Jim Malatras, the director of state operations for Governor Cuomo in New York, recently sent a letter to Merryl Tisch, the chair of the state Board of Regents, and to the outgoing Commissioner of Education John King.
The letter asks a series of questions about the future direction of education in New York. It does not mention resources, because the Governor believes that New York spends enough or too much already. It does not mention resource equity, which is unfortunate, since New York has a highly inequitable funding structure. Nor does the letter mention poverty or segregation, which are known to be highly correlated with low test scores. Every standardized test shows a gap between haves and have-nots, but Mr. Malatras does not mention any action that might improve the life chances of children and families living in poverty. A recent report from the UCLA Civil Rights Project said that New York state has the most racially segregated schools in the nation, but that is not mentioned in this letter.
Please read the letter and feel welcome to offer your answers to the questions posed in it.
Before the elections, Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York offered legislation to defer high-stakes for teachers based on the new Common Core tests. However, he never pushed his own legislation, and it was never passed. Now, he says that he wants a new system because he is disappointed that so few teachers were found to be “ineffective.” Some of Cuomo’s campaign supporters–like the hedge-fund managers’ “Democrats for Education Reform”– want to see teacher evaluation toughened and more teachers fired. Cuomo also appears to believe that if students don’t get high and higher test scores, their teachers are to blame and must be held “accountable.” Most research on teacher evaluation shows that the largest impact on test scores is students’ home life–poverty, nutrition, health, and other factors that affect their motivation and opportunity to learn.
He focused on the relatively few teachers who earned the lowest ratings in the 2013-14 school year, calling out New York City in particular, where 7 percent earned a “developing” rating and 1.2 percent earned an “ineffective” rating. (Just 2.4 percent of teachers in the rest of the state earned one of those low ratings.)
“It is incredible to believe that is an accurate reflection of the state of education in New York,” Cuomo said. “I think everybody knows it doesn’t reflect reality,” he added.
Cuomo did not say what he would consider a more realistic distribution of the four ratings, though he said his vision is to “reward the high performers and give the low performers the help they need.” His comments were the latest indication that he will mount an aggressive charge to change the teacher evaluation law for a fourth consecutive year, this time to make it more difficult for districts to ensure teachers earn top ratings.
The state only determines 20 percent of a teacher’s final rating, leading to a patchwork of plans across the state’s roughly 700 school districts. Cuomo said the current law gave a “disproportionate amount of power” to teachers unions, whose approval is required on all district plans.