By Glen Weiner
When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Legislature passed teacher evaluation reforms last year, and then followed up with specific mandates and guidelines this year, they did so because they wanted to ensure that every classroom has the best possible teacher.
Earlier this year, nearly every school district across the state signed a teacher evaluation agreement with its local union in time to meet the governor’s directive and ensure that it would receive increases in state aid. But now it appears that some of those districts, including Buffalo, tried to circumvent the state mandate by secretly promising not to use the new evaluations in employment decisions.
These “side deals,” meant to strip the new systems of accountability, are deeply troubling. They not only subvert the hard work of the governor and the Legislature, they dash any hope of replacing ineffective teachers with great ones who will improve our schools. That means already struggling school systems like Buffalo’s only stand to get worse.
This form of sabotage is unconscionable. It’s shameful. It’s embarrassing. And worst of all, it will hurt our kids.
Inside our schools, there is no greater indicator of a child’s future success than the quality of his or her teacher – not class size, facilities or curriculum. Boosting teacher quality will increase students’ likelihood of attending college and improve their future earning potential. Most important, it is our best chance to ensure that all kids – regardless of family income – graduate with the skills they need to succeed in life.
Meaningful evaluations are a critical first step toward improving teacher quality. Until now, most New York teachers have been rewarded based on seniority or quantity of graduate education, neither of which has been shown to drive student achievement. Effective and ineffective teachers have left our schools at the same rate because there is nothing to differentiate between them. Now we have the opportunity to foster a culture of excellence so our children have the best we can provide.
Evaluation systems must have the teeth to identify and reward outstanding and exemplary teachers, provide those who are struggling with the resources necessary to improve, and, yes, remove the least-effective ones. That is exactly what the governor and Legislature intended.
Cuomo and State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. deserve high marks for standing up for our kids and successfully pressuring Buffalo School Superintendent Pamela C. Brown to void this highly questionable, secret side deal with the teachers union. But the matter might not be settled. The teachers union has said it “will take whatever action is necessary to enforce that agreement.” The governor, commissioner and superintendent all need to stand firm. Our children deserve nothing less.
Glen Weiner is interim executive director of StudentsFirstNY.