Friday, July 14, 2017

Hempstead Community: Black Public School Children Don’t Matter by Bernard Gassaway

            Let’s agree that Black children in Hempstead don’t matter. Then we can stop the charade and the futile efforts to change and improve schools under the guise of caring about children.

            I find it extremely troubling that too many people have accepted, through their actions, that Black children do not matter. I am not one of them. 

            The purpose of this message is to focus on ways residents of Hempstead can change from accepting an education culture of dysfunction, corruption, and incompetence to promoting and supporting a culture of community, care, and competence.  This can best be demonstrated by strategically and conscientiously investing in our children’s education.

            A responsive and accountable school governance structure is essential to a good educational system. Hempstead’s current public-school governance (its school board) is dysfunctional and corrupt, which makes it impossible for children in Hempstead to receive a quality education. What is required to change the school board’s unaccountable, nonresponsive, and irreverent culture? First, let’s explore how we got here. Then we can focus on how to change.

            People remember where they were when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. They remember when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered by an assassin’s bullet.

            As longtime Hempstead residents, where were you when the hope of public school children of Hempstead was assassinated? When did the despicable and deplorable acts of corruption begin? Why does this continual cycle of corruption and incompetence persist, with apparent acceptance from community stakeholders, including politicians, clergy, residents, parents, teachers, and school officials?

            By any reasonable measure, the Hempstead Public School Board is depressingly dysfunctional. Sadly, this reality is likely to continue unless the community residents awake from the deep and depressing disposition of believing and accepting that things won’t change.

            Too many people in Hempstead appear to accept the current school system and are convinced that things will never change because that’s the way it has been, that’s the way it is, and that’s way it will always be. 

            When I speak to residents of Hempstead about public schools, they speak of the school system with such dispassion and disconnection. Educators whisper for fear of retribution, especially if they live in Hempstead. Some quietly argue that too many people who work in the system got their jobs through corruptionthis reminds me of the Machiavellian notion of the ends justifying the means.  

            Here’s what I know. We cannot blame children. Among all stakeholders, children are the most resilient. They are geniuses and deserve a fertile foundation from which to learn and excel.

            We cannot blame parents because they have limited to no options other than what the public school system has to offer, which is not much considering the overcrowding conditions and outdated infrastructure of school facilities, not to mention the poor quality of instruction and the limited course offerings.

            I will not accept that Hempstead is hopeless, as many longtime residents seem to believe.

            I offer the following immediate steps to begin to address the dysfunctional, corrupt, and incompetent school board. However, you should know that any effort to improve the public school system must be based on common individual and community beliefs and values.

We must:

·      Invest in our children. Address the education crisis as if it were a life-threatening virus. Repurpose our current spending patterns to maximize available funding.

·      Value family. Organize weekly and monthly activities to bring families together.

·      Value community. Organize weekly and monthly activities to bring residents together.

·      Organize local clergy to strategize on how to support and empower parents to participate meaningfully in the educational process.

·      Convene a planning summit of local government, grassroots organizations, clergy, and public school officials to devise a plan to replace the current dysfunctional school board. Establish criteria for school board membership, including selection and removal.

·      Create five- and ten-year capital plans to upgrade, renovate, and construct state-of-the-art school facilities. Devise a short-term plan to remove trailers.

·      Partner with businesses, colleges and universities, and grassroots community-based organizations to embrace and value education as a community obligation.

            In 1955, the Montgomery Improvement Association played a pivotal role in a bus boycott that lasted for 381 days. How long are you prepared to plan and promulgate policies and programs to improve opportunities for a sound education for children living in Hempstead?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

New York Governor Cuomo Fails to Fight for K-12 Public School Children by Bernard Gassaway

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has failed to keep his pledge to be the chief lobbyist for public school children. Cuomo said in his 2012 State of the State Address, “This year, I will take a second job — consider me the lobbyist for the students. I will wage a campaign to put students first, and to remind us that the purpose of public education is to help children grow, not to grow the public education bureaucracy.” What happened?

What made Cuomo change his course? He has apparently chosen to abandon the fight for public education, and thus the children. I, like others, believe he has chosen to focus on a presidential run in 2020 instead. This is sad.

At one point in 2015, Cuomo seemed eager and ready to take on his most formidable foe, the teachers’ unions. He pledged to fight for effective teacher evaluations, turn failing schools around, expand charter schools, and quicken the removal of ineffective teachers. What happened?

