Cuomo Cries "Uncle" to Labor Lobbyists and Eviscerates NYS's Teacher Evaluation Reform

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% of teachers were rated either highly effective or effective—and fast-tracked a State Board of Education regulation that tied 50% of teacher evaluations to student outcomes.

During a speech in March in Rochester, Cuomo explained why New York had to move to a evaluation system with multiple measures, one of which was data on student growth:
We now have a teacher evaluation system that came back — 99% of the teachers are doing great! Only 38% of the students are graduating at class-level, but 99% of teachers are doing well. It can't be — 99% of no class does extraordinary!”
But now pedal-to-the-metal-Andy has slammed on the brakes. Today’s New York Times reports that  “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": 20% 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 EdWeek, 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% of student enrollment is black and Hispanic and 80% 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 teacher union lobbyists. Here’s Karen Magee, leader of the state AFT affiliate, 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,” Magee. (“Wow,” host Susan Arbetter replied.)

Magee’s remarks caused a stir. Then Randi Weingarten, whom Magee reports to, weighed in by tweeting that she understood “why @NYSUT and parents are calling for an opt-out” and added that if she had kids in the State she would opt them out of tests too.  Diane Ravitch, our ever-rabid anti-accountability maven, accordingly praised Weingarten for “personally endorsing” the opt out movement.”

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. 50%, as I’ve said before, is too high. But Governor, what’s wrong with 25%? Or even 20%?

According to the New York Times, Mary Ellen 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.

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