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Monday, May 23, 2011

Political Tug Of War

Disagreements, deadlocks, stalemates, arguments, and prolonged disputes. Few people are enamored with any of these words and the mere mention of them will likely bear awkward discomfort. Yet, we are often confronted by the dilemma of not getting our way on an issue of contention. Nearly every dynamic imaginable, in fact virtually anytime there are two or more people together for an extended time, one may experience the frustration of an impasse at some point, be it husband and wife, college roommates, longtime friends, teammates, neighbors, partners, and the list goes on and on.

If the situation rests with competition, where in order for someone to win it means someone must lose, then it increases the odds of gridlock or a sustained struggle. Public school education in New York State will soon be the forum once again for an intellectual and political battle. The various parties that comprise representative bodies of stakeholders (teachers, state education department staff, political policy makers of every persuasion, superintendents, principals, and school board members) are immersed in a tug of war in which each group has an end of a heavy rope that is knotted in the middle. At different times one group earns some ground and then invariably a competitor gains an edge. The focal point of this competition is the conflict between a previously passed education law referred to as 3012-c, or simply, APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) and administrative regulations recently passed by the New York State Board of Regents (at the behest of Governor Cuomo).

The regents whisked through their regular agenda after quickly digesting and approving the Governor's proposal that he had published in an open letter to the Chancellor just days prior to the meeting. This decision amends several important measures before the original bill, signed into law by former Governor Paterson in May of 2010, could be enacted. The change has tumultuous implications that pose severe obstacles to the successful implementation of the act.

There are certainly issues in the conflict that beg legal intervention and potential injunctions that could interrupt the progress and direction of the path of this law. There are questions of procedure and protocol with respect to administrative regulations versus approved law - and which has priority over the other. Also, there are concerns that some of the language in the modifications generated by the Board of Regents intrudes upon language and practices negotiated and agreed upon by local boards of education and unions representing teachers and principals.

Meanwhile, during the dispute among parties, we are left at school with the responsibility of enacting a newly adopted policy that may not be sustained through both political and legal appeals. Apparently it's not enough that schools struggle to accommodate changes imposed by the constraining economy. Nor should the external mandate of increased high stakes assessments be viewed as a burden to assimilate within the operation of our schools. The rapid twists and turns of the APPR have assumed a life outside of the intent of the law and have been transformed from being a means to an end to now becoming an end to a means. Perhaps the issue is no longer what is right but rather who is right. There are a great many people in the balance. Expect to see a clash of sound bites, threats, and raw political power unfolding in the coming weeks. Until then, we must assume the responsibility of following the altered law in order to be compliant in September and remain focused on our mission of preparing graduates for college, career, and citizenship.

Stay tuned.

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