The teachers’ unions unleashed a barrage of strategic media attacks. They apparently hit their mark. Cuomo quickly retreated and waved a white flag. Since then, he has been relatively silent on public education reform.

Instead of tackling challenges related to K-12 challenges, Cuomo announced his college tuition initiative. If his goal was to distract folks from his K-12 debacle, it worked. Ironically, the college tuition initiative is likely to fail if K-12 is not fixed.

However, when it comes to his inability to improve public education, Cuomo does have a trump card: he can blame the New York State Legislature and the New York State Board of Regents. While the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives the states authority to run public education, the New York State Constitution specifically gives authority to the legislature to run education. The legislature appoints members to the board of regents (education policymakers), who in turn hire the New York State commissioner of education.

Interestingly, Cuomo appears to be comfortable with not being in control of education. Perhaps he has concluded that the problem with public education is irresolvable. Furthermore, a battle with the teachers’ unions might jeopardize his 2020 presidential aspiration.

As a teacher of teachers and a chief child advocate, I am disappointed in Cuomo’s lack of fight when it comes to public education. It takes a lot of courage to fight for children, particularly since they do not vote.

Cuomo has the gift of rhetoric. Unfortunately for children, he does not have the gift of delivering on his pledge to fight for them.

Friday, April 14, 2017

NY Governor Cuomo Weak on Public Education by Bernard Gassaway

Andrew M. Cuomo has had nearly two terms as governor to significantly improve public education in New York. He has failed to use his bully pulpit to promulgate policies to improve student outcomes. New York’s average student performance for reading and mathematics remains less than 50% proficiency.

While Cuomo is articulate in his criticism of failing schools, and what is needed to improve them, he has not acknowledged his inability to be a change agent for public education.

Below are education-related excerpts from Cuomo’s seven State of the State addresses, from 2011 to 2017. Note that his education agendas have focused on higher education, early childhood education, funding, failing schools, charter schools, technology, teacher training and evaluation.

“Higher education will be the key economic driver. We look to partner with our great SUNY system, especially across upstate New York in making this a reality. They will provide both intergovernmental and intra-governmental coordination and be one-stop shops.”

“We need a meaningful teacher evaluation system.”

“We need better teachers. Teaching is one of the most important professions in society. We must attract and incentivize the best to become teachers. We need to overhaul the teacher training and certification process, increase admission standards, and we should implement a bar exam type test that every teacher takes and must pass before we put them in a classroom to teach our students.”

“The next step now in our journey is to reinvent our classrooms with new technology. We must transform our classrooms from the classrooms of yesterday to the classrooms of tomorrow.”

 “We are proposing that we will pay full tuition for SUNY or CUNY for top graduates if they commit to going to teach in New York schools for five years. And we will create a residency program to give teachers early training just the way we do with doctors.”

“…We have committed $1.5 billion to phase-in full day Pre-K for four year olds and we are excited about that. We’ll invest another $365 million this year in Pre-K for four year olds but we also want to take the next step and start designing programs – not for four year olds – but for three year olds.”

“To ensure that charter schools are serving all of the public, we will propose an innovative anti-creaming legislation to ensure charters are teaching their fair share of high needs populations, English language, learning disabled and free lunch so no one can say that the charter schools aren’t taking the same cross-section of public students that the public schools have.”
“Let’s dedicate $100 million to transform every failing school in New York into a comprehensive, holistic, full-service community school and change the basic education system in this state and stop the cycle of incarceration in this state and paying for problems, rather than stopping the problems at an early age.”

“I am proposing tuition free college at our SUNY and CUNY schools and our community colleges for students or families making up to $125,000.”


When it comes to education, it is clear that Cuomo lacks either the authority or influence to significantly improve education outcomes for public school children in New York. While Cuomo should be given credit for saying the right things, he fails to earn credit for doing the right thing when it comes to education. This is unfortunate because as a state, we have too much to lose.  As Cuomo stated in 2012, “The future of our state depends on our public schools. A strong, effective school system is the hallmark of a healthy democracy.”

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Letter to Editor of Times Union "Cuomo's tuition plan only for political gain" by Bernard Gassaway

 Published 3:34 pm, Saturday, February 4, 2017

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's latest proposal, the Excelsior Scholarship, like some of his previous education-related proposals, seems to ignore research. Cuomo may be gambling with taxpayer funds to further his political ambitions.

