Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Taking Candy from Babies

To my mind, taking candy from babies conjures up images of old silent movies in which black-hatted villains tie damsels to railroad tracks. I see Snidely Whiplash twirling his mustache with an evil cackle, as Dudley Do-Right gallops backward on his white horse to the rescue. These days, villains decline to wear top hats and capes, so things are not quite so well defined.

And yet, watching the actions of those in Albany, I’m reminded that clothes do not make the man. It’s nice that Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to intervene in the teacher evaluation dispute. However, I have to question his judgment and motivation.

For one thing, he’s now made good on his threat to withhold 250 million dollars from the children of New York City. Op-eds attributed this to the evil UFT and its efforts to protect bad teachers. At the UFT Delegate Assembly, President Michael Mulgrew stated there was an agreement in place, and Bloomberg killed it at the last minute. (For the record, I absolutely believe Mulgrew.)

There is, of course, what passes for a middle ground, and that is both UFT and DOE are to blame for not coming to an agreement. But that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Certainly the UFT did not withhold a dime from city children. And, while I’m not Mayor Bloomberg’s biggest fan, it was not he who cut the city budget by 250 million, or 1% (particularly if you don’t count the 14% he’s cut unilaterally since 2007).

I recall an old National Lampoon cover, showing a picture of a dog with a gun to its head, and a caption stating, “If you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll kill this dog.” Is that substantially different from Governor Cuomo’s position? “If the UFT and the DOE don’t come to an agreement, I’ll take 250 million dollars away from schoolchildren.” The thing was, the Lampoon, however you view its sense of taste, was trying to be funny. Governor Cuomo was dead serious, and if I were his dog, I’d be deeply concerned.

NY Schools Commissioner John King has now taken the governor’s threat to a new level, threatening to take another billion from Title 1 funds. Basically, he’s saying, “If you don’t accept this evaluation system, I’ll hurt the poorest, neediest children in the city.” When did it become acceptable for the highest-ranked educator in the state to say, let alone do, such a dastardly thing?

As if that’s not enough, the feds have gotten into the act, with Education Secretary Arne Duncan threatening to withhold yet another 700 million dollars from New York schoolchildren.

In fact, there’s just one more piece of the puzzle that’s not gotten much traction here—Governor Cuomo, the self-proclaimed “student lobbyist,” already owes New York City’s kids over 5 billion dollars, as per the terms of the CFE lawsuit. Here we have two of the most powerful people in Albany withholding massive funds from city kids, pointing fingers at the union, at the city, and being accountable in no way whatsoever.

I tend to have patience for kids who indulge in juvenile behavior. After all, they are juveniles, and that’s kind of their job. When adults behave like this, I’m disappointed.

I believe, like Diane Ravitch, and like one-third of NY State’s principals, that the new VAM evaluations are junk science, and will help neither students nor teachers. While I fully expect John King to support whatever reformy nonsense that comes down the pike, I fail to see why my union leadership supports this. Furthermore, I fully believe the expense of enacting this plan will waste a great deal of money that could’ve been used to actually help kids, for example, by lowering their class sizes. In fact, it’s entirely possible that all that money, and more, will be used to enact the evaluation system, resulting in a net loss.

Nonetheless, I am horrified by the spectacle of powerful men playing games with the funds we pay in taxes to support our children. They may not dress like silent movie villains, but they certainly don’t behave any better.
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