Cuomo Cries ‘Uncle’ to Labor Lobbyists

When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo navigated an overhaul of the teacher tenure law last Spring, he took a moribund system—one in which 96 percent of teachers were rated either highly effective or effective—and fast-tracked a State Board of Education regulation that tied 50 percent of teacher evaluations to student outcomes. During a speech in Rochester, Cuomo explained why New York had to move to an evaluation system with multiple measures, one of which was data on student growth:
We now have a teacher evaluation system that came back—99 percent of the teachers are doing great! Only 38 percent of the students are graduating at class-level, but 99 percent of teachers are doing well. It can't be—99 percent of no class does extraordinary!”
But now pedal-to-the-metal-Andy has slammed on the brakes. Today’s New York Times reports:
Facing a parents’ revolt against testing, the state is poised to change course and reduce the role of test scores in evaluations. And according to two people involved in making state education policy, Mr. Cuomo has been quietly pushing for a reduction, even to zero. That would represent an about-face from January, when the governor called for test scores to determine 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.
That’s not an entirely accurate account, at least of Cuomo's motivation to comply with calls to eliminate data on student growth from teacher evaluations. Certainly, there was a “parent revolt”: Twenty percent of the state’s public school students “opted out” of Common Core-aligned tests last spring, and rates were particularly high on Long Island and in Westchester. According to Education Week, these students weren’t the state’s neediest: they were white, not educationally-disadvantaged and most likely to have not achieved proficiency on last year’s assessments. For comparison’s sake, in New York City schools, where 70 percent of student enrollment is black and Hispanic and 80 percent of student enrollment is economically-disadvantaged, the opt-out rate was only 1.8 percent in math and only 1.4 percent on English tests. So there was a rich, white-suburban “parent revolt” against testing. And, with no disrespect intended towards suburban parental autonomy, this was a boycott instigated by teachers union lobbyists. Here's Karen Magee, leader of the state American Federation of Teachers affiliate, quoted during the show  Capitol Pressroom last March:
I am saying that I would urge parents at this point in time to opt out of testing. (“Wow,” host Susan Arbetter replied.)
Magee’s remarks caused quite a stir. Then Randi Weingarten, whom Magee reports to, weighed in. https://twitter.com/rweingarten/status/582703423004491776 So Cuomo was emasculated by what he had first disparaged as “political tactics.” If he succeeds in eliminating the link of student outcomes, the entire accountability enterprise is rendered flaccid. Now, let’s be fair. Fifty percent, as I’ve said before, is too high. But Governor, what’s wrong with 25 percent? Or even 20 percent? According to the New York Times, MaryEllen Elia, the state commissioner, proposed exactly that:
Ms. Elia said she discussed a possible compromise this month with the governor’s office and the Regents under which test scores would count for 20 percent of evaluations and any penalties based on test scores would not be imposed until 2019. But the governor’s office objected to that proposal, Ms. Elia and Mr. Malatras both said.
So the vehicle of accountability screeches to a halt in New York state. That will make union officials and suburban families (with kids who don’t do well on tests) very happy. But it will play less well in educationally-hit-or-miss cities like New York City and Yonkers, as well as further upstate in Binghamton, Syracuse and Rochester where disadvantaged students require effective classroom instructional metrics in order to succeed. There's nothing wrong with taking a deep breath and reconsidering options. There is something wrong with bowing to lobbyists and eviscerating a new system in favor of one already proven to be misguided and inaccurate. Cuomo's repudiation of common-sense teacher evaluation reform will, no doubt, garner him support from labor leaders and wealthy parents. But by acceding to a political tactic by deploying one of his own, he's throwing New York State's neediest schools and children under the bus.
An earlier version of this post appeared on her blog, NJ Left Behind, as Cuomo Cries "Uncle" to Labor Lobbyists and Eviscerates NYS's Teacher Evaluation Reform.
Laura Waters
Laura Waters is the founder and managing editor of New Jersey Education Report, formerly a senior writer/editor with brightbeam. Laura writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for ...

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