His latest proposal is to make community college free for individuals and families whose income is less than $125,000. Other than grabbing headlines for a few days, does Cuomo's proposal have merit? Irrespective of cost, roughly one-quarter of new community college students leave after one semester. Further, available data show that less than 40 percent of those enrolling in community college graduate within six years.

According to some studies, at least 50 percent of students who enroll in community college might require at least one remedial course. Students who take remedial courses are less likely to graduate than those who don't.

Based on the abysmal success rate of poor and minority community college students, many of whom serve to benefit from the proposal, Cuomo should work with the Legislature and colleges and universities to improve K-12 public education, which would reduce the need for costly remediation. It's not feasible to provide a free education to students who may not be prepared to take advantage of it.

Since Cuomo did not provide any details about his proposal, it is difficult to determine if he plans to tie performance indicators to the tuition funding. Cuomo's Excelsior Scholarship may be putting the cart before the horse.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

NYS Constitutional Amendment: If Not Now, When? Bernard Gassaway, Ed.D.

The public school student performance data for New York State (NYS) is evidence that the education system has not worked for the majority of its children. Historically, Blacks, Hispanics, students with special needs, and English language learners have not performed on par with their White and Asian peers.

There is no evidence that significant changes in the performance outcomes will occur under the current public school system. Strategic and sound changes in the state’s education governance structure are required to stimulate significant public school reform to meet the learning needs of all children.

An amendment to the NYS Constitution is required to restructure the public education governance structure.

NYS Constitutional Amendment Options (examine and debate)

·      Abolish NYS Board of Regents Oversight of K-12 education
·      Eliminate New York City’s single school district. Establish five districts (one per borough). Elect five superintendents (eliminate ‘chancellor’ model)
·      Constitutionalize school choice (e.g., education savings accounts, education tax credits, vouchers, tax credit scholarships, homeschooling, cyber, etc.)
·      Change governance from legislative to gubernatorial maintenance and support of public education (governor appoints state commissioner of education)
·      Elect state commissioner of education
·      Institute mandatory funding formula to ensure equitable school funding


The governor of NYS has limited powers when it comes to shaping public education policy. The governor’s primary means of influence is funding. Education funding is determined after the governor, speaker of the Assembly and majority leader of the Senate do their annual rounds of budget negotiations.

The Assembly selects 17 members of the NYS Board of Regents, which determines education policy. They also choose the state’s commissioner of education. The commissioner of education implements the policies of the Board of Regents and establishes regulations for the nearly 700 local school districts, each of which is led by a superintendent.

Reform Questions

·      In what ways, if any, should New York’s education governance structure be changed to improve teaching and learning?
·      What roles, if any, should the governor play in governing public education?
·      What role, if any, should the Assembly and Senate play in public education governance?
·      How, if at all, should the NYS Board of Regents be restructured to better meet the learning needs of all children in New York State?
·      How should mayoral or local control of public schools be determined?
·      In what ways, if any, should the following original education clause in New York’s constitution be revised to address the current flaws in the governance of public education in New York State? “The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.”

Why Now

From county to county, upstate to downstate, New York’s students with disabilities, Hispanics, Blacks, and English language learners are not experiencing the same levels of achievement as Whites and Asians.

New York is home to one of the most segregated public school systems in America.

At no time since reading and mathematics standardized test results for NYS began to be recorded have students’ proficiency levels risen above 50%, particularly for students with disabilities, Blacks, Hispanics, and English language learners.

Claims of increases in New York’s high school graduation rates are misleading, given that the majority of its students disproportionately lack sufficient preparation for college.


New York’s public school system is not working for the majority of its children. There are pockets of excellence scattered throughout the state. However, there is no evidence that public education is heading in the right direction for its poor, students with special needs, English language learners, Blacks, and Hispanics.

The public continues to debate the need for additional funding for public education and the need for increased parental choice; yet frankly, even if funding were doubled, little would likely change for the children who are most disenfranchised by the public school system, unless there is a fundamental change in the governance of the state’s current school system.

Nelson Mandela was correct when he said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Use education to change and expand opportunities for all New Yorkers. Amend the state’s constitution to begin a real era of reform in public education.