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Ousting of reformer from Regents is a triumph of politics over education

Nothing good will come from this.

The machinations and intrigue that led Robert M. Bennett to withdraw from the effort to retain his seat on the Board of Regents deprive New Yorkers of a true champion of education, an advocate for learning by all students and a passion for the kind of reforms that education needs in New York – no matter how much the teachers unions and their lawmaker lackeys cluck otherwise.

Bennett said all students can learn. Parents – some of them – said the sky was falling. Bennett said the Common Core learning standards would help make New York students competitive. Teachers and politicians – many of them – said the sky was falling. On Sunday, they ducked.

With the news that Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, had engineered the nomination of Buffalo educator Catherine Collins and that new Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie would forward Collins’ name, Bennett bowed out and politics, rather than education, became the dominant consideration.

Bennett was far and away the best choice for this seat. He deserves the thanks of all New Yorkers for his 20 years of service on the board. That is especially true of Western New Yorkers, whom the Tonawanda resident represented on the Board of Regents. He was perhaps the only public official that New Yorkers could trust implicitly. He had no agenda beyond providing the best possible education for New York students.

That’s not true of Peoples-Stokes, of Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore or of virtually anyone else involved in this sorrowful process. Peoples-Stokes has other interests, some of them competing. Rumore has only competing interests. For them, and others, the education of students isn’t necessarily – or sometimes ever – the primary focus.

And it showed.

Other questions arise in the aftermath of Bennett’s withdrawal. Among them:

• Did Peoples-Stokes and Heastie just torpedo education reform in New York? If so, the state could become a global backwater, its students unable to match the performance of those from states and countries that are committed to excellence rather than committed to politics and the clout of teachers unions.

• What role, if any, did racial politics play in Bennett’s demise? School Board member Carl Paladino is sure it did. Peoples-Stokes, Heastie and Collins are all African-American, but that alone doesn’t prove anything. Bennett and many of his supporters are white and no one has claimed a racial component there. Still, race does seem to be playing a more dominant role in education, at least in Buffalo. It’s an important issue to resolve.

Collins appears now to have a lock on this position, and while we have strongly supported Bennett’s reappointment, we wish her well in the job and hope that her focus will be on helping to create an education system that is accountable (evaluations), focused (leadership) and effective (high standards).

Any system can be made better. If Collins aims to improve the system here, then more power to her. But this is no time to retreat. One question, alone, should inform her approach, and it has nothing to do with politicians or teachers unions: What about the students?