Guest Column: Let’s follow the money on education reform

No doubt you have heard the news that public education is in need of reform. Gov. Cuomo has said so. Former CNN anchor Campbell Brown has said so. Even President Obama has said so. And what do all these people have in common? Well, a few things. None of them has taught students a day in their life. All of them have received pay or political contributions from the charter school movement and/or testing companies and all of them have wholly endorsed more charter schools. 

As a matter of record, in study after study, charter schools have not been found to outperform their public school counterparts, despite the fact that they get to pick the students who attend. Yet taxpayers pick up the bill every time a charter school is created. Mr. Cuomo has publicly called for more charter schools and his war on public education and teachers is now well documented. Why would the governor go all-in on charters? It may have a little to do with who financed his last re-election campaign. Maybe you’d be shocked to hear that hedge fund billionaires and financial types had a great deal to do with that re-election. William Ackman, Carl Icahn, Bruce Kovner and Daniel Nir, to name just a few, contributed to the governor’s political coffers.

You’d better believe they want a return on their investment.

In all, “education reformers/charter school proponents” contributed $1.6 million to Mr. Cuomo’s campaign. These are the people who have framed the narrative of failing public schools and are investing heavily in charter schools. Do you really think Wall Street tycoons have something new to offer teachers that will somehow enhance what goes on in your child’s classroom?

As last month’s News-Review editorial piece correctly points out, the governor is now using the results of a flawed rollout of Common Core and flawed testing scores to make the point that teachers are ineffective.

Did you know that in the first year of the Common Core assessments, the state education department did not set a passing score before the test? Instead they set a passing rate of 30 percent after the test was given, so regardless of student scores and how much they knew on the test, 70 percent of students would fail statewide. In year two, they set the passing rate at 35 percent and 65 percent of students failed. Let that sink in for a minute.

In the meantime, Mr. Cuomo is holding state education aid hostage until lawmakers approve his Draconian teacher evaluation plan, which ties 50 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation to that test I just spoke of. The governor has slowly bled public education since he took office. The 2 percent tax cap, which began in 2012, has resulted in the excessing of thousands of teachers statewide. This has meant larger class sizes, the elimination of entire programs and the elimination of electives at the high school level — and every district in New York has suffered. The governor is bent on following his own political sound bites and test scores to the detriment of all students.

The fact is, Long Island public schools are among the best in the nation, but your governor will be dismantling them to make room for corporate greed. Students from our public school are accepted every year by the nation’s most competitive colleges and universities. Our students are recruited and valued by these schools because they know our students arrive at college well prepared. I know this because I have been a high school guidance counselor for 17 years and admissions counselors with whom I speak with regularly tell me so. They care about a student’s hard work in the classroom. They care about pursuing a rigorous academic program and many will need SAT or ACT scores that they are happy with. They don’t know or care about Common Core assessments in grades 3-8.

Educators, administrators and parents alike have been raising the alarm since Common Core was rolled out, but this governor’s current vitriol on public education makes it clear that he has only one goal: to privatize public education. As the saying goes, follow the money.

Your governor has been bought and paid for and his means to their (Wall Street investors’) end is your children. Test the kids, watch them fail and charter schools will come in and save the day — that’s the plan. As parents, do you want to be part of that kind of plan? As educators, we are well aware that for some, our voice and this letter are only self-serving. That will not prevent us from speaking for what is just and for what is right for children. The question now is, will you?

Mr. Olsen is a Riverhead resident and public school guidance counselor in Suffolk County.