The people at the U.S. Department of Education seem like reasonably bright folks. If New York were to pass a set of reforms that only look like reforms, federal education officials might just catch on.

This isn't an academic question; it's an actual debate in the state Assembly this week. Lawmakers and the teachers unions are wrangling over measures to improve New York's chances at a $700-million Race to the Top grant. But some of the provisions mentioned for a bill to raise the cap on charter schools from 200 to 460, would in fact deter new charter schools from opening.

Does the Assembly really believe that the Obama administration will be fooled if the bill contains such poison pills? The argument seems absurd.

The Senate passed a good charter schools bill last month. Now, the Assembly is considering robbing local communities of the ability to petition for charter schools, placing that power in the hands of the state Education Department instead. What's more, the Assembly would remove chartering power from SUNY, even though federal officials have praised it as a high-quality overseer. There is no logical educational reason - it's all about politics. The move would concentrate chartering power with the Regents, who are aligned with the Assembly.

Lawmakers must refrain from cheating on this test. Only real reform will win this tough competition. hN