3:25 pm Feb. 16, 2012
The Cuomo administration and the state teachers union finally came to an agreement today on a teacher-evaluation system, shortly before a deadline that had been set by the governor.
The agreement was reached after the state address some of the union's concerns about how heavily students' scores on standardized tests would be weighted in assessing the performance of teachers. The agreement also addressed the union's concerns about teachers' ability to appeal unfavorable evaluations.
Appearing with union officials in the Capitol, Governor Andrew Cuomo called the agreement "a victory for all New York State."
Diane Ravitch, an education expert and professor at New York University, doesn't like the deal at all.
Under the deal, 60 percent of a teacher's evaluation will be based on subjective classroom observations by the principal or other school officials, and up to 40 percent will be based on student scores on statewide standardized tests.
In an email to me, Ravitch said, "40% is too much, in my view" and "evaluations should be conducted by experienced professionals."
She said the plan could result in unfairly low evaluation scores for teachers dealing with students who are not prepared for standardized tests (for example, students with learning disabilities and those who are not proficient in English).
The agreement makes provisions for those conditions, and also gives localities the options of using their own standardized tests, along with the state ones. But Ravitch said the emphasis on testing student progress to evaluate the effectiveness teachers was misguided to begin with.
While Cuomo said this deal makes New York eligible to tap into millions of dollars in federal education aid, under the Race to the Top program, Ravitch said the money may not go directly to the classroom.
"Most teachers do not teach tested subjects and the state must now spend many millions of dollars to test teachers of the arts, early elementary grades, physical education, and high school subjects," she said.
With so much of a teacher's evaluation based on test scores, Ravitch said she feared less time will be devoted to "field trips, projects, music, whatever is not tested. This is a dark day for education in New York."
Ravitch has a piece in The New York Review of Books this month arguing against this kind of reliance on teacher evaluations. She said it's used by the "'no excuses' reformers" who are making teachers the scapegoats for larger societal causes of student failure.
Ravitch was an assistant secretary of education from 1991 to 1993 in the George H.W. Bush administration. Bill Clinton's education secretary appointed Ravitch to the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees federal education testing.