This year, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo will be trying to make his mark on New York and national politics by attacking the public school system as "the greatest single failure" in New York State.
His attack will not use arguments invented out of whole cloth. The public schools of New York display vast disparities in performance between children by race and class, both within individual schools and between entire school districts. And you don't need a battery of new tests to reveal those disparities. They were documented 20 years ago when there was far less testing and in fact are highly visible to any intelligent observer who visits schools around the state.
What the Governor will not say however, is that these disparities in educational performance precisely mirror disparities in income and personal wealth around the state, which if anything are sharper than performance disparities in the public schools. Since public schools, unlike private schools, religious schools or charter schools, have to take everyone who applies and cannot throw students out who perform poorly, they end up being a fairly precise mirror of how middle class, working class, and poor children are doing in the state of New York, in cities, small, towns, and rural areas. And if what the mirror reveals, not only on tests, but in attendance records and in the atmosphere in classrooms, and hallways and auditoriums, is one which has more than its fair share of rage and pain and confusion, then that ends up being a telling commentary on what is happening in our homes and neighborhoods.
In placing the blame for that rage and pain and confusion on teachers and school administrators, Governor Cuomo not only masks the real causes of poverty and inequality in our state, which lie in local and global labor markets, tax and housing policies, and the continuing impact of racism on people's lives and communities; he sets up convenient scapegoats for our collective failures.
But more than that, Governor Cuomo is setting up an opportunity for massive profit taking and career building at the expense of the public schools he plans to transform- to test makers, publishers, consulting firms, charter school entrepreneurs. There are hundreds of millions of dollars, eventually billions of dollars, to be made as teachers are removed, schools are closed, and charters schools are put in their place, all to the accompaniment of a rising crescendo of testing and teacher evaluation systems which are conveniently created by private companies.
And when all this is done, and tens of thousands of union teachers have lost their jobs, to be replaced, in the most part, by easily intimidated teacher temps, the middle class in the state will have shrunk; wealthy companies will have reaped more profit, and the underlying inequalities in the state, those in income, wealth and educational performance, will have been reduced not at all