mind-numbing test prep. And we believe that you don’t want this for your children either. You chose TNS, and we hope you chose it, at least in part, because of the type of teaching and learning that goes on here.

So we need your help. And we need it now. The education law is folded into the state budget. It goes up for a vote on April 1st.

We need you to let your legislators know that you disagree with this plan.

1.    Ssend letters of disapproval to your state senator, your assembly member, and the Governor. Or send emails, or call.

2.    Get more information from teachers here

3.    Talk to your friends and family members, and post the information on Facebook. In short, we need you to get the information out any way you can.

If you believe in the kind of education we do at TNS, and want it to continue, we need you to stand up and let your voice be heard.

Thank you!

Debbie McLaughlin

Laurie Engle

Judy Crozier

Dianne Pannullo

Shaquawn Parker

Dara Corn

Katie Andino Fernandez

Meg Maher

Olivia Occelli

Grace Chang

Chelsea Crawford

Jane Taylor

Sierra Warren

Sofia Pereira

Laura Tiktin-Sharick

Michiko Sugiyama

Alexis Neider

Christie Barron

Colin Schriner

Desmond Rudder

Danette Lebron

Emily Hartzell

Teddy Fernandez

Cheryl Wolf

Joanne Scibilia DiTomasso

Rebecca Metzger

Connie Benson

Authentic work in action!

Advocacy News

Andrew Cuomo’s attack on public schools

His teacher-evaluation reforms would scare away good educators and further distort classroom education

BY Diane Ravitch


Wednesday, January 28, 2015, 5:00 AM

A friend of charters; a foe of district schools Tim Roske/AP A friend of charters; a foe of district schools

Gov. Cuomo’s reform agenda for the schools is dangerously wrong. It will harm students, teachers and public education. It will waste taxpayer dollars on failed policies.

The governor says that our public schools are in crisis. In fact, they rank the same on national tests as 20 years ago — in the middle of the pack. Only 30% of our students passed the new Common Core tests, but 80% passed the state tests they replaced.

Scores fell not because students or teachers got worse, but because the new tests were designed to fail 70% of students. Then-Education Commissioner John King predicted the failure rate before the tests were given.

Cuomo said in his State of the State speech that “everyone will tell you nationwide, the key to education reform is a teacher evaluation system.”

New York’s new teacher evaluation system rated 98.7% of teachers “effective.” The governor says this must be inaccurate because so many students failed.

He wants a system that will base 50% of every teacher’s evaluation on state tests (which currently count for only 20%). The other 50% will be based on observations, one by the principal (counting for 15 points) and the other by independent observers (counting for 35 points).

The governor is wrong about what “everyone will tell you.” Experts would tell the governor that basing teachers’ evaluations on test scores doesn’t work. Many superb teachers are teaching children who learn slowly — such as students with severe disabilities and English-language learners. These students received the lowest scores on the state tests (more than 90% “failed”).

Experts would also tell the governor that excellent teachers will be rated ineffective because they teach slow learners, and mediocre teachers may get high ratings because they teach in wealthy districts. Many teachers who are rated ineffective one year may be rated effective the next.

The American Statistical Association warned last year that the kind of evaluation system proposed by the governor should not be used to rate individual teachers. There are many factors that affect student test scores, including the home, poverty and students’ motivation. The teacher’s influence, said the association, accounts for only 1% to 14% of the variation in scores.

The National Academy of Education and the American Educational Research Association issued a joint statement pointing out the flaws of the measures the governor wants.

Cuomo’s plan will also change tenure rules — so that a teacher can qualify for job protections only if he or she gets five consecutive years of effective ratings.

The consequences of these plans are predictable. Teachers will devote even more time to test preparation. Schools will narrow their curriculum, taking away time from the arts, physical education, science and whatever is not tested. This will harm students.

New York State will lose many good teachers who teach students who are learning English, students with disabilities, students struggling with poverty — even teachers of the gifted, whose students have hit the ceiling and can’t get higher scores.

And as good teachers are fired, who will want to teach in New York?

Meantime, the state will need to pay independent evaluators to rate its 200,000 teachers every year. How many millions will that cost? Why should the opinion of a drop-in evaluator be given more weight than the judgment of the principal who sees teachers daily? If a principal doesn’t have primary responsibility to evaluate his or her staff, what’s the point of calling him or her a manager?

Of course, teachers should be evaluated. The best evaluation model is called Peer Assistance and Review, which is successful in districts like Montgomery County, Md. There, new teachers and faltering senior teachers are assigned a mentor and given a chance to improve. A committee of teachers and principals eventually decides whether they have improved enough to be retained. If not, they are fired.

The governor also wants to raise the state cap on privately managed charter schools. This will not improve education. On the last round of state tests, the state’s charters scored only 3.6 points higher than district schools in math, but 7 points lower than district schools in reading.

Parents across the state are already outraged about the amount of time that students spend on testing. The typical student in grades 3 to 8 spends at least seven hours each spring being tested in reading and math, but weeks preparing to take the tests. Candidates for college, law school and medical school don’t spend as much time taking tests as little children in New York do.

When parents discover that there is no time for chorus or band or sports or history or science or foreign languages, they are likely to redouble their efforts to stop the testing. If Cuomo wanted to add more fuel to anti-testing fires, he has just done so very successfully.

Ravitch is author of “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools” and other books.