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Cuomo Urges Districts and Unions to Compromise on Evaluations

Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - 06:39 PM

On Monday, the United States Education Department put New York State on notice for failing to reach some of the goals it set in its application for the federal Race to the Top education program. On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo narrowed the target, laying the blame squarely on school districts and teachers’ unions for failing to compromise.

The sides have not yet agreed on the parameters of an evaluation system that the state promised to adopt, potentially jeopardizing the roughly $700 million it was awarded through the program.

In a blistering statement, Mr. Cuomo urged both sides to “expedite their negotiations,” saying, “The forces that protect this bureaucracy have stymied reform at every turn, and as a result, hundreds of millions of dollars in education funding are now at risk.”

That, Mr. Cuomo said, is his short-term plan. In the long term, he vowed to reform “this failed system,” threatening to strip power from the unions, which he said the Legislature had worked to protect.

“Despite the powerful interests working to protect the same status quo at the expense of our students’ success,” Mr. Cuomo said, “this state must become a national leader in student performance.”

Federal education officials told New York on Monday to do just that or risk losing its financing. But devising an evaluation system agreeable to unions representing teachers and principals in more than 700 school districts has presented a challenge.

Last week, the state’s education commissioner, John B. King Jr., stopped payments on a smaller pot of federal school aid, directed at struggling schools in New York City and nine other districts in the state, because they were unable to put an evaluation system in place before a Dec. 31 deadline.

On Tuesday, during a visit to Public School 130 in Chinatown, the city’s schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, said money alone was not enough of a reason to override his objections to the teachers’ union’s demands.

“I will not set bad public policy just for dollars,” Mr. Walcott said.

The city stands to lose almost $60 million in aid for 33 failing schools, which are meant to use the money — known as school-improvement grants — to improve their graduation rates and standardized test scores.

The state’s goals for Race to the Top are broader: in addition to the evaluation system, the state has committed to creating a database to track student records across all its school districts, rolling out an ambitious new curriculum by 2014 at all its schools, and toughening its high school graduation requirements.

There is still a lot of work ahead, according to the federal government’s assessment, and the unions are not alone in pushing back on the evaluations. More than 1,000 principals statewide have signed a petition opposing them. The principal at P.S. 130, Lily Din Woo, has not signed, but she has said she does not agree with how much weight the evaluations will give to standardized test scores.

“There is a lot more that happens in a classroom that makes a kid successful than test scores,” she said.

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