New York Gov. Cuomo may face primary challenge from progressive Democrat


N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his nomination acceptance speech at the state’s Democratic Convention, in Melville, N.Y., Thursday, May 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, seeking re-election this year, recently secured the endorsement of the progressive Working Families Party, which had been expected to back a challenger but sided with the governor after he made a series of promises about meeting their political agenda. But a good number of party members are unhappy with the choice, especially education activists who oppose Cuomo’s support of corporate school reform and he must face a challenger in the Democratic primary in September. Writing about the possibility and what a challenger could hope to accomplish is Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School, who has been chronicling the flawed implementation of school reform and the Common Core State Standards across the state for some time (here, and here and here and here, for example).

Burris was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and in 2010, tapped as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. She is the co-author of the New York Principals letter of concern regarding the evaluation of teachers by student test scores. It has been signed by thousands of principals teachers, parents, professors, administrators and citizens. You can read the letter by clicking here.  Her new book is “On The Same Track: How Schools Can Join the Twenty-First-Century Struggle Against Resegregation.”

 

 By Carol Burris

“There’s a very real possibility that the Democratic Party is about to undergo a powerful shift on education policy.” That is how a recent article  in The New Republic began.  Author Conor Williams argues that the education policies of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top have divided the party into two camps—those who embrace traditional values, such as equitable funding for schools, and those who embrace test-based accountability reforms.

Nowhere is that division sharper than it is in New York. New York has been the canary in the coalmine for teacher accountability based on test scores, the Common Core and Common Core testing. The frustration of parents and teachers, whose thoughtful and heartfelt objections have been ignored or dismissed, has moved thousands into the political arena to look for relief.

Several weeks ago, New York eyes were on the Working Families Party convention.  The WFP was formed to allow progressive Democrats to vote their conscience as the Democratic Party backs away from progressive ideals.  Teachers and parents who oppose the Race to the Top reforms had hoped that the Working Families Party would provide an alternative candidate to Andrew Cuomo, aligned with most of the platform of the Democrats. They wanted a candidate with different education policies—one whom they could support.

Up until the day of the convention, the WFP was positioning itself to endorse a candidate other than Cuomo, who, Republican Senate leader, Dean Skelos, described as  “a good moderate Republican.”  Just weeks before, Cuomo stood shoulder to shoulder with Skelos and fellow Republican, John Flanagan, to embrace charter school reform that would require New York City to provide charter space in public schools at no cost, or, pick up the costs of rental space.  While the charter chains, such as Success Academy, applauded the bill, it was greeted with dismay by many New York City parents who recognized that precious resources and space would leave their public schools in order to satisfy charter school proponents.

The night of May 31 was a long one, with impassioned pleas to not endorse Cuomo. whose record was more aligned with special interests than those of progressive party members. But Cuomo put pressure on the delegates, making promises and exerting pressure, until a majority vote was secured. Although the vote went to Cuomo, the energy in the room was clearly for the bright, gutsy and charismatic Zephyr Teachout, who refused to back out and ran against the governor from the floor.


Zephyr Teachout may challenge Gov. Cuomo.  (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

Teachout, a Fordham University law professor, who believes in traditional progressive values regarding public schooling, was the clear favorite of the teachers in the room—teachers such as Todd Hathaway, who had traveled from Buffalo to Albany to lend his support to her candidacy.  In Teachout, many progressive parents and educators in the state saw a candidate who is very different than the governor—a candidate who believes that “a contest between corporate Republicans and corporate Democrats is not good enough.”

The disdain for Cuomo’s education policies began before the Working Party Convention. I stood in May with over a thousand other people  during the New York State Democratic Convention who were chanting  “ABC”  – anybody but Cuomo. There was a hunger in the crowd for a candidate who will respect the work of teachers. There was hunger for someone who will respect the pleas from parents to roll back testing and the Common Core. There was hunger for someone who instead of claiming he will be the “student lobbyist” will actually stand up for all children by equitably funding their schools.

Since the Working Families Party convention, New Yorkers are heartened to learn that the battle may not be over.  Zephyr Teachout is considering fighting on – battling Andrew Cuomo in the primary so that there can be a real debate within the Democratic Party.  She is reaching out to educators and they, in turn, are reaching out to her.

In a recent email to me, Zephyr Teachout talked about her philosophy of education and its importance, couching her philosophy within the context of her own experience.  You can read the contents of that email here.

Will Zephyr Teachout be the candidate that takes on Cuomo and his school corporate reform agenda? New York educators and parents who want student-centered reforms that are not built on standardized testing and test-based accountability systems, are anxious to take their demands to the polls.  They want a sensible approach to school improvement and a return of local control.  They also understand that equitable funding matters. Zephyr Teachout may very well be the candidate that accelerates “the shift” back to progressive educational values.

In doing so, she would give New York parents and educators hope that their state could have a governor who listens to them and puts student interests, not corporate interests, first.

 

 Correction: Primary is this September, not in June

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | June 12