Questions Bubbling Up About Cummings AFT / AssessmentGate Ties

We often read the comments section of BaristaNet stories because there’s a pretty lively discourse there with some pretty engaged folks. A few commenters over the last few months have been raising questions about David Cummings and whether his ties to AFT (he’s apparently a member of the teacher union) might shed some light on the AssessmentGate fiasco.

Last week, a blogger on the Patch posted about the issue, writing:

It has been a month since the Board of Education ended its investigation into the leaked Common Core assessments, but our community is still waiting for someone to be held responsible.  While the inquiry refrained from casting judgement on any one individual, comments I’ve seen here on Patch and in other forums continue to raise board member David Cummings as someone with access and perhaps the motivation to release the tests publicly.  Clearly, investigators thought he had at least some role in the scandal.

We shouldn’t be so quick to let the issue, and Mr.  Cummings’ culpability, disappear.  Here’s why:

  • Mr. Cummings is represented by the American Federation of Teachers – a major teacher union – in his day job as an adjunct professor.
  • As a board member, Mr. Cummings negotiates with the local teacher union, and is responsible for making policy via-a-vis them.
  • Both big teacher unions – the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association – are very strongly opposed to the Common Core curriculum and are pressing their cause in Montclair. I’ve read on Montclair Schools Watch that they have union operatives here (one named Maia Davis) who are fighting against the district. Having worked in a union shop myself, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Mr. Cummings wrapped into this stuff and get pressure.

I think we should maintain a great deal of skepticism when a union-affiliated Board member like Mr. Cummings finds himself so close by when the Common Core assessments show up exactly where they are not supposed to.  Certainly, the leak of the assessments helped to achieve the union’s objectives.

This story seems to have also gotten picked up by a national blog that tracks scandals on local school boards, which posted about it under the headline “Calls In New Jersey For School Board Member To Be Investigated In Scandal Over Leak Of Confidential Materials

We’re not sure where we come down on this issue. On the one hand, as best we know AFT doesn’t represent any workers in the Montclair Schools, so his membership in that doesn’t seem like a conflict in that sense. And politically, he is just a member, not an official or a leader, with as much stake in things as others like Sean Spiller or Bob Russo.

But on the other hand, the questions raised about who was in a position to leak the tests, and had a motivation to do so seem pretty legitimate. And we also know that – for one reason or another – Cumming was at least somewhat suspected of involvement.

To us, this is the problem with the political decision to suspend the investigation. This was, at the end of the day, a pretty serious scandal. Someone in a position of trust leaked confidential information and likely broke the law. That person doesn’t deserve to remain in their job and potentially should be prosecuted for the damage and cost they caused the district. But instead, as we’ve said before, we’re left wondering who it was. And given the size and importance of the issue, we expect that interest and speculation into who was behind the leaks will continue. Completing the investigation could have resolved that.

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