Governor Cuomo, Catalyst for Educational Reform

Some issues have not been resolved

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a cabinet meeting in the Red Room at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

    Governor Cuomo has forged a compromise between the state and its teachers unions on evaluating teachers. What does it mean? Will it improve the educational system?

    In a political sense, there’s no doubt it is a great achievement for the governor.

    He has stepped into a difficult situation and brought peace, at least for now.

    Political analyst Hank Sheinkopf told me, “It’s a big win for Cuomo. He’s the peacemaker. He takes credit away from Bloomberg for solving the conflict with the teachers. He looks like a hero. It keeps him in the public eye as a hero, a reformer.”

    But will it work in the long run? That remains to be seen. Under the agreement school districts may base up to 40 percent of a teacher’s annual review on student performance on state standardized tests. The remaining 60 percent will involve classroom observations and professional development projects.

    A parent leader was somewhat skeptical. Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters told me, “The deal with the United Federation of Teachers, providing for an arbiter for principal ratings, seems to be a good one. It will provide an appeals process for teachers who are victimized by abusive principals.

    “But,” she said, “the rest of the deal is disappointing.

    “It falls short on several points: teachers will be rated on a curve, with the state education commissioner having the power to decide whether that curve is too rigorous ... any teacher rated 0 to 64 out of 100 will be considered ‘ineffective.’ “

    Haimson thinks the state education commissioner will have too much power. She fears also that the Cuomo plan will open the door to even more testing, more test preparation on a local level, more unfair evaluations of teachers and less learning in the classroom.

    Here in New York City, some issues have not been resolved. Thus, while the question of appeals by teachers has been settled, there is still no agreement on a new evaluation system.

    Cuomo asked, “Are there continuing, outstanding issues when it comes to education between the city and the United Federation of Teachers? Yes, yes, that is clear. We never said we were going to resolve all the open issues.”

    The problems are still huge and complex. But, if there is a new element in the long-standing struggle to reform the schools, it is Andrew Cuomo. Clearly, he has demonstrated ability as a wily negotiator.

    He has been a catalyst in this situation --- and that certainly was needed. But many educational questions have not been resolved and the future of millions of school children depends on it.