This is why I heard it was important to support Barack Obama in 2012 even though he had spent his first four years in the White House pushing education reform policies that I am almost certain the teachers unions would have opposed had it been George W. Bush pushing them.
This was also why I heard it was important we supported Andrew Cuomo for governor in 2010 (even though he had already signaled that he was going to be a reform-friendly governor taking a lot of reformer cash) and it was also why I heard it was important we not pick public fights with Cuomo even as he turned increasingly anti-public school/pro-charter as his first term waned.
Last May, the unions could have supported Zephyr Teachout for the Working Families Party nomination, an event that terrified Andrew Cuomo because polls showed he would struggle to get 50% in the general election with a third party candidate from the left on the ballot.
The union heads - including Michael Mulgrew at the UFT - instead decided to throw their lot in with Cuomo, threatening WFP activists with the dissolution of the party if Teachout were given the ballot nomination.
They wrested "concessions" out of Cuomo, including a hostage video he made where he pledged to push for policies and items WFP activists wanted, but the video camera wasn't even cool yet by the time Cuomo started breaking those pledges.
Having failed to get the WFP nomination, Teachout ran against Cuomo in the Democratic primary and, behind the scenes, the unions helped Cuomo and his running mate, Kathy Hochul, fend off her challenge.
When it looked like Teachout's running mate, Columbia law professor Tim Wu, might beat her in the primary, AFT President Randi Weingarten began making robocalls for Hochul in order to help her win her primary.
In the end, even though most unions did not endorse Cuomo, the unions did a lot to help him win this past election.
Without union help, Cuomo might have had a third party challenge in the general election take double digit support away from him, making the 13 percentage point victory he won over Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino much, much closer.
With Teachout on the ballot in November, it was possible Cuomo could have barely eked out a victory at all or even lost to Astorino.
But he never had to worry about that possibility because the union heads - including the teachers union heads - made sure Teachout was not on the ballot in November.
In the days before the election, the Daily News revealed that Cuomo was threatening to "break" the public school system after re-election - that he saw public schools as a "monopoly" that needed to be busted.
Rather than express alarm at that statement, AFT President Randi Weingarten merely dismissed it as "campaign rhetoric" and said there was nothing to worry about, she would make Cuomo aware through a private letter that he was wrong in his statements.
It turned out later that Weingarten had heard Cuomo make the monopoly statement personally before that - she was sitting next to him at a Forbes forum on education in June when he first trotted out the "break the public school monopoly" rhetoric.
So Weingarten should have known - indeed, probably did know - that Cuomo wasn't kidding when he said he was going to "break" the public school system.
Alas, we still had our "seat at the table," so teachers union heads signaled no change in strategy toward Cuomo.
Fast forward to this week - Cuomo publicly said his APPR teacher evaluation system is in need of "toughening" since not enough teachers were rated ineffective last year and he planned to address that problem in the next legislative session.
The next day, he made public a letter from his state operations director to outgoing NYSED Commissioner King and Regents Chancellor Tisch that signaled he intended a large-scale reform of the education system in New York in the next budget negotiation and/or legislative session.
The letter indicated that Cuomo would look to reform or address:
1. The evaluation system
2. The 3020a disciplinary process
3. The ATR pool in NYC
4. Teacher certification
5. Probationary period for teachers
6. Making it easy to close schools
7. Increase in charter schools, especially in NYC
8. Adding more technology to the system, including online classes
9. Consolidating districts
10. Reforming the Regents appointment process
11. Making the hiring of NYSED Commissioner King's replacement transparent
Post-letter, it is clear Cuomo's planning a broad assault against public schools and teachers in his next term, but also planning to subsume as much power from the rest of the education bureaucracy into his own office as he can.
This broad and sweeping attack was not lost on members of the Board of Regents or the legislature - Jessica Bakeman at Capital NY reported they will be pushing back against Cuomo to make sure that he does not get control over NYSED or Regents appointments (as he indicated he would like in the letter.)
This broad and sweeping attack was not lost on the heads of the teachers unions either, who immediately put out statements pushing back against Cuomo's planned reforms.
Here was NYSUT President Karen Magee:
The governor says he wants to put students first,” Magee said. “If that were even remotely true, he would listen carefully and act on the advice of the real experts — parents, educators and students — about what’s best for public education,” she said. “Instead, New Yorkers get clueless, incendiary questions that do the bidding of New York City hedge fund billionaires who have letterhead and campaign donations, but know absolutely nothing about how public education works. If the governor wants a battle, he can take the clueless New York City billionaires. We’ll take the parents, teachers, higher education faculty and students in every ZIP code of the state.”
