Cuomo on teacher evaluations, dramatically

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Andrew Cuomo. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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ALBANY—Governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday, not for the first time, that the state's teacher- and principal-evaluation system is under attack.

Lawmakers, teachers' unions and the state Board of Regents have presented plans recently to temporarily change the evaluations in order to protect educators from being penalized for the rocky rollout of the more rigorous Common Core standards.

“What most people are saying is 'throw everything out,'” Cuomo said on "The Capitol Pressroom." “No more teacher evaluations until we fix Common Core, which could be two years, three years. … I think a big part of this is people just don't want to do it. And when you don't want to do something, you're very good at coming up with reasons why you don't want to do it.”

The governor wouldn't be wrong to suggest that the teachers unions in particular are interested in delaying the implementation of the evaluations. But for the record, "throw everything out" is an overstatement.

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Under the Regents plan, which was tabled under pressure from Cuomo, teachers and principals who were at risk of losing their jobs because their students performed poorly on new, harder exams would have an additional defense at their disposal during disciplinary proceedings. Educators would be able to argue, for the current school year and for the 2012-13 academic year, that their evaluations were unfairly affected by the state's flawed Common Core implementation.

Lawmakers want to go further. Leadership in both houses of the state Legislature support a two-year moratorium on using Common Core-aligned test scores to evaluate teachers and principals or to make decisions about student placement or promotion, a plan supported by teachers' unions. Cuomo has called the plan “premature.”

Cuomo argued that the New York schools have consistently resisted implementing the evaluations, which the state committed to do when it accepted a $700 million grant from the federal government in 2010. Under former Governor David Paterson, the state passed a law requiring teacher evaluations, but it wasn't enforced.

Cuomo strengthened the law in 2012 and tied it to an increase in state aid, so districts would be forced to comply or forfeit the funding. The strategy was effective; nearly every school district implemented the evaluation system by Cuomo's January 2013 deadline, with New York City as a notable exception. The city's schools will issue their first teacher ratings this year.

But during the radio interview today, the governor said, "It's been five, six years. ... We haven't done it. Every year, there is a new reason why we can't do it. The truth is, we don't want to do it. It is difficult to do. There are union issues with it. There are collective bargaining issues with it, and the teachers are very uneasy about being evaluated.

“It's the right thing to do, so we should do it,” Cuomo continued, “and I am not eager to kick the can down the road again. At this rate, it will be a decade since we said we would do teacher evaluations before they actually happen.”

During the interview, Cuomo suggested that he might be willing to consider small changes to the evaluations, even though he has resisted or denounced the changes that have been proposed thus far.

When asked if he would consider using only local measures to evaluate teachers, such as observations, while schools transition to the Common Core, he said: "I'd be open to anything that allows us to do the teacher evaluations faster.”