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Long IslandPoliticsSpin Cycle

Defining debate over NY school mandates runs through LI

As political parties prepare to nominate statewide candidates in the coming weeks, the most dramatic issue debate involves the schools.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's greeting in Suffolk Monday by an estimated 2,000-plus demonstrators -- many of them teachers and parents -- marks one noisy and early sign of this. Anthony Felicio, president of the Connetquot Teachers Association, who led the rally, promises more when Cuomo and company return for next month's state Democratic Party convention at the Huntington Hilton.

"Hopefully, it will be bigger and better," Felicio said Tuesday. "We are going to keep getting our message out."

Rob Astorino, Democrat Cuomo's likely GOP challenger, has been attacking flaws in what he calls "Cuomo's Core Curriculum."

Neither candidate seems likely at the moment to be endorsed by New York State United Teachers, which supported Monday's rally.

NYSUT is targeting the governor again next week with a rally outside a conference in Lake Placid, hosted by well-funded charter-school backers -- where Cuomo is listed as "honorary chairman."

Against this backdrop Pam Talbot, a Connetquot district parent, showed up at the late-afternoon Holbrook rally with her children, Vienna, 8, and Alejandro, 6. It was especially easy to identify her as a teacher, since she was pointing out to them the error in someone's sign across the street that said: "Cuomo Your Not Welcome."

"He needs an 'e' on the end, with an apostrophe," Talbot said.

Later -- perhaps after a teachable moment -- the unidentified demonstrator corrected the sign.

Asked why she turned out, Talbot cited several issues. "I'm a speech-language pathologist. We've worked very hard to get our children into the mainstream, and these education 'reforms' are really putting us back in time" by creating teacher incentives to exclude slower learners from the classroom, she said.

Also, her daughter does "very well in school, but now they suck the joy out of learning," Talbot said, by teaching to tests. And teacher performance reviews "have changed the whole culture of the schools" to their detriment, she said.

Inside the catering hall, Cuomo didn't talk about the demonstrators he passed on the way, but devoted part of his speech to his very different view of their issue.

"We've invested in education," he said of the most recent state budget. "The growth formula in the budget would have given it a 3.8 percent increase. We gave it a five percent increase because we believe education is a priority."

Cuomo pitched a $2 billion bond issue proposal on a November ballot for upgrading technology in schools and, as he has many times, contrasted the state's highest-in-the-nation spending per pupil with results "in the middle of the pack."

New performance evaluations were introduced in New York, as elsewhere, "so we can see what teachers are working well, what schools are working well. Teachers who need help, we get them the help, teachers who are doing well, we mirror what they're doing."

Teachers' unions have recently called for a delay in implementation of the Common Core, citing flaws in its rollout.

Cuomo, in his speech, said: "I believe it's going to make the education system a better system. I believe evaluating performance works for everyone."

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