ALBANY—To hear many lawmakers tell it, the big education-related news after last week's budget agreement between Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature was the unprecedented role of state education officials in the implementation of a new teacher-evaluation system.
Evaluations would be left to the relatively apolitical professionals at the state Board of Regents and state education department. This would in turn address concerns—particularly among teachers—over the consequences of a grand bargain with Cuomo, who is pushing for more emphasis on testing and a more aggressive role for his office in setting school policy.
But that interpretation was premature, if not misleading: The ostensibly empowered education leaders don't know what power they'll have to influence the rating system, if they have any at all.
“We are going to look at the language very carefully and figure out what it all means,” Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch told Capital last week. “The governor says it’s administrative. The Legislature says it’s a vast level of authority. Somewhere between the two of those, I’m sure, lies reality.”
The budget, which included a new system for rating the performance of teachers and principals, does, in fact, task the state education commissioner with figuring out how to translate students’ scores on standardized tests into educators’ ratings on a scale of “ineffective,” “developing,” “effective” and ineffective”—a job the department is already doing under the current system. The law also directs the commissioner to determine how to weight the required and optional components of the rating system.
But how the two main measures of teacher performance, student test scores and classroom observations, are combined in order to yield an overall rating is strictly prescribed under the new state law. And in that regard, the claims by lawmakers, especially union-aligned Assembly Democrats, look like an attempt to distract from the more controversial aspects of the evaluation system that they had just affirmed.
The "Heavy Hearts Clubs" - Assembly Dems who passed the education bill with "heavy hearts" despite all the awful proposals in it - kept saying the Board of Regents and/or SED would have some say in how the evaluation system was developed.
But other than developing the growth scores for the testing component, developing the statewide "Student Learning Objectives" for teachers who don't teach subjects that end in state tests and figuring out how Cuomo's "matrix" comes together (test scores on one side, observations on the other), there isn't much either the Regents or SED can do to change the system according to the Bakeman article.
Perhaps that's just as well, considering the geniuses at the Board of Regents and SED were responsible for the miserable Common Core rollout that Cuomo himself criticized multiple times.
In any case, lawmakers were either misinformed or misinforming others when they made claims that the Regents and SED would have some latitude to develop the new evaluation system.
This system was developed by Cuomo's staff and it gives very little power to the Regents or SED to change much.
Cuomo won his budget battle over the evaluation system, that's for sure.
That said, he now will own this system, since his staff developed it and the Regents and SED have little say in changing it.
When it goes off the rails - and make no mistake, it will go off the rails sooner rather than later - Cuomo cannot come back and blame the Regents or SED for the problems.
Not that he won't try, but you can bet all the enemies he now has in Albany, from members of the legislature to members of the Board of Regents to SED, will push back and make him own it.
Certainly teachers and parents will.
Cuomo thinks he's very smart with how he played the budget, getting pretty much everything he wanted on education policy and sticking it to teachers and the teachers unions at the same time.
But he will come to rue to the day he got his way.
Every problem that arises because of this system will be his.
Every dollar that gets taken away from the classroom and put toward compliance will be because of him.
He will figure prominently in every future story that chronicles what a mess the new system is.
This is now the Andrew M. Cuomo teacher evaluation system through and through.