New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo next week will again seek the Democratic Party's nomination in his re-election bid for governor. He's favored to win, but will do so without the support of some of the state's most prominent liberal groups and media outlets that would seem likely to back him.
Instead, some of those groups have flocked to Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout, who is running to Cuomo's left on nearly every issue except one: Common Core.
Fordham University law professor and liberal activist Zephyr Teachout is running against Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the state's Democratic gubernatorial primary. (AP Photo/Peter Morgan)
Although Cuomo has called for a review of the implementation of the controversial teaching standards, Teachout wants to end Common Core in New York altogether — and that's won her points from some very crucial education circles.
New York State United Teachers — the state's largest teachers union and which solidly opposes Common Core — helped block the AFL-CIO from endorsing Cuomo in the Democratic primary, which Teachout called a “shocking rebuke” for the governor. Instead, the powerful union advocacy group is neutral.
Other teachers groups are anything but neutral.
On Thursday, Local Education Leaders of New York State, a newly formed statewide group of teachers, is announcing its endorsement of the underdog candidate. This comes after similar endorsements from the Buffalo Teachers Federation, Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association, and even a group called — yes — the Badass Teachers Association.
“You can't talk to parents, teachers or kids who have experienced Common Core and not hear about the stress in classrooms,” Teachout told TheBlaze. “You can talk to any 8-year-old and you can see the fear in their eyes.”
Teachout has also been endorsed by major liberal groups such as the Public Employees Federation, the Sierra Club and the National Organization of Women. And perhaps most visibly, the New York Times — faulting Cuomo for being in an ethics scandal — opted to remain neutral in the Democratic primary, despite a history of backing establishment Democrats. The Times did however endorse Teachout's running mate for lieutenant governor, Timothy Wu. Meanwhile, the ultra-left magazine The Nation enthusiastically endorsed Teachout for for governor.
Teachout agrees with Common Core critics — predominantly conservative — who say the standards amount to a de facto national curriculum because of U.S. Department of Education grants tied to states' adoption of them. But she adds Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been a leading advocate for Common Core.
"It's worse than a federal standard, it's private standards — it's a Bill Gates standard," she said. “Bill Gates is a very smart man, but he does not know what's best for New York state schools.”
The Common Core State Standards Initiative was developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. It has been controversial in many of the 44 states that initially adopted it; Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina have abandoned the program altogether.
“Common Core takes the education out of education. Education is not a bubble sheet. Teachers know the difference between standards and teaching a testing formula,” Teachout said. “Common Core is not working. ”
Teachout said she believes in high standards, but through smaller classroom sizes and more arts and music education.
There hasn't been a head-to-head voter poll between Cuomo — a potential 2016 presidential hopeful — and Teachout, though polls have shown that Cuomo holds a commanding lead over Republican candidate Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, who is also the endorsed candidate for the Stop Common Core ballot line.
Still, given the support from much of the liberal base, Teachout said she's hopeful.
“We think we need 700,000 votes to win,” Teachout said. “Millions of New Yorkers know about me and the base of the Democratic Party is behind me. We think it can be the upset of the century.”
She said the winner of the Democratic primary will be governor because the New York is overwhelmingly Democratic, so she has no plans to run on another ballot line if she loses Sept. 9 because, “I'm a traditional Democrat.”
Regardless of the primary result, Teachout thinks little of Cuomo's national ambitions.
“Governor Cuomo will not be president,” Teachout said. “He may have a lot of money and name recognition, but he has shown he cannot connect well with people.”