on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

PHOTO: ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images
Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.

the race continues

Diving into charged debate, Nixon calls for immediate repeal of New York’s teacher evaluation law

PHOTO: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

Cynthia Nixon is calling on lawmakers to immediately repeal New York’s unpopular teacher evaluation law, catapulting her gubernatorial campaign into one of the messiest debates in New York state education policy.

Nixon called on her Democratic primary opponent Gov. Andrew Cuomo to stop making “excuses” about the law that he once championed, which has faced significant pushback for the way it tied educator ratings to standardized test scores and was later put partially on hold. The former “Sex and the City” star’s plan received support from a group of a few dozen education leaders called “Educators for Cynthia,” which includes education historian and testing opponent Diane Ravitch.

The announcement puts Nixon on board with the state’s teachers union agenda and threatens to drive a wedge between Cuomo and the major labor group, which he’s had a tenuous relationship with in the past.

“A couple years ago Andrew Cuomo described teacher evaluation based on high stakes testing as one of his greatest legacies, now he is hoping that parents and teachers have forgotten all about it,” Nixon said in a statement released on Thursday. “Enough of the delays and excuses Governor Cuomo, it is time to repeal the APPR now.”

In a statement, a Cuomo campaign spokeswoman attempted to distance the governor from the issue of teacher evaluations, instead turning the blame on the education department.

“Experts across the board agreed that the implementation of Common Core was botched by SED, which is why they have been tasked to overhaul it and the Board of Regents adopted a moratorium on the use of tests in the evaluation,” said Cuomo campaign spokeswoman Abbey Fashouer.

But it was Cuomo who led the charge to create a new teacher evaluation system in 2015, even calling the old system “baloney” in his State of the State address that year. The measure he fought for passed — allowing half of an individual educator’s rating to be based on test scores — but not without a fued with the unions.

Since then, Cuomo has done an about-face on education policy, leading to a friendlier relationship with the labor groups. The governor has also been courting organized labor this year by standing up for union protections in the face of a Supreme Court case that could hinder the union’s ability to collect fees. Both state and city teachers union leaders said earlier this year they had begun to set aside their differences with the governor and were pleased with his new direction.

But the call to repeal New York’s teacher evaluation law has been a major priority for the state teachers union this year. Officials at the New York State United Teachers have been out on a limb calling for an immediate law change that would allow local districts to craft their own evaluation systems. Their push, however, has gained little traction from lawmakers or officials at the state education department, who are trying to revamp teacher evaluations through a slower process.

“First and foremost, the teachers that we represent believe that the time to fix [teacher evaluation] is this year,” said Jolene DiBrango, executive vice president of NYSUT, during a February Board of Regents meeting. “Now is the time — we’ve been talking about this for years.” (Neither the state or city teachers unions responded to immediate request for comment on Thursday.)

Crucial aspects evaluation system that Cuomo championed three years ago are currently on hold. After a spate of education issues — including the teacher evaluation system — caused a statewide testing boycott, the governor began reexamining some of his education policies..

Cuomo appointed a task force to review state learning standards that eventually called for a freeze on the use of test scores in teacher evaluations. The state’s Board of Regents soon obliged, placing a moratorium on the use of grades 3-8 math and English tests in teacher ratings until 2019. But the law remains on the books, and state officials are just starting to dive into the issue again as the moratorium nears its end.

Nixon’s statement on Thursday did not include any information about what, if anything, she believes should replace the state’s current teacher evaluation system.

just deserts

These New York City neighborhoods have relatively few charter schools, according to a new report

PHOTO: Thomas B. Fordham Institute

New York has plenty of charter schools — 225 just serving elementary-school students at the most recent count.

But advocates for the schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed, say some parts of the city have disproportionately few, considering that they are home to the poor students the schools are intended to serve.

In a new report, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute calls attention to “charter school deserts,” which it defines as “three or more contiguous census tracts that have poverty rates greater than 20 percent but that have no charter schools.”

In New York City, according to the report, parts of Harlem, the Bronx, and central Brooklyn meet the desert criteria. So do parts of Buffalo, Albany, and Rochester upstate.

The report makes the case that geography constrains many families’ ability to choose schools, so having relatively few charter schools could mean that families do not have access to school choice — one of the Fordham Institute’s top priorities.

In New York City, the dynamic is different because transportation is widely available, and many families choose to travel some distance to access the schools they want. In addition, because of the city’s large and dense population, census tracts are relatively small, meaning that a student without a charter school in his or her own tract might in fact live near a charter school anyway.

The report scanned all 42 states that allow charter schools for deserts and found them in 39, particularly in areas just outside of city boundaries where low-income families have moved because of gentrification. Its authors say the analysis is meant to help policy makers, charter operators, and parents alike.

“Policymakers and parents can use this information to better understand the supply of schooling options in their states and cities — and to press for changes that would improve that supply,” the report reads. “Charter operators and authorizers may also find this analysis helpful as they consider where to establish new schools.”

Whether New York City and state need more charter schools is a contested topic in Albany, where lawmakers have set limits about how many of the schools can operate. Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed changing the charter school cap so that more schools could open in New York City, but that proposal did not advance, meaning that the city can add only about 30 more schools without bumping up against the limit.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, on the other hand, has long said the city has “a good dynamic right now with the cap the way it is.”

Having charter schools nearby can strain city-run schools for space, enrollment, and resources — a dynamic that charter advocates say is essential to ensuring that schools face competitive pressure to serve students effectively.