De Blasio says he understands Common Core protests

By Sally Goldenberg (Capital New York)

5:24 p.m. | Apr. 2, 2014

Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed sympathy today for public-school parents who opted to have their children sit out recent standardized exams that are based on the new Common Core curriculum adopted by New York State.

“I understand their frustrations,” de Blasio said. “When my children were participating in the high-stakes testing I saw the same dynamics I think a lot of other parents have seen: Kids feel very nervous, they feel overwhelmed by the process,” the mayor said during a news conference about his universal pre-kindergarten plan at a school in Queens.

He promised his administration will “do everything in our power to move away from high-stakes testing” by expanding the pool of criteria used to evaluate schools and students.

“So I think parents are keying into something that’s very real in terms of wanting to see a more balanced system,” he added.

Across the state, parents, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Astorino, have chosen to protest the new exams by refusing to allow their children to take them. Some opponents say they dictate curriculum; others say they are unreliable.

De Blasio, who was broadly critical of the Bloomberg administration’s education policies, said he is “moving away from a lot of the sacred cows of the previous administration like the use of the high-stakes testing to determine a quote-unquote grade for a school. It was a process I thought was broken from the beginning.”

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As local NYSUT presidents from around New York flood into Manhattan today and tomorrow, NYSUT President Iannuzzi is shifting into high gear and pulling out all the stops in his campaign to hang on to his job as the boss of New York’s largest union.  Delegates representing NYSUT’s 600,000 members and more than 1,300 locals will convene later this week at NYSUT’s Representative Assembly, which climaxes with a high stakes election planned for Saturday afternoon; an election which is set to determine the future of the organization.

Candidate Iannuzzi is up against a progressive slate of leaders from around the state including Harrison Teachers’ Association president Karen Magee and NYSUT Executive VP Andy Pallotta. Iannuzzi, along with his team of incumbents, is banking on a last ditch, full court press effort to garner enough support for a win.  In fact, their latest announcement, in which they claim support from 300 local unions, has been sullied by questions about their tactics (and, at times, their ability to add). It seems that some of the locals on their list are counted twice (co-presidents are listed) and others were placed on the list without their knowledge. One union president was listed as a supporter even though she had publicly endorsed Iannuzzi’s challengers; she even posted a letter on their website.  And the number, 300 (hence the reference to Thermopylae), only ads up to less than 25% of the delegates who are eligible a to vote in this week’s election (NYSUT has over 1,300 locals in total). In some cases, local presidents haven’t promised to support all of the incumbents, rather they intend to vote split tickets and only endorse one of Iannuzzi’s team with whom they have close personal or regional ties. At this point, any claim of a mandate going into this election would be premature at best, or at worse reckless.

The real concern in the eyes of many leaders across the state, however, are the tactics that candidate Iannuzzi is employing in his 11th hour whistle-stop tour of New York. Last month, in an attempt to peel delegates away from their locals, he sent letters to the Buffalo Teachers’ Federation and the Rochester TA delegates calling into question their responsibility to vote alongside their leaders, Phil Rumore and Adam Urbanski. What Iannuzzi ignores is that delegates’ obligation to representation is not a service to themselves, but rather a service to their members.

Iannuzzi kicked his pressure up a notch last week when he sent NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer, Lee Cutler, uninvited to a delegate meeting in Syracuse (Syracuse Teachers’ Association President, KevinAhern, has pledged his support to The Revive NYSUT candidates). It turns out that there were less than a dozen attendees at the meeting and only a half dozen delegates present. What absolutely shocked the Syracuse delegates was Iannuzzi’s follow up letter to the meeting. In it, Iannuzzi calls into question the STA’s endorsement process.

We were surprised to learn that President Ahern endorsed the opposition on your behalf without a phone call or a discussion.

In truth, the decision to support Revive NYSUT was made by the STA Executive Board in consultation with their Representative Assembly. There was not a single dissenting voice in either body. The letter goes on, bizarrely, to suggest that delegates had been subject to some kind of coercion and/or intimidation.

All of the candidates running on the Stronger Together team understand that is unethical and unlawful for a union to discipline or otherwise use threats to restrain, coerce, or intimidate or otherwise attempt to restrain, coerce, or intimidate any member for the purpose of interfering with his/her rights.

