indecision 2010

Education groups giving funds but not taking sides in gov.'s race

Major state education stakeholders are funneling money to both sides in the not-yet-officialbut-looking-likely gubernatorial primary contest between Governor David Paterson and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

But donors say that although their gifts coincided with increased speculation about Cuomo’s entry into the governor’s race, the donations are more a reflection of what they want to see happen now than a sign they’re taking sides in a future race.

The state teachers union, which vigorously opposed Paterson’s recent attempt to raise the cap on charter schools in the state without additional restrictions, gave $8,400 to Cuomo in the middle of December. That donation followed a $10,000 gift to the attorney general last June.

Union spokesman Carl Korn said that the most recent donation was an indication of support for the attorney generals’ crackdown on predatory lending to students and not a forward-looking political move.

Cuomo has so far kept quiet on his views on charter schools and recently refused to comment on whether he supported Paterson’s push to increase the number of charters allowed under state law.

By contrast, Democrats for Education Reform, the lobbying group whose political fund-raising often challenges efforts of local teachers unions, put $10,000 into Paterson’s coffers this month. The political action committee’s contribution was dated January 11, three days after Paterson announced his proposal to abolish the cap on charter schools in New York. Encouraging charter school growth, along with instituting merit pay programs and changing how teachers are evaluated, are among the political priorities that guide DFER’s giving.

Joe Williams, DFER’s executive director, said that the donation should not be read as a line in the sand. “We’ve had a long-standing relationships with Governor Paterson, and a lot of our supporters have supported the attorney general,” he said.

Rather, DFER’s donation to Paterson was intended as a boost to the governor’s effort to lift the charter cap before the deadline for the federal Race to the Top grant application, Williams said.

“If we can’t [enact] Race to the Top [reforms] this year, we need to do it next year, but we can’t really wait a year,” he said.

Charter school interest groups have so far kept out of the donations game. The Coalition for Public Charter Schools, the political giving arm of the New York Charter Schools Association, donated $500 to Cuomo in October but has not given to either candidate since.

Other interests, including unions who may not have been motivated by the battle over Race to the Top, are giving to both sides.

The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which represents city principals, has donated $5,000 to each campaign — to Cuomo in mid-December and to Paterson at the beginning of January.

D.C. 37, the union that represents school aides whose contracts do not protect them from layoffs under sustained school budget cuts, also donated to both candidates on the same day in December. The union donated $2,000 to Paterson, while Cuomo received a $1,000 donation.

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”