New York State Wins Race to the Top Grant by Overcoming the Odds
Peter Murphy with a compelling and instructive story of how NY came to win $696 million in RTTT funds – it was a long shot and only happened thanks to the herculean and courageous efforts of the many people who Murphy cites:
This is extremely gratifying outcome for those of us who, beginning last summer, urged the state to make changes to its laws in order to strengthen New York's position in this competition with other states for much needed education money. The New York Charter Schools Association, Democrats for Education Reform and the New York City Charter School Center advocated raising the statutory charter cap, which was going to be reached in 2010, repealing the ban on using test data for tenure decisions, and other reforms (here). Later in the process, these organizations came together as part of a new coalition, Education Reform Now, that pushed for strong Race to the Top legislation and countered the teacher unions' effort to derail it. (NYCSA president, Bill Phillips, issued a statement on New York's award here.)
In the Beginning, a Lone Voice
The first state official to urge New York to reform its laws and policies for Race to the Top funds was Buffalo Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, who last August wrote the Governor and Education Department to push for change. He was a lone voice (here). At that time, in the summer and early autumn of 2009, the Education Department was in transition between commissioners, and the Regents had a new Chancellor, Merryl Tisch (here). Governor Paterson was preoccupied with a yawning state budget deficit and urged the legislature to return in mid-budget year to enact further budget cuts (he was rebuffed) (here). Assemblyman Hoyt introduced comprehensive legislation (here), which was co-sponsored by Senator Jeff Klein, that was ignored at first. In the end, however, many of their proposals became state law that earned the Round 2 Race to the Top grant for the state.
Teacher Union Opposition
From the beginning, the state and New York City teacher unions, NYSUT and UFT, wanted no part of Race to the Top, as they feared any kind of reform to increase accountability and more charter schools was anathema to their own grip on education policy. NYSUT in particular was assuring everyone that nothing need be done, that the state was "eligible" for a grant, and the union attacked charter school advocates for trying to use Race to the Top as a means to advance a pro-charter agenda including a cap lift. Imagine that! NYSUT president Richard Iannuzzi actually boasted of riding on Air Force Two (here) with Secretary Arne Duncan, who supposedly assured all was fine with New York; and Iannuzzi also claimed that the charter cap lift was a "bogus issue with respect to Race to the Top" (here).
For a while, key state officials accepted this wisdom - that the status quo in New York was enough to win funding from the program. That thinking slowly began to change by last November, when the new Education Commissioner, David Steiner, conveyed that New York had to enact reforms, that the Obama administration was serious about the competition (here), and that every point on the federal scoring rubric mattered and should be sought. He and Chancellor Tisch got the Board of Regents in November and December to approve education policy reforms in teacher education, data systems, charter schools and other areas (here), all of which were summarily ignored by the state legislature when it began its 2010 session in January.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010