Cuomo to Public Schools: Stop Destroying Our Kids


The absurdity starts immediately. “At 8 a.m. this morning I was shivering outside PS 10 in Park Slope.” Way to make the story about yourself, bro. Gothamist memoirist Jake Dobkin is a rally to protest Governor Cuomo’s education budget plan.

Kids sang “All we are saying is give Public Schools a chance… testing, testing, all we do is testing… Listen to us Cuomo, give Public Schools a chance,” to the tune of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.”

So what are these terrifying proposals? Cuomo wants state-administered tests to weigh more in teacher performance evaluations for grades three through eight. That’s because while 97.5% of New York public school teachers for grades three through eight are rated “effective,” only one-third of their students are proficient in math and English language arts, according to the passing rates set by the state. He also wants to raise the charter schools cap and give parents some choice in their kids’ education. Or, as Dobkin writes, “force public schools into a Darwinian competition for dwindling public financing.”

It’s odd that New York’s public school teachers can teach kids bastardized John Lennon songs to protect their underperforming colleagues, but can’t teach more than a third of them how to read.

The biggest problem with protecting schools from Darwinian competition is that there’s nothing to protect students from it after they drop out or graduate. While teachers can stay employed their entire careers while utterly failing literally two thirds of their students, no such protection from market forces exists for those illiterate children.

Perhaps a victim of New York public education herself, parent Amy Schwartzman was quoted as saying “Cuomo’s plan to fire teachers whose students don’t test well will destroy our public schools. This plan creates so much fear that teachers will feel they have no choice but to do endless test prep.”

It’s not clear to me how one destroys something that is already broken. Nor is it any clearer how test prep would be anything but an improvement over whatever is currently happening in New York classrooms, as I assume that in the course of test prep all students would learn reading and basic math.

City Councilman Brad Lander is as bold as Schwartzman is dense. “We demand the $2.7 billion that New York owes our kids. Our public schools are too important to be held hostage to anyone’s political agenda.”

Being a politician, perhaps he could explain how using public school students to protest in order to protect teachers from competition and evaluation isn’t holding schools hostage to anyone’s political agenda, but trying to reform a broken education system is.

In fact, if I had to assess which political agenda was holding schools hostage, from innovating, from competing, from hiring and firing at will, I’d look to Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers. She and Mike Mulgrew, current president of the United Federation of Teachers, took turns answering the question at the rally: “Whose school? Our school!” How right you are.

Dobkin is himself a product of New York public education, which may explain his deficient critical thinking skills. Walking home from the protest, he ponders “how much worse off my life would’ve been if my family hadn’t had access to free public schools.” It’s a sentence as self-absorbed as it is irrelevant, as no one is threatening state-sponsored, compulsory K-12 education.

I also thought about all the good teachers I’d had in those 13 years, and wondered if any of them would go into teaching now, with all stress that comes with testing, and all the politicians constantly blaming the performance of schools on teachers, instead of say, poverty or lack of funding.

Who would want to work a job where half your yearly evaluation was based on something you had very little control over?

Everyone. Everyone wants to teach in New York. Probably because you can get rated effective by only teaching a third of your students.

What would happen if we fired all the teachers with low-scoring classes, since most of those teachers work in schools in the poorest neighborhoods? How would you replace all those teachers?

They’d be replaced immediately. New York is currently facing an oversupply of teachers. There are more people who want to teach than teaching jobs, despite testing requirements and badmouthing politicians.

Dobkin doesn’t need to muse on these questions. He can Google “job market for teachers in New York” just like I did to find the answers. But he doesn’t, and he gets published anyway. Maybe the real world isn’t that Darwinian after all.

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