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Why We Must Vote Cuomo Tuesday
November 3, 2014

The cornerstone of liberalism is its anchor in social equity. Liberals have long been the champions of those in society disadvantaged by systemic inequalities. Rooting political beliefs in the concern for the well-being of all is the ideal that built the modern Democratic Party. 

But the Democratic Party is developing a somewhat lunatic fringe. An insidious subset of members whose closed-minded, protectionist views drive them to surprising lengths to protect a status quo deeply in need of repair.  

This subset claim to share our desire to achieve social equity, but when you raise the topic of public education, a very different narrative emerges. 

On one hand, progressive reformers advocate for more high-quality public school options and policies that recognize and value good teaching. We fight for programs that collect knowledge and data about how students and schools are performing so we can find ways to boost student achievement AND graduation rates AND college completion AND job opportunities AND get closer to income equality AND stem the school-to-prison pipeline AND one day end the cycle of poverty that plagues communities all over the country. We’re looking to create a positive “pipeline” in education, one that leads every student from early childhood education to a quality public school and ultimately to a successful life filled with opportunity. And so far, it’s working: black and Latino college enrollment and completion data shows steady increases over the past few years (analysis can be found here).

This subset of Dems claims that reform policies are some type of corporate privatization conspiracy: that somehow better outcomes for kids benefit the rich. That our public schools are just fine and poverty is the primary factor to blame for low student achievement and graduation rates. Anyone who challenges this theory becomes a target; even it includes an inflammatory mailing with a battered woman in an effort to draw negative attention to a challenger. 

Enter the new target: Governor Cuomo. The Governor made a statement this week calling public schools one of the only remaining public monopolies, and promising to strengthen teacher evaluations and good public charter school options for families. The Governor’s policies are directly in line with traditional Democratic values. Yet, instead of backing these Democratic principles and joining the fight for more social equity, NYSUT, the state’s largest teachers union, wrote an open letter thanking Rob Astorino, Cuomo’s Republican challenger. 

Astorino, whose plan reads like it came out of a 15-year-old time capsule, wants to bring back vocational instruction like home economics and carpentry for students who are not on a path to attend college. His points fit most squarely within the right-leaning notion that income inequality is inevitable and that some students deserve more opportunities than others. That’s not good policy, and more importantly, it’s wrong.

Reelecting Governor Cuomo is the only choice on Tuesday. His education policies are progressive and they push our state to its rightful place at the front of the pack. We must continue to eradicate systemic injustices in public education, because the failing school model in low-income communities cannot be our status quo. As Democrats, we must continue to support leaders like Governor Cuomo who continue to elevate the conversation about good education policy for all children.

By Nicole Brisbane, DFER-NY State Director


But what about failing schools?
October 2, 2014

Source: Associated Press

By Nicole Brisbane, DFER-NY State Director

It’s the fourth week of school for NYC Public Schools, and we’ve long awaited Chancellor Fariña’s plan for turning around the schools with the largest number of students who are not meeting proficiency on state exams - schools we know serve significant populations of poor and minority students. Finally, the new plan was revealed yesterday at P.S. 503/506 in Brooklyn.

Fariña’s plan started strong with a revamp of the letter grade system previously assigned to schools. The old letter grade system was initially intended to be a tool for internal use, showing schools’ growth on test scores. But in reality, the system provided very little useful information for parents. For example, a school could have earned a high letter grade based on a leap in growth on test scores, but could still have dismal scores overall. Conversely, a school with top test scores but little growth could have received a low letter grade.

The new system takes into account many of the same metrics, including test scores, graduation rates, parent and student survey data, teacher quality rating and curriculum quality. Schools will fall somewhere on a spectrum (including not meeting, approaching, meeting and exceeding) for each metric, but there will be no overall ratings in an effort to force parents to dig a bit deeper into the data points.

Fariña said she plans to use the revamped evaluations to design support specific to schools and that those conversations should be taking place sometime in January.

While we agree the new plans for comprehensive school evaluations are a good thing, we continue to ask, what about failing schools? Many have said that under the Bloomberg administration, school closings and the punitive nature of the rating system were not in the best interest of the communities. Other districts have tried various approaches like creating magnet programs encouraging mixed-income schools, changing leadership and teachers at low-performing schools, giving school leaders more autonomy to create the changes they wish to see in their schools, or allowing public charters to take over low-performing schools. There’s research on all of these approaches, and years of seeing them play out around the country.

