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Teacher evaluations are 'baloney,' Cuomo says

Andrew Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the state’s two-year-old teacher evaluation system “baloney,” and said the Legislature must reform it, or schools won’t get a big increase in aid.

In his State of the State and budget address on Wednesday, Cuomo proposed eliminating the local student test portion of the teacher evaluation. He also urged that teachers get tenure only after five straight years of effective ratings and pushed for the revamping of failing schools.

If legislators adopt the reforms, Cuomo said schools will get $1.1 billion more in aid — a 4.8 percent increase. If they do not, then districts will get an additional $377 million, which is the increase under the state’s inflation formula.

The governor acknowledged there will be political difficulties on both sides of the aisle with this reform agenda.

“Let’s make the hard choices,” he said.

Cuomo believes the current evaluation system isn’t working because more than 95 percent of teachers have been rated as “effective” or “highly effective” — the two highest ranks on the scale. He also noted that only 38 percent of recent high school graduates were deemed to be college-ready and only 32 percent of prospective teachers passed a 12th grade literacy test as part of their certification process.

Under the current evaluation system, growth in student achievement on state standardized tests represents 20 percent of the teacher’s score. Another 20 percent is determined by local school district tests. The remaining 60 percent is determined by traditional evaluation measures such as classroom observation.

Cuomo wants to eliminate the local testing component and base 50 percent of the evaluation on the state test score. The other 50 percent would be based on classroom observations.

Queensbury Superintendent Douglas Huntley said before the speech that the teacher evaluation system is more of a political issue than an educational issue.

The focus has been on catching teachers that aren’t performing well instead of providing opportunities for teachers to improve, according to Huntley.

“There are teachers who aren’t performing at par and those teachers need to be counseled,” he said. “In my experience, that’s a small percentage. Most teachers can improve. We just need to find a way to blend the political urgency with the practical realities of improving teaching.”

Huntley said teacher preparation needs to be more rigorous and that has been happening.

He added that part of the problem has been the state taking on too much by attempting to put in place the Common Core standards, the teacher evaluation system and revamp state testing all at the same time.

Cuomo’s other proposals include making it easier to remove an ineffective teacher through an expedited process; allowing schools that had three years of failing ratings to be taken over by turnaround consultants, a nonprofit group or another school district; and lifting the cap on charter schools. He would also offer a $20,000 bonus to high-performing teachers.

Cuomo proposed spending $365 million to expand prekindergarten programs and providing funding to enroll 3-year-olds in preschool programs.

He also is seeking a $100 million tax credit for education, an initiative that failed in the last legislative session. It would allow people to deduct from their taxes contributions for school supplies, projects and scholarships to both public and private schools. The measure has been criticized by unions as a back-door voucher plan.

More money needed

Absent from the governor’s address was any mention of the gap elimination adjustment, the state aid takeback that is hurting local schools. Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, has introduced her first bill, which would eliminate the gap elimination adjustment for the 2015-2016 year and provide school districts with the full amount of aid generated by all existing funding formulas.

The gap elimination adjustment has taken more than $18 million away from schools in the 113th Assembly District, according to Woerner.

“Enough is enough,” she said in a news release.

Cuomo’s proposed funding increase is short of the $2 billion or more that education advocacy groups are seeking.

The Alliance for Quality Education criticized the governor, saying he is not addressing the inequitable funding of schools but is focusing too much on testing and private takeovers of public schools.

“Rather than fully supporting our public schools and their students, his plan is to send taxpayer dollars to private schools and privately run charter schools. His agenda on testing and teachers will continue the bleak march towards turning our schools into standardized testing mills where art, music, sports and childhood creativity are casualties,” the organization said in a statement.

New York State United Teachers President Karen E. Magee said the governor was misinformed about the state of education in New York.

“New York has one of the strongest public education systems in the nation and a professional, highly dedicated teaching force. Governor Cuomo should be celebrating that excellence. Instead, today we get intellectually hollow rhetoric that misrepresents the state of teaching and learning,” she said in a news release.

Magee said the real issue is poverty and failure to provide enough resources to all schools.

Cuomo said more money isn’t necessarily the answer.

“We’ve been putting more money into failing schools for decades,” he said. “Over the last 10 years, 250,000 children went through those failing schools, and New York government did nothing.”

An advocacy group called High Achievement New York issued a statement praising Cuomo’s plan to revamp the evaluation system to eliminate what it called inconsistent local tests, reduce testing time and focus on instruction.

College costs

Cuomo’s higher education proposals include paying the full tuition of SUNY or CUNY graduates if they commit to teach in New York state schools for five years, providing two years of loan forgiveness for recent college graduates who earn less than $50,000 and linking community college job training programs to the Regional Economic Development Councils.

Cuomo wants to provide another $110 million for another round of NYSUNY 2020 proposals and $50 million for Start-UP NY partnerships between colleges and businesses.

He also wants stronger policies to prevent sexual assaults on all college campuses, similar to the policies already adopted for state schools. Cuomo also called for passage of the Dream Act, which would provide a way for children of illegal aliens to obtain permanent residency by completing higher education.

You can read Michael Goot’s blog “A Time to Learn” at www.poststar.com or his updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ps_education

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