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On Dec.14, the state Board of Regents declared a moratorium on using state standardized tests to evaluate teachers, effectively killing this misguided practice in New York.
Only a few months ago, by a one-vote margin, the Regents voted to base half of a teacher’s evaluation on these tests saying that a new state law mandated this.
Gov. Cuomo made a complete about-face. In a textbook Cuomo move, he appointed a commission to review the state’s controversial Common Core standards. Cuomo’s commission then recommended the moratorium. And thus the Regents forgot their earlier legal opinion that their hands were tied.
What is stunning is that the governor made this exact teacher evaluation system his top legislative priority in 2015. He strong-armed the Legislature into adopting it by including it in his state budget proposal. Then he crowed that it was ''one of the greatest legacies for me and the state.”
So how is it that in a few short months one of Andrew Cuomo’s “greatest legacies” would be dumped by his own machinations?
It’s the power of public opinion. The governor’s numbers dropped to an all-time low with only 37 percent giving his performance a thumbs up in the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC 4 New York/Marist Poll. In another poll only 27 percent of New Yorkers gave him good grades on education.
No longer considered viable presidential timber, Cuomo has nowhere to go except to run for a third term. If he cannot stop the bleeding on education, his political career may end in 2018.
Whether you want to call it adept political jiu jitsu or self-interested chameleon-like behavior, Cuomo deserves credit for recognizing the error of his ways.
Ending the use of state tests to evaluate teachers will benefit our school children, but will it halt the hemorrhaging in Cuomo’s poll numbers on education? Doubtful.
The governor has provoked most of the state’s 210,000 public school teachers and their unions. But his education policies have awoken a sleeping giant — public school parents. One in five students opted out of the state tests. While many in the media think the opt out was organized by the teachers unions, one need look no further than the many opt out Facebook pages to see it is truly an organic, parent led movement. And they are not letting the pedal off the gas.
Cuomo needs these parents, but he has already branded himself as Mr. Testing. And his outlandish anti-public school rhetoric — saying he will “break up the public school monopoly” and taking every chance to slam our public schools — has not helped.
Cuomo again placed himself at odds with parent voters when he rammed through a plan to rank 144 New York schools as “failing” based on test scores and to threaten them with takeover by an independent “receiver” who is in no way accountable to local voters. Maybe this is what he meant when he called for a “death penalty” for “failing schools.” Parents believe test scores are not a valid measure of a school’s success, as the 2015 PDK Gallup poll shows. If the governor’s own commission has determined these tests are not valid for grading teachers, and the governor has said they are “meaningless” for students, how can they be valid for grading schools?
The governor has been the author of his own demise on education issues. In his first year, he slashed funding to our public schools by $1.3 billion while cutting taxes on millionaires and billionaires. Our public schools have yet to restore lost programs.
If Gov. Cuomo is going to reverse his education poll numbers, he needs to do more than just reverse course on teacher evaluations. He needs to cut way back on the amount of standardized testing, he needs to reverse his test and punish policies for struggling schools, and he needs to invest in quality education opportunities in public schools, particularly in our poorest communities. That will require more than expedient, but skillful political maneuvering.
The writer is executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education.