Alan J. Singer: Why Blame Parents, When Teachers will do just as well?

Jan 26, 2015 by

An Interview with Alan J. Singer: Why Blame Parents, When Teachers will do just as well?

Michael F. Shaughnessy

1) Alan, in the great state of New York, the Governor occasionally speaks on the “state of the state.” What has the illustrious Andrew Cuomo had to say lately?

I am not a fan of Andrew Cuomo, as readers of my Huffington Post blog already know. But I want to start by recognizing an important issue where Andy and I agree, although mysteriously he left it out of the “state of the state” address. In December 2014, Governor Cuomo banned “fracking” in upstate New York’s Marcellus Shale formation. Many New Yorkers, myself included, have been battling against energy companies that want to extract natural gas using environmentally destructive techniques that threaten water supplies in the local area and the watershed for New York City. Andy deserves a lot of credit for this one, but inexplicably did not mention it.

Governor Cuomo also ignored upset at his decision to shut down the Moreland Commission that was investigating corruption in New York State politics. Andy seems to think the commission was no longer necessary, but Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, disagreed. The day after Andy’s speech Bharara had the Speaker of the State Assembly, a Democratic Party ally of Cuomo, arrested for suspicion of taking millions of dollars in bribes.

On economic issues, Andy would probably make a good Republican. The economic plan reiterated in the “state of the state” seems to be to cut business and property taxes and this will miraculously solve all the state’s problems. Cuomo should look at the economic disaster this strategy created in Kansas before he pursues these policies. Maybe if Hillary Clinton’s candidacy continues to block Andy’s Democratic Party Presidential ambitions, he plans to switch party allegiances.

2) His comments over the last few years have basically lambasted teachers. This is a nifty political trick- you blame a bunch of people who have no read leader, no Albert Shanker to blast the governor back in the New York Times. Your thoughts?

My biggest disagreements with the Governor are on educational policy. Andy’s hostilities toward teachers and teacher unions is so deep that in his 2015 State of the State address, he recognized that New York State schools need an additional $1.1 billion in state aid, but he refuses to support the budget allocation unless the legislature agrees to allow additional non-union charter schools, make tenure for teachers more difficult to acquire, rework the teacher evaluation system so more passing teachers fail, and approve a back-door voucher plan transferring public money to private and religious schools.

3) Even more incredulous is his attack on women- because the vast majority of our wonderful teachers are women. So, indirectly, he is attacking women who perhaps are 60-70 percent of the work force?

Andy’s attack on teachers is very much an attack on women. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than three-quarters of the K-12 teachers in the United States are women, although a survey by the National Center for Education Information puts the figure at over 80%. Pre-school teachers are even more overwhelmingly women, with most estimates well over 95%. In New York City, women made up 76% of the K-12 teacher work force in 2011-2012, up from 73% in 2000-2001. While a gender breakdown for New York State teachers as a whole is not available, New York City statistics suggest the percentage of women teachers in New York State is consistent with national trends. These New York State women teachers are particularly well educated. In 2011-2012, New York had the highest percentage of teachers with advanced degrees of any state, 84.2% with Master’s degrees compared to 47.7% nationally. An additional 8.6% had a degree beyond the masters. Coincidently of course, the President of the State and National unions representing New York State teachers are both women. Andy clearly has a problem with public schools. Does he also have a problem with educated, professional women?

4) It seems that we need to re-name Andy as the WAFFLE governor, since he seems to flip flop on issues like minimum wage every few weeks. What is his current stand?

I wish I knew. I don’t think he does. In 2013, he thought $8.75 an hour was a sufficient minimum wage for New Yorkers and that it had to be uniform across the state. In spring 2014, when he was seeking the Working Families nomination for Governor, Andy promised party officials to endorse a $13.50 minimum wage. In his State of the State address, he called for a statewide $10.50 an hour minimum wage but an $11.50 minimum in New York City. Andy, or his advisors, needs to keep better track of his positions.

5) Andy (The Waffle) Cuomo has recently said “Don’t ask the taxpayers of New York to throw good money after bad.” What was he referring to here?

Andy was talking about New York State teachers and public schools. However, The New York Times really got him on this one. According to a report by Kate Taylor, Cuomo has been targeting a non-existent crisis. On National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math and reading tests, New York State fourth and eighth graders score on the national average. Its high school graduation rate is slightly below the national average, but that is because its state exams establish a much higher standard for graduation, not because our students perform worse than in other states. On international reading exams, New York, if it were an independent country, would be close to being a top ten nation. Karen E. Magee, president of the state teachers’ union, responded to Cuomo stating “New York has one of the strongest public education systems in the nation.” But of course she is a teacher and a woman.

6) Alan, is there any way, any reasonable College of Education can prepare teachers for “the realities of the 21st century classroom”? It seems that every time I turn around there is some new disability, exceptionality, handicap, medical condition that teachers have to address.

We know that the best way to plan for the future is to encourage flexibility and ongoing training. It works in countries like Finland whose educational system and teachers are often touted as amongst the best in the world. But ongoing training is expensive. I started my teacher education program in the 1960s, before copying machines, computers, video-recording, Smartboards, cellphones, email, ebooks, the internet, PowerPoint, iPads and iPods, etc. I learned to use these things in the classroom overtime. I could not be prepared to use them before they were invented.

