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.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Schools & Race Relations: A Toxic Topic by Dr. Bernard Gassaway

As an educator, I am deeply disturbed by fellow educators’ apparent fear to engage in meaningful discussions about race relations with each other and with children.

As many teachers have shared with me, discussing race relations can be challenging, if not downright frightening. Some fear that their subconscious biases and prejudices might surface during a conversation, and they might say something offensive. Others fear losing their jobs if they say the “wrong” thing.

Teachers have expressed that they welcome meaningful professional development regarding race relations. Unfortunately, school leaders do not appear to know how or where to begin because, in fact, they share the same fears that many teachers have.

Race Relations Challenges in School Communities

Discussions on race relations are practically absent from school professional development activities. While teachers admit that race relations are extremely important, school and district leaders put minimal resources towards addressing this important topic.

One challenge for educational leaders is that they do not know how to begin to address race relations. They are not aware of organizations that specialize in leading race-based discussions and strategies in the workplace.

Race discussions can be toxic if they are not organized around specific objectives. Simply talking about race issues is not enough. In fact, talk without action can actually exacerbate the problem.

Some school districts find it difficult to engage in meaningful discussions about race because they lack a critical mass of people of color to contribute to the dialogue.

Other school districts avoid race discussions until a racially charged incident occurs in their school community. Once the dust settles, they go back to business as usual.

Effects of Inaction

Some public school personnel (teachers and principals) have long sat on the sidelines during numerous racial crises. Their inaction only contributes to larger societal challenges. Here are some truisms:

Communities segregate. Schools segregate. Teachers segregate. Students segregate.

Nothing is done to establish sustainable practices for dealing with the root causes of racism, which are admittedly beyond the control of school systems.

To avoid race discussions in schools is to contribute to the seeding of segregation.

Segregation breeds contempt, distrust and fear.

Strategies to Address Race Relations in Schools

Engage in action-oriented race-based discussions. They are meaningless if they stop post-talk. To be meaningful, these discussions require continuous and strategic engagement.

Strive for organic engagement. Organic engagement occurs when people who share similar interests or causes gather to plan, discuss and act on what they believe.

Be strategic. Strategic engagement involves consistently meeting and working to prevent problems that might occur, rather than merely responding to race-based problems as they arise.

Invite and engage community stakeholders in meaningful ways. By inviting stakeholders to participate in the learning environment, you allow them to contribute to learning experiences for children and staff. Stakeholders can infuse life into a lifeless curriculum.

Work with the community (seek diversity) to infuse culture into the school environment. The ultimate goal is for the school to truly become part of the community, rather than an institution located with a community.

Be intentional about diversity in your hiring. It is not enough to talk about diversity. It must be practiced.


The responsibility for improving race relations does not rest solely on the shoulders of one people, entity or race. Rather, each individual or organization bears the responsibility for addressing this problem.

However, I believe that, as educators, we have a greater responsibility and opportunity to confront and combat racism, beginning in the workplace. Our value to society is diminished when we do not address the reality that our children and we face.

While community and neighborhood segregation are harmful to race relations, segregated schools are catastrophic. We can change this swiftly, though courage is required on the part of the school, the district, and the political leadership.

Unless we change policies and practices (particularly in public schools), to paraphrase the prophetic pronouncement of the former Governor of Alabama George Wallace, we will continue to suffer from “racism today, racism tomorrow, and racism forever.”

Our silence about racism does not make it go away.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Fariña Race Conversation by Bernard Gassaway

New York City’s Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, the leader of the largest public school system in United States with 1.1 million students, is not prepared to talk about race relations, even though nearly 85 percent of New York City’s public student population is of color.
Public schools seem like an ideal place to discuss race relations, particularly with children of color who may be traumatized by the recent killings of Black men across this country.
Although teachers are likely candidates to facilitate these discussions, many have expressed that they are unprepared and in many cases reluctant to delve into race issues for fear of saying the wrong thing and possibly losing their jobs.
Their fear may be justified, given the backlash that Farina faced when she attempted to publicly address how parents and educators should talk about race with their children.
When Farina recently penned a letter to New York City educators and parents stating that they have a “moral obligation” to discuss race with their children, she was inundated with hate mail. She admitted to being surprised by the public’s response to her letter.
Her surprise is a clear indicator that she, like many others, is not prepared to talk about race. More importantly, Fariña and others should realize that, when it comes to race, it is more about what you do than what you say. The New York City public school system is no beacon for integration and inclusion.
New York City’s public schools are among the most segregated in the nation. The New York City Department of Education has not embraced curricula that would expose all children and staff to the African American experience in America and in the African diaspora. Black men are not represented significantly in New York City public schools or in senior leadership.
What has Fariña done in her tenure as chancellor to demonstrate that race matters beyond conversations? She does not have much to show. Talking about race is irrelevant if an administrator has not established policies and practices to address the inherent racism that is embedded in schools’ enrollment policies, curricula, and hiring practices.
So Fariña should not be surprised by the public’s response to her seemingly contradictory “moral obligation” charge. Her failure to demonstrate the significance of race relations through proactive policies and practices is likely the source of the hate mail. Farina lives in a glass schoolhouse and should not throw stones.
I would implore Fariña to act on race and not charge others to talk about it. She has a moral obligation to practice what she preaches. Here are four specific recommendations for Chancellor Fariña:
1. Eliminate or significantly revise school zoning policies to erase the invisible color lines that serve to block school integration and sustain school segregation.
2. Embrace inclusive and culturally relevant curricula; start by adopting recommendations from the Amistad Commission. Then train teachers and school leaders to infuse culturally relevant and historically accurate information into day-to-day instruction and school-related experiences.
3. Demonstrate an acceptance of and appreciation for the value of Black men. Their invisibility in the New York City Department of Education is directly related to choices that Fariña and others have made.
4. Adopt an evidence-based approach to recruiting educators of color. The NYCDOE’s latest effort to recruit men of color is fundamentally flawed. As with other initiatives, NYCDOE does not appear to have a strategic, plausible plan.
After nearly fifty years in urban education as a student, teacher, assistant principal, principal, and superintendent, I am convinced that Fariña, teachers, and principals are not prepared to talk about race relations. This is unfortunate given our current state of emergency as perceived by many in the Black community.
Action, not rhetoric, is what is required to address the race problem in the United States. Schools, families, and communities all have a stake in the reality of the race problem.
Fariña has the opportunity to practice what she preaches, model for other school systems. I hope Fariña and others receive my message and take action.

Bernard Gassaway, former NYC teacher, principal, superintendent