Last week, New York's teachers and political leaders were praising the stimulus package as manna from heaven. With an expected $4.8 billion for New York State over the next two years, this money would go a long way toward preventing devastating cuts to school districts, including the elimination of up to 15,000 teaching jobs in New York City alone.
But the federal money has a few strings attached - some of which could put New York's Democratic leadership in the awkward position of having to confront a key constituency: the teachers unions.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, $40 billion in stabilization funds which will be given out to states "in exchange for a commitment to begin advancing education reforms." These include measuring teacher effectiveness and creating data systems for tracking student achievement. Teachers unions, however, are wary about defining an "effective teacher" based on student achievement scores because they think it's too simplistic and doesn't capture the complexities of individual classrooms and schools. New York City's United Federation of Teachers even persuaded Albany last year to enact legislation preventing Chancellor Joel Klein from tying teacher tenure to student performance.
This morning, in an interview with WNYC's Brian Lehrer, Governor Paterson appeared to side with the unions.
"How would you assess a teacher who could go into a very difficult school and does a good job bringing a class up to, say, state average on standardized tests and then a teacher that's a little lazy in an affluent community, where all the other teachers are doing well, [and] benefits from the location?"
Nonetheless, Paterson said he would comply with whatever the federal government requests.