Iannuzzi goes on to cite the Code of Federal Regulations which applies in this case. You can read the full letter here:  Syracuse Appeal

These types of attacks are shameful and have no place in this election.  I reached out to the leadership team in Syracuse and they made it perfectly clear, STA’s process was followed to the letter and nobody was coerced or intimidated.  Any suggestion as such, either in this letter or otherwise, is a lie and possibly even slanderous.

What will Iannuzzi do next?  This week will surely be heated.  Our only hope will be that cooler minds will prevail and he will take a cue from his rank and file supporters.  Now is the time to focus on the future of NYSUT, its strength and its members’ collective wisdom.  Let’s find common ground as we move forward.

I won’t remind you what happened to the 300 Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae.  Let’s hope this year’s RA isn’t quite the bloodbath.

 

New York State Education Department Commissioner John King can count another fumble of the Regents’ edreform policies with the recent realization that the release of district-level evaluation results are months overdue. The data, originally anticipated for late fall or mid-winter, has yet to be released for the 700+ school districts across New York.

Some in Albany have speculated that the delay is an effort to starve criticism of New York’s teacher evaluation system and tests which were based, for the first time last year, on the controversial Common Core curriculum.

Another explanation is that it would be a bad moment politically to unveil the results, with Governor Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers planning to amend the rating system to shield educators from low scores on Common Core-aligned exams. Preliminary results indicate that the vast majority of teachers and principals fared well on their evaluations, but a detailed look would likely show how the ratings vary by school district along socioeconomic and racial lines and bolster union complaints that the system fails to account for factors like poverty. (Jessica Bakeman-CapitalNY)

More information is coming out daily about the desperate measures candidate Iannuzzi and his team are taking to hold on to their jobs at NYSUT. Last week, a story emerged in which Iannuzzi contacted delegates from the Buffalo Teachers’ Federation to undermine the local election process; attempting to strip away individuals from their representative obligation (the BTF is supporting Iannuzzi’s challenger in this week’s NYSUT elections in NYC).

Well, Iannuzzi is working his way across upstate, literally and virtually. It seems he isn’t just putting miles on his union car driving up and down the New York State Thruway, he’s blasting out emails and letters to local delegates. The latest letter from candidate Iannuzzi was addressed to Rochester delegates on March 20th (RTA delegates are also supporting the Revive NYSUT slate in their bid to lead the state’s largest union into the future). In it (see below) he says,

While I respect his [RTA prez Adam Urbanski] right to decide for himself that he is supporting the Revive slate, I certainly do not believe that this is in the best interest of the members of RTA.

What candidate Iannuzzi doesn’t acknowledge in his letter is the fact that the RTA executive board voted unanimously to support Revive NYSUT. They have taken the endorsement process, and this election, very seriously and are committed to representing the best interest of their membership. That best interest is something that candidate Iannuzzi is proving himself to be out of touch with.

Perhaps a better approach to take with concerned rank and file NYSUT members, is to ask them why they are endorsing Revive NYSUT. Instead of telling local leaders what they should do, candidate Iannuzzi should step back from his pedestal and humbly ask their opinion. Members have a lot to say about NYSUT’s future. He may learn something.

Read the RTAletter HERE:

The Governor’s office released highlights of the budget deal yesterday, including funding for pre-K, Common Core reform, charter school protections, and a 5.3% increase in funding (details yet to be released). A rundown of the entire budget is available here.

