As we begin a new and Presidential election year, here’s a brief look at issues that face America and New York.

No child left behind logo imageEDUCATION
Congress approved a major change to the Bush-Teddy Kennedy “No Child Left Behind Act” that has dominated education for fifteen years – years of noticeable failure.

Now called the “ Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) there is much to say about the changes that we will save for another time. The key fact here and now is that the Federal Government has returned the responsibility of education to the States. It has given up trying to make things work to improve public education K-12 – failing in every instance – including the “Race to the Top” variation introduced by the Obama Administration.

Yes, there are statistics that tell us America’s high school graduation rate has gone up. More than half of our kids now graduate from high school – in NYC they claim a 70% rate. But college and workforce preparedness has dropped alarmingly – only 25% of high school graduates are ready for college or work. Graduation rate increases are meaningless – and suspect to the actions of schools across the nation.

Rotten apple core imageCommon Core – a national curriculum that a blue ribbon group of educators took seven years to develop to disastrous results – is now gone. Parental opposition and the failure of teachers to ever have a chance to learn how to teach it, buried its chances of success. (In New York State, a political group opposing Common Core was able to get more than 50,000 votes for the Republican candidate for Governor. He lost anyway and the Common Core group is gone.)

One wonders how such a potentially important National curriculum became such a failure so quickly. Perhaps a clue was the response of the American Federation of Teachers which quickly approved of the curriculum despite knowing:

    a) that its members had not learned how to teach it before it was in the classroom;
    b) that the curriculum was heavily committed to a testing regimen and that test results would be used to evaluate teacher performance;
    c) that Common Core had never been tested in a single school or classroom

AFT Logo ImageWhy would the national Teacher’s Union approve such a curriculum and join the rush of 46 State Governors and their State Departments of Education to introduce it so quickly? They wanted the Federal money. What could the union want?

Didn’t the situation guarantee its failure? Were they surprised when children all over America began failing tests? When usually silent parents began public protests against Common Core? Is success what the Teacher’s Union wanted?

In a letter to his members in NYC, Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers stressed that they should support the new “Every Student Succeeds Act” because it abandons the idea of using test scores to evaluate teacher performance. Period.

Having failed since the 1970’s to improve education, can the States now find answers? What will produce a return to a system of public education that made this country the greatest in the history of the world?

The answer is to look back at what existed in the mid-20th Century that no longer exists.

One thing was certain back then that is clearly no longer true: what used to be called Teacher’s Colleges taught their students how to teach. When they graduated those new teachers could walk into classrooms and take charge. Today, Schools of Education do nothing of the sort. New teachers get jobs and have no idea how to do them; a truth that is now 40 years old. In fact, things have become so bad that 55% of new teachers quit the profession before they spend five years in it. Unless we significantly improve the preparation of teachers, public education is indeed doomed. It would be encouraging to hear Governors and candidates for President recognize this fact…but they obviously don’t.

PRE-K AND HIGHER EDUCATION
While the failures of public education on elementary and secondary levels remain uppermost, two other areas in education demand attention: Pre-Kindergarten and the ever-increasing cost of a college education.

Image of Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama
In his State of the Union speech, President Obama called for universal pre-Kindergarten for every child in America. In his State of the State speech, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo recommended pre-kindergarten for every three year old in the State.

While Cuomo one-upped NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio by giving him $50 million to add pre-K in NYC so that the new Mayor would stop talking about a tax on the rich to pay for expanded pre-K, no one has publically evaluated the NYC pre-K program or any other such program in the United States. Do they work to prepare 4 year olds to enter kindergarten? No one knows. Evaluations have not been done…they must be.

Governor Cuomo just cut another half a billion dollars from support of the City University of New York. For the past two decades Governors in both parties have helped cut government spending by making extraordinary cuts in higher education.

The cost of a college education in that period of time has increased 1,200%. Part of the reason for these increases is the belief that what was once a public right – the need to have a college education is now a private right – if you want one, pay for it. More will be said about these cuts when we look at the disaster of student debt in America.

Homeless hands imageTHE HOMELESS
Once again homeless people are lying in doorways on New York City streets. And once again, the Mayor of New York Bill DeBlasio is apologizing, moving quickly to make changes in staff and improvements in performance. But will it matter much?

