September/October 2013 Issue
September 17, 2013

NYSUT: Cuomo's remarks on struggling schools are off base

Author: Matt Smith
Source: NYSUT United

Shameful and disrespectful.

That's how NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi characterized Gov. Andrew Cuomo's recent suggestion that struggling schools be given the "death penalty" if they fail to improve student performance.

The incendiary statement stunned educators statewide and was met with swift rebuke by the NYSUT president.

Iannuzzi called Cuomo's decision to use the term "death penalty" — particularly when speaking about schools attended primarily by students struggling with poverty — "sad" and "insensitive."

He also said the governor's statement was especially "shameful," given that it was made during a stop near Buffalo just prior to the start of a new school year — a time that should be marked with optimism.

Iannuzzi and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued a joint statement admonishing the governor, saying Cuomo's comment demonstrated a lack of respect toward New York's dedicated students, parents and educators.

"The governor knows better," Iannuzzi and Weingarten said. "This kind of language has no place in our society and it only serves to destroy the confidence in public education."

The union leaders said such inflammatory language does nothing to address the needs of New York's most vulnerable students, who suffer every day from poverty and other societal ills.

"What we don't need now is a war of words. Rather we need a war on poverty and inequality," Iannuzzi and Weingarten said. "We need to fix, not close, schools, and we need to stabilize, not destabilize, communities."

Iannuzzi, who has led NYSUT in spearheading the battle to close the achievement gap between students in low-wealth and high-wealth school districts, said the governor, despite his horrific property tax cap, has shown that in some ways he does understand what's needed to help struggling schools.

Pointing to the recommendations of the governor's Education Reform Commission, Iannuzzi said NYSUT applauds proposals to expand pre-kindergarten and establish community schools that offer a full range of social services to students who need them in low-wealth districts.

But, Iannuzzi said, the union remains concerned and steadfast in its opposition to other suggestions by Cuomo, such as an idea to have low-performing schools taken over by charter management corporations or the state.

"Testimony before the governor's own commission pointed to the less than stellar track record of many of these schemes," Iannuzzi said.

"Equity," he said, "is the key to helping struggling schools. We are at a critical juncture where policymakers, teachers, students and school administrators need to continue to work together to identify solutions and prioritize resources to help all students — they do not need simplistic sound bites and privatization schemes."