The gauntlet that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch picked up with their public correspondence in December has been thrown down. The Governor announced his plans to revamp and revise education in New York with his State of the State address on January 21st, and it was accompanied by a book detailing his policy proposals. On teacher evaluation, Governor Cuomo is delivering a massive change — and a direct challenge to community control of their teacher workforce. If the governor gets his way, 50% of teachers’ evaluations will be controlled by students’ annual progress on standardized tests, and no teacher rated “ineffective” in either half of the evaluation will be scored higher than “developing.” The other 50% of annual evaluations will be comprised of two observations, one by a school administrator and another by an “independent observer” in the form of an administrator from another district or a state approved outside agency. The so-called “independent observer” observation will count for 35% of the evaluation. Local administrators are to be restricted to 15%.
New York State principals? Andrew Cuomo says you cannot do your jobs. New York State communities? Nobody in your town is qualified to evaluate your children’s teachers. Andrew Cuomo wants to take that away for Albany.
Governor Cuomo insists that these draconian measures are necessary because only a third of New York students scored as proficient or highly proficient on the new Common Core aligned standardized examinations, and by his logic that means the teacher evaluation system, which currently weights the results of those exams for 20%, is “baloney” because only 1% of teachers were found ineffective. However, tying a criticism of the teacher ineffectiveness to the CCSS aligned exams is flagrantly mendacious because “proficient” was never tied to “grade level” or “passing”; it was tied to SAT scores loosely predictive of college success.
Governor Cuomo’s teacher evaluation plan is set to punish teachers for not graduating vastly more students ready to succeed in college, as measured by one test score, than currently attend college.
What can reasonably be predicted as an outcome of this? Plenty. And none of it will be pretty.
First, this policy will fall heavily upon districts with high levels of poverty which are tightly concentrated because of New York’s appallingly high Residential Income Segregation Index. We know from disaggregated PISA data that schools with high levels of poverty struggle in standardized test achievement compared to schools in affluent communities. Following Governor Cuomo’s logic it is not that these schools and their teachers struggle with the long established deprivations of poverty upon their student population and would benefit from aggressive plans of economic renewal and integration; it is that their teachers are ineffective and need to be fired.
Second, no teacher in New York will be actually safe no matter how good they are or how talented their students. The value-added models (VAMs) of teacher performance based on standardized tests are by now subject to so much research demonstrating their unreliability that using them at all is indefensible. The American Statistical Association (ASA) warned last year that teacher input can only account for 1-14% of student variability on standardized tests, and VAM generated rankings of teachers are not stable, meaning a teacher can be in the top 20% in one year and slide below the median in a subsequent year. If you think that your child attending a selective public school with a math teacher whose students all pass a challenging algebra examination will have that teacher spared via VAMs — think again. Teachers who are excellent by every other conceivable model of assessment can be rated as the “worst” grade level teacher in New York City via value-added modeling.
And Governor Cuomo wants that to be 50% of teacher evaluations.
The predictable outcome of this will be an objectively worse education for nearly every student in the state. Consequences from the No Child Left Behind law’s focus on test-based accountability include a steady narrowing of school curricula to subjects that are tested, leaving science, the social studies, the arts, and health as dwindling portions of public eduction. Teaching to the test as is common practice in “no excuses” charter schools will become a prominent methodology in historically struggling schools, and it will grow in currently successful schools as well. Teachers and administrators will have little choice — with so much riding on VAMs that unstable and able to find teachers of advanced students in the bottom 10% of teachers, test preparation as curriculum will spread. Further, as experienced teachers are pushed out, the teacher workforce will become younger, assuming that New York State schools can possibly entice new teachers to start a career under these conditions. These will be novices whose classroom skills will be on a steep learning curve for their early years, and many of them will be forced out by VAMs before reaching the point where their skills start to level off.
A less experienced teacher workforce teaching more and more to the test — THAT is the likely outcome of Governor Cuomo’s evaluation proposals. There will also be no local measure that can preserve a teacher in his or her job because the only local component of the evaluation system – local administrator observations – will be restricted to 15%. Are you a principal whose teachers work in underfunded facilities with students who live in poverty? Tough. Are you a parent whose child’s teacher works with gifted students in a curriculum accelerated 2-3 years beyond the test? Tough. Are you a school board member who wants to preserve the social studies, sciences, art, music, and health? Tough. 85% of your teachers’ evaluations are outside the input of any local stakeholders; Albany will be in control. And Governor Cuomo will hold nearly three quarters of a potential increase in aid for schools hostage unless he gets his way.
It is impossible to not connect the dots here. Among Governor Cuomo’s most reliable donors are Wall Street supporters of charter school expansion who can turn such schools into revenue streams for private corporations using public money. Charter schools, among whose strongest supporters at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently admitted are in the business of pushing out harder to educate children, have been turned into a way to monetize our public education budgets. Governor Cuomo, who raised half of his $40 million election war chest from just 341 donors, owes that sector.
The only entity with enough members and resources to resist that is the NYSUT.
Most of Governor Cuomo’s teacher evaluation plans (and his other education proposals) will make our schools objectively worse places to learn with many fewer experienced teachers and a diminishing curriculum. However, they will make the teachers’ union much weaker with an unstable and uncertain cadre of members who have less experience and no practical job security — and who will not be able to effectively resist more and more of our public schools turned over to private interests.
Everything about this is wrong.