Mr. Malatras: Is “Massachusetts model” too friendly for Cuomo?

Jim Malatras, Operations Director and letter-writer for Governor Andrew Cuomo, has contacted Education Chancellor Merryl Tisch once again with more ideas for public schools in the state of New York. Having been disrespected, dismissed, and undermined by years of Cuomo and the under-fund and over-mandate model, the actual professionals in the field of education aren’t always eager to hear more from the oracle at Albany. This recent letter, though, could indicate that New York leaders may be at least considering a different approach-a kinder, gentler one that acknowledges educators and what they could contribute-if finally allowed to. But then again, this is Malatras, whose December 18th letter to Tisch was a call to hunt down and find a bad teacher around every corner.

This new letter calls for Tisch and the State Education Department to research the Massachusetts model of “receivership” and the academic gains achieved with it. While at it’s core this model hands over public commons to private management, which always comes with risk of profits for the minority and diminishing returns to the majority, there appears to be a hybrid approach happening in these Massachusetts schools- a combination of community goals, professional collaboration and private approach efficiency. Most importantly: an inclusion of people who actually know education, as opposed to only those politically motivated and criticizing from afar. The result has been an increase of resources available for targeting student needs.

Lawrence is a better school system than it was three of four years ago, but … that’s for multiple reasons: We eliminated the corrupt government that was running the city, and we have more resources that are getting to the children. (Frank McLaughlin, president of the Lawrence teachers’ union)

Is this a signal that Cuomo might start considering the needs of communities, parents, educators and above all-the students (as he lobbies for them)? Are we seeing an end to the attack on teachers and their unions, which previously was the theme (or “gist” in ELA module-speak) of Cuomo’s narrative? The fact that Malatras calls for investigation into the Massachusetts model approach suggests this could be the case- unless Mr. Malatras and/or Governor Cuomo understand it differently than I do. It sure looks to be a philosophical 180 for the governor, and what I am reading of how Massachusetts handled “turnaround” in the example Malatras cites himself (Lawrence schools)-it doesn’t seem to mesh with the politics of resentful revenge and bad teacher bashing that rolled out of the governor’s office post-reelection.

Teachers here say that they can explain exactly why the turnaround efforts have been so successful. “This is true reform,” says Mary Therese Linnehan. “Our administrators start with the assumption that we’re the true experts in the classroom. They have faith in us and respect us and that belief has enabled us to transform the way we work and really reach the students.

But I am reluctant to be a true believer quite yet. That Cuomo wants to trade an obligation to the public for a potential cash-cow and status builder for a campaign contributor? Yeah, I can see that.Get more resources into schools and encourage more collaboration between unions and administrators? Not so sure. Haven’t really felt the collaboration vibe coming from him.

At the end of his second letter to Tisch, Malatras includes American Federation of Teachers President, Randi Weingarten, as one among a “broad section of education stakeholders” supporting this potential model of turnaround. Is Malatras indicating enthusiastic interest in the spirit of that Massachusetts turnaround quote, or is he throwing out Weingarten’s name as de-facto union support? Or is this knee-jerk interest in/advocacy for selling of “failing schools” to the highest bidder; turning an obligation to use tax payer dollars to properly fund and support public education to instead allowing more private/non-governmental control?

I need to look at the Massachusetts model more, and see what part of this option is Cuomo really interested in. Is it the part about respecting and empowering educators who have always served, continue to serve, and wait willing to serve despite his arrogance and disrespect, or is he looking to duck his own responsibility and sell off public schools to private management?


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