It’s an unlikely battle in New York state, but it's one that has seemed to be raging ever since Andrew Cuomo was sworn in as governor. The liberal leader's fight with teachers unions has just become nastier as his new state budget puts educators on a tighter leash.
Weeks of New York state budget negotiations among political leaders, and heavy lobbying from teachers unions and charter school supporters, is apparently yielding a budget bill that modestly changes teacher tenure rules and performance evaluations, and that will give the state's failing schools another year before taking control of the schools away from their school boards, according to published reports.
It could have been worse. Cuomo had initially proposed that his government could more easily takeover struggling schools and for more charter schools to be introduced throughout the state. The former suggestion was modified, the latter was removed and will be debated later this year.
The Syracuse.com editorial board sided with Cuomo and suggested teachers were overreacting to the new standards, especially considering the budget also gifted a 6 percent aid increase to New York schools. The editors outlined some more positive specifics that clearly benefit students.
Cuomo wrangled far-reaching changes to nearly every aspect of public education: full scholarships to attract the best and the brightest to the teaching profession; higher standards for the New York schools that teach the teachers; a "bar exam'' for teachers; a longer probationary period and demonstrated proficiency before tenure is granted; a $20,000 bonus to reward and retain the very best talent; a new teacher evaluation protocol with more rigor and independence; a mechanism for removing ineffective teachers; and a one-year deadline for failing schools to shape up or face receivership.
Nevertheless, the classroom changes did not sit well with many New York educators. Karen E. Magee, president of NYSUT, a federation of more than 1,200 local unions, even encouraged parents to tell their kids to reject the evaluation tests.
"At this point in time, yes, we are urging parents to opt out."
Parents are listening.
I opted my daughter out of the NYS exams today. She will NOT be a part of Cuomo's corporate agenda!@nygovcuomo@nysut@uft #optout— Rana Quamina (@Rana135Q) April 1, 2015
The governor isn't budging. In an interview with the Associated Press Thursday, Cuomo defended the education budget, even claiming it was the ‘most pro-teacher budget in history.’ The unions still didn’t agree:
Teachers unions scoff at the assertion. While they support the spending increase, they say Cuomo's emphasis on evaluations tied to student test performance unfairly blames teachers for the economic and social challenges many students face.
"He basically said, 'I'm declaring war on teachers and public education,'" said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers. "This was the first battle. The governor thought he was going to get all of this stuff, and he did not get it."
The education reforms Cuomo has proposed is one of the few issues (or only issue) on which we agree. If teachers are performing poorly, it should be simple to remove them, or at least hold them accountable through evaluations.
When parents place their children in teachers' hands, they deserve the assurance those teachers have been vetted. It'll interesting to see how these new guidelines affect students' test scores. In the meantime, grab some candy and watch Cuomo vs. Teachers...Round Ten?