In the United States our plan seems to be do it for cheap so we can cut taxes. Inoculate teachers against all potential eventualities while they are still in college and are paying the bills. New York State student teachers must take special workshops in how to prevent violence and bullying, including cyber-bullying, identifying child and substance abuse, demonstrating knowledge of fire and arson, highway and school safety procedures, and pass tests that show they can handle any eventually, which of course is impossible.

7) I guess we can blame the teachers for all the crime – I mean after all, if the teachers assigned more homework, kids would be at home doing homework, and parents would be at home helping them with their homework. No?

NO! Maybe we need a “freakonomics” study. Schools probably reduce crime – and prevent teen pregnancy. Teenagers who are in school are less likely to be breaking laws, at least outside the school building, or to be getting into other kinds of trouble. If a young man from an inner-city minority community attends school and makes it to eighteen without getting into trouble with the legal system he has a good chance to make something of his life no matter what his grades are. The same thing goes for a young woman who avoids becoming a teenage mother. I also have a secret confession. I did not do much homework at home in high school and I suspect most boys still don’t. We used to copy it from the girls when we got to school or during lunch.

8) Cuomo and Obama- other than they both have 5 letters in their name- what else do they seem to share in common?

Two things. They are both beholding to hedge fund, technology, and charter school companies for financing their election campaigns so they seem prepared to give away the “educational store.” They are also both technocrats who believe that major social problems like poverty and racism can be addressed through minor tinkering. During his 2008 campaign Obama promised he could do things smarter. I may have missed something, but it does not seem to have worked.

9) What have I neglected to ask?

Wat does Andrew Cuomo think of my criticisms? I did get a nice email from Andy after I sent him my last Huffington Post blog, but I am not sure if he really read it or not. Anyway, he wrote:

Thank you for your e-mail. To build a stronger, better New York, we need the participation of citizens like you – sharing your ideas, comments, and concerns. Your input is invaluable to our mission to create a government that works for its people, and I appreciate you taking the time to reach out to me. I want to assure you that your e-mail has been received and that it will be read and shared with the appropriate members of my staff. I encourage you to return to my website, where you can review my Administration’s initiatives and familiarize yourself with my office and YOUR state government. Thank you again for sharing your perspective and for joining in the effort to build a new New York.


Andrew M. Cuomo

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1 Comment

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    Rob Nolan

    After watching a History Channel’s version, Sons of Liberty, last night, it grieves me to have to return to – and reflect upon – our so-called “leaders” of today.

    First of all, allow me to quote from the EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM, on The History and Structure of Irish Education:

    …the Council considers it necessary that applicants gain a knowledge of the history and structure of Irish education… The key elements sought are a knowledge and understanding of the curriculum and of the management/ administration of the post-primary system in the context of traditions and policy…

    Education systems are shaped by the historical influences of politics, culture, religion, economic and social forces of society. When a person assumes a teaching position in a country it is professionally desirable that he/she has a basic understanding of the character of that system and of the influences, which have formed it. An informed awareness of the values, traditions and configuration of the system are desirable for satisfactory professional engagement with it. Such knowledge and understanding also assist teachers to contribute to the on-going development of the system.

    In my esteem, it is common sense that to be a productive teacher, one must possess an in-depth understanding of the society in which one is working. One of the greatest weaknesses of this culture is that in recent times, the upstarts ignore history. They erroneously attempt ‘new’ strategies that are tied to no tradition and that are nothing more than theories, being presented as truths. Only an uneducated populace would fall for this illusion, for anything new allows people to believe that they have the power of innovation – even if these new-fangled pipe-dreams are nothing more than that – pipe-dreams. And who shall the magician blame for his prestidigitation being discerned but those who have called him the impostor. These are the teachers – only the teachers understand that strategies of corporate education are nothing more than dubious devices that pull the focus away from deeper social problems, fed by role models who have embraced money as the ultimate source of power. What is missing from this faux formula of education is sustainability – of knowledge and authentic innovation. Using public relations and rhetoric as tools to convince a deluded population that there is tangible evidence of success within theoretical constructs is the ultimate victory of technology – not of an educational model of state-funded charter education.

    What Mr. Cuomo is attempting to sell to New Yorkers is the illusion that charter schools will provide the same education as PRIVATE schools, such as Spence, Poly Prep, and Friends. Basically, it is an argument based upon what E.H. Carr coined a “politics of envy.” Private schools, such as Spence, are built upon ideas such as, “Our charge undoubtedly is preparing our students for the world ahead, and it has always been the charge since the School’s founding in 1892 by Clara Spence. In fact, Clara’s vision continues to define our purpose and the words we honor each day…” Private schools in New York are built upon traditions and strong ties to the past that inform their missions and philosophies. Charter schools will never replace the fine institutions that are built upon humanism’s best ideas – nor will they replace the public schools, designed to “… prevent [the perversion of power into tyranny are] to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes” (Thomas Jefferson: Diffusion of Knowledge Bill, 1779. FE 2:221, Papers 2:526.)
    Perhaps Mr. Cuomo possesses enough political muscle to be intimidating, but not enough of an educated purview to represent education within an American context. I, as an American taxpayer, do NOT intend to have my taxes spent on private enterprise as an impostor of public education! I suggest we resist.

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