Major Education Investments and Reforms:
· School Aid: The Budget includes a $1.1 billion – or 5.3% – increase in education aid for the 2014-15 school year. High-needs school districts will receive nearly 70 percent of the 2014-15 allocated increase.
· Reform Common Core Implementation: The Budget puts into law a series of recommendations to immediately improve the implementation of the Common Core in New York State, including banning standardized “bubble tests” for young children, protecting students from high stakes testing based on unfair results, ensuring instructional time is used for teaching and learning and not over-testing, and protecting the privacy of students.
· Statewide Universal Full-Day Pre-Kindergarten: The Budget builds upon the success of the first-ever State-funded full-day pre-kindergarten program by committing to invest $1.5 billion over five years to support the phase-in of a Statewide Universal Full-Day Pre-Kindergarten program.
· Protect Charter Schools: The Budget increases tuition funding for charter school students over three years: $250 per student the first year, $350 the second, and $500 in the third. The Budget will also promote the growth of charter schools by addressing their facility needs. Charter schools will be eligible for Pre-K funding.
· Smart Schools: The Budget includes a $2 billion general obligation bond act. Bond proceeds will fund enhanced education technology in schools, with eligible projects including infrastructure improvements to bring high-speed broadband to schools and communities in their school district and the purchase of classroom technology for use by students. Additionally, Smart Schools will enable long-term investments in full-day pre-kindergarten through the construction of new pre-kindergarten classroom space, replace classroom trailers with permanent classroom space and make investments in high-tech school safety projects.

NYSUT president, Dick Iannuzzi, and his team of state officers, Lee Cutler, Maria Neira, and Kathleen Donahue, have taken some hits in recent months leading up to an election at next week’s NYSUT Representative Assembly (RA) in New York City. For more than two months now, they have been trailing behind their challengers, Revive NYSUT, who have proved to be a formidable opposition mounting what can be characterized as a smarter campaign (they quickly shored up support from locals across the state amounting to more than the 51% needed to win an election).

So now, with less than a week to go before the RA, Iannuzzi is shifting into desperation mode and aggressively targeting individual delegates committed to his opposition. His attempts to strip delegates from the Revive NYSUT ticket, all of whom represent their membership’s wishes by way of local elections, are a last ditch effort to steal back a majority – a true hail Mary pass as the clock runs out on his nine year tenure as teachers’ union president.

Now let me be clear, this is not run of the mill campaigning that we’re seeing; neither a series of broadcast appeals for support nor personal calls to uncommitted delegates. Iannuzzi is contacting delegates that have already pledged their support to his opposition, attempting to undermine local leaders, and, in some cases, showing up unannounced and uninvited to local meetings of delegates. Case in point is a letter earlier this month to delegates of the Buffalo Teachers’ Federation lead by Phil Rumore. In it, Iannuzzi directly challenges Rumore’s position on APPR and conspicuously suggests that Rumore has been negligent in his leadership at the BTF.

Hi!
Thanks to so many of you for meeting with Lee and me in Buffalo on Friday! Maria and Kathleen would have loved to join us but they were covering other events.
Our meeting gave me a real opportunity to set the record straight on some misinformation and misrepresentation of my position and actions.
I want to say clearly again that I respect the great challenges that Phil faces running BTF and the constant adversarial position you often find yourselves facing. I have–on more than one occasion–asked to meet with your delegates and/or executive committee. I did so several times in January and February. Phil discouraged the meetings and did not respond to Voicemail requests.
While I did not support a business item at NEA’s RA to take a vote of No Confidence in Arnie Duncan, it was the position taken by the entire delegation from NY including locals such as UFT who is supporting the same candidates as Phil (EVP Pallotta rarely attends NEA events so I can not recall his vote, but I am sure it would have been aligned with UFT). The position and strategy of NEA was in a direction of challenging Duncan in other ways.
While Phil is correct that APPR is not what teachers or their union want, we are the only state with standardized tests limited to 20% by law and with 80% collectively bargained!…

We are asking for would be honored to have your support! More information is available at strongernysut.com and you can reach me at this email anytime.

In Solidarity,

Dick

So, as Iannuzzi struggles to pry delegates away from his opposition, we’re left to wonder what his next desperate measures will be. Undoubtedly, he and his teammates will be campaigning this week trying to garner as many votes as possible, if for no other reason than to save face and avoid an embarrassing margin of defeat at the RA. Although he’s still president Iannuzzi, this week he’ll be candidate Iannuzzi full time. I wonder what will emerge next. Stay tuned.

Syracuse area ABC affiliate, WSYR, will air a discussion on the New York State testing fiasco on Sunday morning beginning at 6AM (channel 9 locally).

The broadcast will be available online at http://www.localsyr.com/newsmakers beginning at 6:30 Sunday morning.

The show is hosted by news anchor Dan Cummings and features perspectives on state testing, the common core rollout, and teacher evaluation in New York. Tune in, parents, to be part of the conversation.

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