The state teachers union took a hit from a key ally in Albany today when Assembly education committee chair Catherine Nolan criticized the union’s denunciation of the state’s top schools official.
Nolan’s critique came at a tumultuous time for the union, New York State United Teachers. A faction within the union, including the city’s union chapter, is seeking to unseat President Richard Iannuzzi, who has taken a hard line on state education policy issues. Last weekend, at Iannuzzi’s direction, the union issued an unprecedented “no confidence” vote in State Education Commissioner John King.
Nolan said she was “surprised and disappointed” by the vote, which took place over the weekend and was accompanied by formal criticism of the state’s implementation of the Common Core standards. Nolan said she disagreed with both votes, while acknowledging that she shares the union’s concerns.
“I don’t think I’m at that point yet,” Nolan said during a brief break from Tuesday’s budget hearings on education in Albany. She said she had not yet made up her mind about whether teacher evaluations should be decoupled from Common Core-aligned state tests, something the union wants and several legislators have indicated they plan to seek.
“I think it’s going to take a lot more time and effort to discuss it,” Nolan said.
The remarks represent a change in tone for Nolan, who was first asked about the issue more than two weeks ago. She declined to comment at the time.
“That’s an internal union discussion,” Nolan said Jan. 13 after a press conference where she pressed for more state education funding. “I don’t have anything to say about that.”
Nolan, a former labor committee chair, is an ally with NYSUT on many state legislative affairs and has often partnered with the union to introduce bills favored by the union. Last year, she sponsored a testing bill that was at the top of the union’s legislative agenda.
But a lot has changed in just a couple of weeks. The union is said to be deeply divided by an internal power struggle between city teachers union head Michael Mulgrew and NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi. Mulgrew recently announced he is backing a slate of candidates running to unseat Iannuzzi from the NYSUT’s leadership team in upcoming elections.
The Mulgrew-backed candidates have set up a web site, ReinventNYSUT.org, and say that Iannuzzi has not done enough to address concerns with the state’s handling Common Core standards, negotiated a faulty teacher evaluation plan, and made enemies with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In response, Iannuzzi’s supporters published their own website over the weekend, announcing that they have the support of dozens of local union presidents.
It’s unclear how closely tied, if at all, Nolan’s critique of NYSUT is to the changing power dynamics within the union. Mulgrew said the UFT backed the vote against King and the Common Core standards, but declined to comment on his conflict with Iannuzzi.
“I don’t get into internal union politics,” Mulgrew said.
King also deflected a question about the vote, saying that concerns over state education policies shouldn’t be about who is running the state education department.
“This isn’t about me. It’s about the students,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate that the standards have become inflated with a variety of other political concerns, but our focus remains the college and career-readiness of our students.”
Correction: A previous version included an incorrect former profession for Nolan.