Thursday, January 21, 2010

Joe Williams on New York

Just when you think Albany is incapable of disgracing itself any further…  DFER's Joe Williams NAILS it in this scathingly brilliant email today:



When I was a freshman in college, one of my buddies woke up one morning after a rowdy night on the town and decided, while doing a "walk of shame" back to our dorm, that he was going to join a 10-k run that was starting in the middle of our campus. He was hung over (probably still drunk from the night before, but so was I so details are fuzzy), out of shape, and he looked terribly out of place at the starting line. While everyone else was suited up for a marathon, my pal was wearing cut-off jeans and a ripped shirt. On his feet, rather than running shoes, he was still wearing the docksiders he had worn the night before – and no socks. (It was the '80's, give me a break!)

He ran for about a half mile and then vomited on the sidewalk.

It simply wasn't meant to be.

I thought of my friend a lot in the last couple of days, as I watched the New York State Legislature do the governing equivalent of puking up a bunch of Jagermeister on the sidewalks of Albany in the way that it handled itself in dealing with the federal "Race To The Top" contest.

Not that there's anything wrong with Jagermeister, but clearly my state legislature – like my old college buddy – proved once again that New York was not quite up to the task of competing in race where everyone else at the starting line was there to win.

I don't mean to sound too grouchy, and truth be told, none of what has happened in the Empire State comes as a surprise. DFER was quoted publicly on several occasions doubting whether New York politicians had the guts to stand up to our powerful teachers unions and use the "Race To The Top" competition to once and for all declare that enough was enough in our state. There were times that I had hopes that President Obama's calls for change would be heard in New York, but in the end our elected leaders in Albany served our kids the way they always do. We're obviously working to change that.

So let's focus on the positive:

-- NY Governor David Paterson hung in there and led the charge to make New York's application competitive. We are extremely grateful. But now we need him to clean up the funding disparities between public charter schools and district schools that his proposed budget – introduced today – will exacerbate.

-- Senators Craig Johnson and Ruben Diaz Sr. fought hard to make sure that our state teachers union didn't use our legislature to send the real message that it wanted to send to President Obama. Without their guts, public education in New York State would have taken a huge step backwards. Every person on this email list owes them a debt of gratitude for standing strong.

-- New York's Education Commissioner David Steiner and the Board of Regents, despite the lunacy of the New York legislature, managed to do what it could to put together an interesting Race To The Top application. Our hat is off to them, A for effort, etc.

-- States all across the country stepped up and delivered strong reform packages that are now leaving New York in the dust unless we can get our act together in the next few months by closing the inequitable funding gap for charter schools in New York, lifting the cap on charters, and taking BOLD measures to make sure that New York is doing EVERYTHING in our power to make sure that our kids are being taught by the best possible teachers.

-- President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan deserve tremendous praise for finding the right lever from which to unleash progressive change from the White House. It has been nothing short of incredible watching things play out in the states in which we work. Don't worry about New York, we'll catch up someday. For now, we're encouraged by President Obama's announcement today that he intends to continue the RTTT contest with even more funding at in the future.

New York notwithstanding, we are witnessing a period of exciting reform. This is our best chance in years to truly transition public education so that it can rebound and thrive in the future.

Yours in the fight,


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