And the UFT's Michael Mulgrew:
“This letter comes right out of the playbook of the hedge funders for whom education “reform” has become a pet cause and who poured money into the Cuomo re-election campaign,” Mulgrew said. “The Governor owes these people big time, but unfortunately the children of New York will end up paying his debts.”
Cuomo plans to destroy the public school system and the teaching profession, is looking to pay back his charter school and education reformer donors by privatizing the school system, making teaching into an at-will job, lowering labor costs by increasing the burn and churn in the teaching force, and increasing the opportunities for the edu-entrepreneurs to make millions off the system reforms.
There can be no more equivocation by the leaders of the teachers unions - Weingarten, Mulgrew, Magee - that Cuomo means no harm, that this is "campaign rhetoric" or "just politics."
He means business and his business is destroying us - he has picked up the proverbial "seat at the table" the union leaders like so much and is beating us to a pulp with it.
I am happy to see that the leaders of NYSUT and the UFT have responded with public alarm over Cuomo's letter.
In the past, they might have ignored the letter or defended it in some way (as Weingarten did earlier with the "campaign rhetoric" statement), but this time around, they seem to understand that open warfare has come and there can be no working with Cuomo on this.
Now it is time for action from the unions to back up the words.
We saw plenty of action from them over the last four years helping Cuomo (as I detailed above), so I know they're capable of taking actions to hurt him too.
There are plenty of stakeholders who are going to be upset about the coming Cuomo attack on the education system.
Two items Cuomo did NOT address in the reform letter were Common Core and high stakes testing - two items that really, really concern many parents in the state.
If anything, Cuomo's planned reforms to the evaluation system are going to exacerbate the problems the state has with Common Core and testing, so common ground can be forged with parent activists on both right and left who have been fighting the education establishment on CCSS and testing.
Of course, since the unions still support CCSS, that may have to mean a shift in stance on the standards, but given the alternative - fighting Cuomo without parent allies - I think a modification on the CCSS support is warranted here.
Next, Cuomo is not a very popular governor.
As I detailed yesterday, his job approval in the Siena poll taken this week is 15% underwater:
How would you rate the job Andrew Cuomo is doing as Governor?
Excellent - 7%
Good - 35%
Fair - 40%
Poor - 17%
Don't Know - 1%
The way these polls get analyzed, excellent and good become the "approval" number, fair and poor become the "disapproval" number.
Take a look at those approval numbers for Cuomo just six weeks after he won re-election with 54% of the vote.
He's underwater in approval by 15%.
For some reason Siena led with Cuomo's favorability rating (58%) in their press release and the media coverage of the poll followed suit, making Cuomo sound more politically powerful that he is right now.
The truth is, he has a 42% job approval rating, the casino and fracking decisions he made this week may win him some fans on one side of those issues, but they're going to lose him some fans on the other side, so I don't think those approval numbers are going to move much in a positive direction.
But even if they did shift up, so what?
He's 8 percentage points under 50% job approval, 15% under water overall, he needed to outraise his GOP opponent Astorino 9 to 1 in campaign donations and he still won the lowest vote total of any New York governor seeking re-election since FDR in 1930.
Let me state again, this is NOT a politically popular governor, he does NOT have the political juice to pull off the large-scale attack he plans on schools, teachers, the education system or the political system.
Finally this dude's got more enemies than you can number. He's spent the last four years running roughshod over his fellow politicians, other politicians and the education establishment in Albany are already indicating they view his power play over the system with alarm, and he's got a federal prosecutor looking into him for tampering with the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption.
As I wrote yesterday, Cuomo is NOT coming from a place of strength, but he wants us to think he is, which is perhaps why he is signaling he's going to go for total reform of the system rather than little nicks and cuts.
It's a head fake to get you to think, "Geez, he must really be powerful if he can do all of this!" when the reality is, he can do NONE of this if we fight him on it.
Which brings me back to the "seat at the table" strategy.
For a long time now, we have had that seat at the table and here is where it has brought us - Cuomo beating us over the head with it.
It is time to put away the "seat at the table" strategy and replace it with a "mattresses strategy" a la The Godfather.
We are at war with the governor, we did not want this war but he has brought it on us and now we have to "Go To The Mattresses" in order to defend ourselves.
I implore the teachers union leaders to back up their words of alarm with action now that open warfare has come.
Partner with parents, develop a public relations strategy to counter the one that is sure to come from Cuomo (though it will probably be funded by private interests like his campaign donors), work to weaken Cuomo further in a war of attrition that will leave him politically battered when all is said and done.
He CAN be beaten in this war over public education and the future of the school system and teaching profession.
But in order to do it, we must put away the "seat at the table" strategy for good, acknowledge he is our enemy, and there can be no compromise strategy with him any longer.