NYT Details Topsy-Turvy NY Education Debate But Mysteriously Omits FOIA Emails*

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Anyone who felt horror or surprise a couple of weeks ago when it was revealed — gasp! — that the NEA was working with Republican lawmakers as well as Democrats to get a revamped version of the ESEA law that it liked should take a minute to check out Kate Taylor’s latest NYT article about education goings-on in New York (Groups That Back Bloomberg’s Education Agenda Enjoy Success in Albany).

If anything, the situation is even more topsy-turvy in New York than it is in DC. In New York, Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo and school reform advocacy groups like StudentsFirstNY oppose long-term extension of mayoral control, usually a school reform favorite.  And they not only work with Republican lawmakers to get things they like done but also work with Republican candidates to get them elected.  

There’s some of that at the national level, too — and unions working with Republican candidates here and there as well — but it’s been pretty much institutionalized in the Empire State and predates the de Blasio administration.

There a couple of things I’d bring up about the piece. For example, reporter Taylor (pictured above) links most all of the recent reform successes to the ongoing influence of former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, though I’m not sure everyone would trace the lineage that directly. Sure, reform and Bloomberg were strong partners during his time in office, and many of the same players are operating much as they did before he left. But the reform advocates have had to stand on their own since then, and could just as easily have fallen out of influence with his departure. The credit could go to the groups themselves, their funders and strategists, or to Governor Cuomo, who’s stepped in and replaced Bloomberg in many ways. 

It’s important to remember that some early efforts along these lines were not as successful.  Anyone remember EEP,* a late-2000’s attempt to counterbalance the Broader Bolder Alliance?

And it’s also worth noting that the hard push from Governor Cuomo and others has included some proposals that have appeared to be more reckless than bold, such as making student test scores count for 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. The result has been both progress and enormous pushback, making New York a bit of a ground zero for school reform advocacy and criticism. Reform advocates were able to keep ahead of the critique in New York City, by and large, but would seem to have lost some amount of parent support in surrounding areas where concern about the schools isn’t so strong.

There are a couple of places where the piece lacks follow-through or fails to make national connections:

*Ideally, Taylor would have published at least some of the emails she obtained through a FOIA request, or used them a bit more to illustrate the connections between Sedlis, Cuomo’s office, and others that she describes.

*Taylor tells us that Mayor de Blasio tasked “a top aide” to run a campaign effort out of the UFT’s offices but doesn’t tell us who that is. 

*Taylor neglects to note that the massive and apparently successful ad campaign that reformers used to pressure de Blasio for more charter school space was echoed in the recent campaign that car service company Uber launched against de Blasio in response to his threatened shutdown of their operation. 

I’ve asked Taylor if she’ll post the emails and name the de Blasio aide, and will let you know if I get any response. 

Related posts: Are We In Some Sort Of Golden Age Of Education Journalism?

*Update & Correction: Taylor says that the emails were mundane coordination communications rather than substantive debate. Also, it’s the Education Equality Project, not LEE.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.