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Analysis | In Budget Address, Cuomo Positions Himself as Education Governor

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - 11:34 AM

By Joyce Purnick/WNYC Political Analyst

Last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo took some heat from education reformers for failing to put his weight behind changing the way teachers are dismissed. Traditionally, if public school teachers have to be laid off, those with the least seniority – usually the youngest and theoretically the most innovative  – go first, ahead of those with seniority.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushed hard to change what is known as LIFO (last in, first our), but he needed Cuomo to back him up. But the governor, in his first year in Albany, had other priorities.

Now, Cuomo is trying to make up for lost opportunities. In his State of the State address earlier this month, and in his budget Tuesday, he emphasized education reform, especially tougher teacher evaluations. There is a legitimate question about the likely impact of more rigorous teacher evaluations, but many reformers consider it to be the latest cure-all for what ails the public schools, and Bloomberg and now Cuomo are pushing hard for change.

The emphasis on teacher evaluations was most compelling headline to come out of the governor’s budget presentation because he had already done the heavy lifting to close a sizeable budget deficit last year. He and the Legislature restructured income taxes; his administration negotiated labor settlements that did not include wage increases; and he is holding to his plan to keep education and Medicaid increases to 4 percent instead of the usual 13 percent.

Those moves and some modest cuts close most of the deficit, and that in turn allowed Cuomo to focus on provocative policy matters instead of on numbers when he presented his executive budget Tuesday.

He wants pension reform – reducing pension payouts to public employees in the future – wants to build that large convention center and gambling casino at the Aqueduct Raceway in Queens. And he wants teacher evaluations.

Will he get them? He might figure he will get credit just for trying, but an ambitious politician like Cuomo would not typically take a big risk unless confident of the outcome. He could anticipate success because he has a powerful  weapon: Cuomo, as governor, controls the state purse strings. So he is threatening to withhold the planned increase in state education aid to school districts that fail to adopt a new teacher rating system. No deal, no money.

More than $700 million federal education aid is already in jeopardy because Washington has linked tough teacher evaluations to getting that Race to the Top money, and no district in the state has made changes. Cuomo’s threat raises the stakes to about $1 million in combined state and federal education money that schools could lose absent an agreement on teacher evaluations.

Meaningful teacher evaluations remain the third rail for teacher unions. But they might compromise rather than risk angering the public for robbing the schools of needed resources.

Of course, the public could also blame Cuomo for his tactic. But he has clearly calculated that he is more likely to win plaudits for taking a gamble in pursuit of change.

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Comments [2]

Brelleh


I ask those interested in education to
read an article by Diana Ravitch titled “Whose children have been
left behind? Framing the 2012 ed debate.” She writes “The
entire current reform movement rests on a fanatical belief in
standardized testing. Yet testing experts warn us that the tests
should be used for diagnostic purposes, not to fire teachers and
close schools. The basic rule of testing is that a test should be
used only for the purpose for which it was designed. A test of
fifth-grade reading tests whether students can read at a fifth-grade
level; it is not a test of teacher quality.”

The
problem with the Race to the Top and Cuomo's teacher evaluation push
is that it is not sound to evaluate a teacher based on how children
perform on tests. Some of you will argue that is exactly what a
teacher should be evaluated on, but think about the implications.
Even if teachers do all the right things, what about the students?
Some children do not care about education and some just have low
abilities. We can predict what will happen with these new
performance evaluations. Teachers who work at “low performing
schools” (city, poor) will appear to perform poorly, while teachers
in “high performing schools” (suburban, wealthy) will perform
well. If we switched teachers between these types of schools, what
would happen? Would those low performing schools turn around and
student scores rise to new heights, while the suburban schools would
crash?

Cuomo
is just breaking the unions. If he, or any politician was really
interested in reform, they would focus on the students. Make
education a privilege, not a right. Track students as they do in
other nations. If students are disruptive they they should be
removed. No alternative schools, no endless chances to mess up. If
students have really low ability levels, why pretend they can be
“college and career ready?” Give schools the power to focus on
students who want to learn and have the ability to learn. The result
will be lower cost and better student achievement.

Jan. 18 2012 08:33 PM
Jan Kasal

The 2% property tax cap and education are getting a lot of attention. As the state coffers are empty the politicians are coming up with various proposals and, depending on reactions, they evaluate which one could carry them to the next term or bury their chances for reelection.
The time will show. So far, the reactions on Long Island were rather mixed. Reading few articles revealed that some municipal boards promptly approved a decision that the 2% property tax cap wouldn't apply to them. The school districts are considering the options of budgeting within the 2% limit or trying to get an approval for a higher increase by 60% of voters. They started presenting their budgets in November in order to get a feedback from the community and choose the appropriate path to pass the budget in May.

Jan. 18 2012 05:58 PM

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