The reality of the new rollout is that it doesn’t encourage any changes in what schools are actually doing; it just attempts to measure them on a different scale. At the very least, what we know to be true is that doing nothing is not the answer. Stalling to develop these “nonplans” means another school year will go by where kids are not getting a quality education, and the lack of urgency around what that means for students and families is an injustice.

Maybe come January we’ll hear about the bold new initiatives for low performing schools… but I wouldn’t hold your breath. Guess those principals, teachers, families and students will just have to keep waiting.

Nicole Brisbane is originally from Miami, FL, born to immigrant parents. After graduating from Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Florida State University, she taught middle school intensive reading and language arts to students who were 4 or more years behind their peers. Read more about Nicole here.

DFER-NY Releases Statement on Astorino's Education Plan
September 2, 2014

DFER-NY Releases Statement on Astorino's Education Plan

Craig Johnson, Democrats for Education Reform NY Board Chair, issued the following statement on NY gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino's education plan:

"Rob Astorino's education plan reads like it had been gathering dust in a cave someplace for several years. Rather than dealing with accountability and standards in smart ways, Astorino's plan would take New York back to the days when mediocrity was celebrated, taxpayers were frustrated, and students were not being prepared for the rapidly changing world."


While Adults Play Politics, Kids Continue to Lose
August 15, 2014

By Nicole Brisbane, DFER-NY State Director

I’m not sure I understand Assemblywoman Deborah Glick’s rationale to deprive certain kids of getting a good education. In an op-ed by the New York Post Editorial Board on August 8, they noted that she wrote a letter to the chairman of the State University of New York Board of Trustees demanding they ban new public charter schools in District 2, which she partially represents. Her reasoning for the ban is because District 2 has some of the highest-performing traditional district schools.

District 2 covers some of the wealthiest communities in Manhattan, on the Upper East Side and Midtown West and below. Once you dig deeper into the facts you realize the high-performing schools she references are serving over 80% white students. In the same district, schools that serve a majority African-American and Latino students aren’t making the grade, with dismal performance on state tests.

Parents looking for better alternatives seek out coveted spots in public charters that have to turn kids away in droves because of space. Instead of supporting this opportunity for African-American and Latino students, Assemblywoman Glick seeks to limit it. I guess being an elected official in Manhattan means only representing the interests of white kids who go to good schools.

To read the full op-ed, click here.

Nicole Brisbane is originally from Miami, FL, born to immigrant parents. After graduating from Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Florida State University, she taught middle school intensive reading and language arts to students who were 4 or more years behind their peers. Read more about Nicole here.

Democrats for Education Reform Names Nicole Brisbane as New York State Director
August 12, 2014

Devin Boyle | 202.445.0416 | Devin@dfer.org


Democrats for Education Reform Names Nicole Brisbane as New York State Director

New York - August 12, 2014 - Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) announced today that it has hired Nicole Brisbane to serve as New York State Director. Brisbane comes to DFER from Teach for America, where she led new site development efforts as part of the national team.

“Nicole is someone who has fought for underserved youth for her entire career, whether in the classroom, the courtroom, or in policy advocacy, so we’re excited to have someone of her dedication as our new state director in New York,” said Joe Williams, DFER’s executive director. “With her diverse experience, Nicole will be a valuable champion for ensuring New York’s public school students have access to a high quality education.”

Raised in Miami, Florida, Brisbane graduated from Florida State University and began her career in education as a middle school reading teacher. Later, she attended Emory Law School where she spent time as an Education Pioneer Fellow with D.C. Public Schools and a juvenile public defender and law clerk at a civil rights firm. After law school, Brisbane joined Teach for America as the Director of District and Community Partnerships in Miami, moving into a national TFA role in 2012.

“As DFER’s New York State Director, I will continue to work to build an education system that provides opportunities for all children,” said Brisbane. “There are so many great coalition partners and leaders in the Democratic Party that are working on behalf of New York’s public school children and I look forward to working alongside all of them.”


About Democrats for Education Reform
Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) is a political reform organization with 13 state affiliates that cultivates and supports leaders in the Democratic Party who champion America's public schoolchildren.

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