Education is high on the agendas of the two major party candidates for governor -- so they say.
Both Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Republican Carl Paladino have said that the school children of New York are close to their hearts. But the question remains: is either of them willing to get to the core of what’s wrong with the educational system?
Cuomo says the number of charter schools should be greatly increased. He also urges that charter schools be closely monitored to make sure they are performing well. And the Democratic candidate says he wants “rigorous standards and assessments” for teachers, and an effort to recruit good teachers.
Meanwhile Paladino wants to extend the school year and hours per day of teaching. He wants more charter schools, too. And the Republican wants the Board of Regents to remove school boards and superintendents of school systems that have less than a 60 percent graduation rate.
But both candidates so far are thin on specifics, although their rhetoric seems to hit the right note. The public wants more than rhetoric.
One wonders how the candidates feel about strong evidence, as we have reported here, that many teachers, with the encouragement of principals, are teaching to the tests -- that the whole system for grading teachers and students needs drastic overhaul.
And then there’s the rubber room scandal. Rubber rooms are where teachers are kept at full salary while awaiting administrative trials on various disciplinary charges. The teachers union has protested that some people in the rubber rooms have been assigned to tasks involving long commutes. Some teachers have also complained about their temporary assignments, including having to measure rooms for the School Construction Authority.
Schools Chancellor Joel Klein says the protests over these matters are “embarrassing” to the union. He told the Daily News: “You can’t make it up. There’s nothing wrong with that work. Grownup, adult people do it.”
Michael Mulgrew, the United Federation of Teachers president, insisted the union had made a deal with the education department, adding: “For them to say what they said surprised me. Being accused by Joel Klein of being difficult is sort of like being accused by Bernie Madoff of financial shenanigans.”
Complicating the educational problem is the revelation that more than 700 former city educators are receiving pensions of more than $100,000 a year. In a city and a country where, amid economic troubles, many people in private industry don’t get pensions at all, it places an unfair burden on the majority of taxpayers.
It’s hard to find a way to correct that inequity but it’s something that dramatizes the division between two classes of New Yorkers: those who get pensions and those who pay for the pensions of others but don’t get any themselves.
And what about the children? Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, a parent advocacy group, believes neither of the major candidates for governor has so far addressed the basic issues in education.
“So far, education seems pretty much an after-thought with both men," she told me. "I don’t get a sense they understand education. They seem focused on charter schools and not improving public schools.”
News columnist Juan Gonzalez reports that state officials have quietly given permission to city educational officials to increase class size.
If the candidates for governor are serious about their interest in improving education, they should address that issue and many others.