Why is it that so many of the homeless refuse to take shelter where shelter is available? They complain that they are robbed of their possessions because the shelters are not safe; that the shelters are dirty and lice-ridden. A recent survey by NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer said bluntly that shelters are dirty and unsafe and are a disgrace. None of them supply food and other services available in walk-in supporting shelters where the homeless can get food and help and then leave. Despite the cold, they avoid sleeping in a shelter. Why must the streets have so many people in them before changes take place?

Evidence indicates that despite his ‘progressive views’ the Mayor is better at talking than doing.

His nemesis, Governor Andrew Cuomo, blames it all on the Mayor’s ineptitude and has committed billions of dollars of State money to help increase the numbers of available places for the homeless. He has asked the State and City Comptrollers to work with him on investigating every single shelter in NYC to make certain they are clean and safe or to threaten closure if improvements are not made immediately.

Always on the attack, free to forecast the spending of billions on these and other projects on affordable and supportive housing, transportation, a new Tappan Zee Bridge and business development without ever saying where these billions will come from, the Governor then simply takes $485 million away from the City University of New York and millions from the Medicaid program leaving the city to fend for itself.

Always the game player, always the tough guy, always clearly nervous about the public view of him and his ambition for higher office, the Governor is a whirling dervish of words and promises…perhaps foreseeing a Governorship in perpetuity if other ambitions don’t work out.

Image representing gov corruptionCORRUPTION IN STATE GOVERNMENT
The long-time leaders of the New York State Assembly and Senate are going to jail.

The man who put them there U.S. Attorney, Preet Bharara, has issued a statement that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s act to summarily dismiss his blue-ribbon Moreland Commission on Ethics was not illegal and that no charges will be brought against him.

The use of the term ‘ethics’ in Albany is a stretch to say the least. ‘Business as usual’ and ‘pay to play’ are much better descriptions of a State Legislature which has been described as the most dysfunctional in America. The new leaders of the Senate and Assembly come from the ‘old school’ and so know exactly how to ‘play the game’ of make-believe when they talk about changes in ethics rules.

And a game is what it is. No matter what he has said for six years as Governor, little has changed despite the continued arrests and convictions of Assemblymen and State Senators of both parties.

Andrew Cuomo knows only one way to deal in Albany – because after a lifetime of being his father’s son and close to the action – he knows of no other way to keep his considerable power in force.

As he promises billions in infrastructure support, transportation, affordable housing, a new football stadium for the Buffalo Bills, twelve days of employee leave, a $15 minimum wage, Governor Cuomo makes few breakthroughs in his spirited demand for a new code of ethics in Albany. None of his proposals do much more than parrot other recommendations that the Legislature can use to clean up the obvious graft that engulfs it: full-time status, limiting outside income, losing pension plans if they are found guilty of a crime and other recommendations have existed for years and been ignored. There is no reason to believe that they will not be ignored again.

Image of Donald Trump
Donald Trump
THE PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARIES
In all honesty, would anyone be paying attention if that reality star showman, The Donald, wasn’t holding the media in sway? Of course not…not for all of these months. The question of whether Trump represents America or is simply a glaring example of a measureable chunk of it, will be answered in the Republican primaries just ahead.

He is clearly serious and the fact that his closest competitor, Ted Cruz, is one of the most hated Senators among his colleagues in the history of the U.S. Congress (Rep. Peter King of Nassau County says Cruz should crawl back under a rock) must make him feel pretty good at this point.

Time and whether he actually wins the early State primaries will show us how serious he is.

Photo of Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton
As for Hillary and Bernie, one wonders whether Hillary can deal with the potential of early losses to a man who is saying Liberal Things with all his might, has attracted the enthusiasm and support of the young and has been ignored by her campaign until just before the first two actual votes where she must now deal with him.

Hillary may be one of the purest policy brains in the history of American politics. But no one can have it all. Getting elected to the Presidency is an art in itself.

image representing income inequalityINCOME INEQUALITY
On average, the difference in income between those who earn enough to live and those who get by from week to week is more than $131,000 a year.

On average, for those who live within the margin of “OK” there is $348 in emergency reserve cash. For those ‘on the edge’ there is $5 in emergency reserve.

Income inequality is not just about the money and power of the 1% and everybody else.

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