Thursday, September 14, 2017

Curriculum of Inclusion and Correction

September 14, 2017

New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Board of Regents, Room 110 EB
Albany, New York 12234

Dear Members of the New York State Board of Regents [Individually Addressed]:

I request that you consider a comprehensive review of New York State public school curricula to identify omissions and inaccuracies that lead to ignorance and misrepresentations of history.

In light of what occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the movement in the aftermath to remove symbolic, though controversial, monuments across America, the time is right to do right.

When I was the principal of Beach Channel High School from 1997 to 2002, I asked a certified teacher of English to tell me his favorite James Baldwin novel. He said, to my surprise, that he had never read anything by Baldwin. I thought, how could this be possible?

Well, in 2017, it is not only possible, but also very likely that works by people of the African diaspora are not required reading in many colleges and universities (not to mention primary and secondary public schools). Therefore, students could go through their entire formal education without being exposed to any non-Anglo or non-Eurocentric readings. The implications of such a phenomenon are profound on many levels, particularly for prospective teachers.

Today, your 17-member board is more diverse than it has ever been. I fear if you won’t address omissions, diversity, inclusion, and correctness in the state’s curricula now, it might never happen.

While I appeal to all members of the board of regents, I especially call upon those regents who owe their positions to courageous forebearers to shift swiftly, deliberately, and conscientiously toward correctness and inclusion.

On behalf of current and future generations, please consider the challenge to continue a movement that took root with former vice chancellor emerita of the New York State Board of Regents Adelaide Sanford, the late education advocate and New York State education commissioner Thomas Sobel, and others.


Bernard Gassaway

Hempstead, NY (Brooklyn)

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.”