The Democrats for Education Reform, in a statement last week, admonished the state not to get presumptuous about its chances by averting real reforms in the application for federal Race to the Top funds. "Many state plans so far are promissory." Great choice of words, which is applied specifically to our state: "New York seems to think it can get by simply by passively letting its firewall law expire and phoning their application in" (emphasis mine).
DFER's Executive Director, Joe Williams, goes on: "Some members of New York's political leadership are actually bragging behind the scenes that the fix is in and that they will get a Race to the Top grant regardless of the integrity and ambitiousness of their school reform plan."
Mr. Williams made no specific references to New York's congressional delegation. But Tom Carroll of the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability wrote in his Huffington Post column that it appears that is just what state policymakers are banking on.
"For months, rumors have circulated in New York political and education circles that U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer has received assurances from the Obama Administration that New York will receive a 'round one' grant from the highly competitive federal $4 billion Race to the Top competition for educational dollars." Mr. Carroll goes on to write that Schumer is "very close personally" to Regents Chancellor, Merryl Tisch, who views the federal grant as a high priority.
The U.S. Department of Education, he writes, denies the fix is in. Naturally. If it is, the Department would make a mockery of the encouraging and unambiguous public statements of its leaders, Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama.
The Daily News has a better idea in its editorial last Saturday: change laws now, beginning with repealing the ban on using student test data for tenure decisions and raising the cap on the number of charter schools in New York. That would be a start, yet there is no indication the state Education Department or Legislature intends any such thing, any time soon.
Commissioner Steiner Speaks to Charter School Operators
Education Commissioner David Steiner, last week, spoke to charter school operators gathered at the New York City Charter School Center, assuring them of his and Chancellor Tisch's support for charter schools, and that the cap will be raised when its reached, as it happened once previously.
In fact, it took 16 months after reaching the cap and a newly-elected Governor to get the legislature to raise it. At that time, the state Education Department was no help in pushing that boulder up hill, so hopefully it will help this time under its new leadership.
Despite this verbal support for charters, the Commissioner gave no indication that New York's Race to the Top application would include any charter initiatives. In fact, his priorities include fixing the state's flawed testing structure and teacher preparation programs, both of which he is expert.
The Commissioner is not going to get ahead of his boss, Chancellor Tisch, on charter schools. It will mostly be her decision and Governor Paterson's, on what is included in New York's Race to the Top application. We will know soon enough whether it will truly be "aggressively bold" or if they are "phoning it in."
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