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Thompson: Reject Cuomo's Common Core Duplicity

Early in my career, a lower level administrator tried to renege on a compromise deal. The top central office administrator only had one question:

Did you shake hands on it?

In other words, a deal is a deal. After he made it clear that the agreement would be honored, we had a constructive discussion on the issues in dispute. Back then, it was understood:

If you want to help kids, your word must be your bond.

I want to emphasize that the great majority of reformers, as individuals, are honest and almost every one who I know is sincere. But, they refuse to express public outrage over the situational ethics of their leaders. Convinced of their righteousness, too many top corporate reformers will say and do anything to achieve their objectives. 

The Chalkbeat's Geoff Decker, in Cuomo Flip-Flops on Evaluation "Safety Net" as He Criticizes City's Results, reports that the governor may "not hold up his end of a much-touted bargain with the state teachers union" to keep the use of Common Core-aligned student test scores from hurting individual teachers' evaluations.

As novelists explain, the super rich and powerful are different. I believe Cuomo is dead wrong on the substance of the education policy issue, but that's not the point.  I was socialized into the faith that a person who wants to promote economic justice and advance civil rights must always be true to his or her word. Yes, the elites might feel free to say one thing and do another, but if progressives do not act with integrity, our power to do good would dissolve.

Of course, I did not operate at the rarefied levels of Cuomo and the Billionaires Boys Club.  I love to talk with reformers who live in a world where they communicate with a teacher like me. They largely seem bemused by my quaint belief that the ends don't justify the means when trying to improve education. In fact, the contemporary school improvement movement seems wedded to the macho celebration of breaking eggs to make omelets.

As a lower level lobbyist and a researcher, I used to see the same types of momentoes in dozens of offices of old-fashioned movers and shakers. Pointing to the shrapnel penetrating their old helmet or reminders of their experience in the Bataan Death March, veteran Good Ol Boys would school me. Oklahoma was one of the most corrupt states in America, but nothing that had to be done in the political arena was as awful as what they experienced in the Great Depression or comparable to what they had done in combat. Politics, they would explain, requires compromise. You don't have to agree with your opponent; you just had to honor your agreement.

All types of people in the power structure, and activists who challenged the system, went out of their way to teach me the same point. The cardinal sin was breaking your promise. If your handshake wasn't good, you would be shunned. 

Not surprisingly, it was especially important for civil rights and union activists to honor the code. Fundamentally, we did not represent a specific client. We represented our constitutional democracy and our principles of justice. Our job was to expand the rights and opportunities that we enjoyed to everyone.

Too many reformers don't understand why the union remains a throwback to that harsher but simpler time. It doesn't defend the individual teacher. It represents the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

I'm not naive. I'm not surprised by Cuomo's behavior. Apparently, he plans an all-out assault on educators who disagree with him. But, if he goes ahead and breaks his promise, all education stakeholders should explicitly repudiate his flip-flop. I suspect, however, that the reform community will remain silent about his dishonorable behavior. They will remain focused on their "outcomes." My generation's concern about our personal ethics will be dismissed as a throwback to a long-forgotten era. Even so, I wish we could reject scorched earth edu-politics and get back to the Old School maxim:

The spirit of democracy isn't so all-fired convinced of its righteousness. A political opponent is an opponent, not the enemy.



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Interjecting the Bataan Death March into hassles over improving the public schools? Really?

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