Gov. Andrew Cuomo is under fire from teachers unions for his remark that failing schools should get the "death penalty" of they continue to show a poor performance on tests and evaluations. Cuomo believes if schools are unable to repair themselves, options such as a state takeover, placement under mayoral control or remaking a school into a charter school should be exercised. Photo by AP.
September 09, 2013The state's powerful teachers unions and an education advocacy group are angry at the governor for showing "disrespect" toward educators, parents and students when he said failing schools should receive the "death penalty."
At a press conference in Western New York before the Labor Day weekend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was asked by several reporters what his course of action would be for "low performing schools" in the Buffalo area.
In response, Cuomo said "failing schools," whether they are in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse or on Long Island, should receive the "death penalty, so to speak" if they are unable to "repair themselves." He was referring to options such as a takeover by the state, going under mayoral control or being remade into a charter school.
Cuomo said Albany is making "great progress" in improving education since the implementation of a new teacher evaluation system, but added that "we can't allow failing schools to continue. Children come first before the bureaucracy."
But the governor's choice of words has led New York State United Teachers, the largest teachers' union in the state, along with Alliance for Quality Education and the American Federation of Teachers, to question Cuomo's methods for improving the low performing schools.
During his meeting with reporters in Lockport on August 29, Cuomo said there is no excuse for low performance in schools since New York state allocates more money than any other state to educate its children. Given all the money spent on education, Cuomo believes "if the school fails, the school has to end."
The Executive Director of Alliance for Quality Education, Billy Easton, does not agree with Cuomo's remark to close "low preforming" schools. Instead, Easton suggests Cuomo initiate the ideas put forward by his own Education Reform Commission, which proposes all New York students should have access to "full day pre-kindergarten, expanded learning time, community schools, teacher mentoring and college-readiness curriculum."
Easton says 98 percent of students do not have access to Cuomo's Education reforms.
"The governor is right that we cannot accept failing schools, but rather than proposing a 'death penalty,' he should provide the leadership needed to ensure that these schools have access to the very programs that his education commission has endorsed and that he holds up as innovative solutions and successes," Easton said.
Presidents Richard Lannuzzi of New York United Teachers and Randi Weingarten of American Federation of Teachers want Cuomo to look at the core issue as to why schools are "failing." Both union heads agree that poverty needs to be addressed before students can thrive.
"Governor Cuomo's 'death penalty' reference in speaking about so-called 'failing schools' demonstrated disrespect toward New York's dedicated educators, parents and hard-working students," Iannuzzi and Weingarten said in a joint statement. "The governor knows better — this kind of language has no place in our society and it only serves to destroy confidence in public education. Every New Yorker, including our elected officials, needs to avoid inflammatory language that does nothing to address the needs of New York's most vulnerable students who suffer every day from inequitable conditions and, most often, are the victims of the social ills associated with poverty.
Cuomo has proposed solutions such as a state takeover of failing schools, mayoral control, and the conversion of public schools to charter schools. But Easton refuses to back such action given the poor "track record" seen across the country when these measures have been put into place.
"The 'death penalty' options proposed by Governor Cuomo – state takeover, mayoral control and conversion to charter schools – focus only on changing who is running schools, not on the educational strategies inside schools and classrooms. The track record around the country of these dramatic actions is largely unsuccessful and highly divisive."
He notes that mayoral control in New York City under Mayor Bloomberg has failed to close the achievement gap or improve the lowest performing schools and is very unpopular with New York City voters. He said in New York and other states, state takeovers have had no track record of success with states mired in local school governance for years or even decades.
"What we don't need now is a war of words. Rather, we need a war on poverty and inequality," said Iannuzzi and Weingarten. "We need to fix — not close — schools, and stabilize — not destabilize — communities," they continued. "We need to work together to reclaim the promise of public education so that all children can achieve their dreams."