Fight Continues in New York Over Teacher Evaluations

High-profile New York politicians are pointing fingers at each other after the City of New York missed a January 17 deadline for creating a teacher evaluation program. The New York Times reports that Governor Andrew Cuomo is threatening to settle the dispute by imposing a solution on the city.

Earlier in the week, New York Mayor Bloomberg went to Albany to complain about the process. Noting that 99% of the other school districts in the state had found a way to comply, he explained that they did it by making “sham” evaluations. Neglecting the real issue of improving teacher performance, they had merely come up with paper solutions in order to get the promised state money.

New York City, locked in a stalemate with the United Federation of Teachers, is slated to lose $250 million in state money that would have been awarded if they had created an evaluation process in time. Bloomberg pointed the finger at the union, saying that the union had no incentive to evaluate its members.

New York’s dilemma is part of the nationwide “Race to the Top” program, in which states were challenged to come up with their own unique solutions to how teachers should be evaluated. Some states have already begun to implement programs, while others are still in early stages. Federal money will be allocated to states as they create programs that comply with the federal goals. New York has $700 million in federal money set aside for districts as they comply.

New York chose to leave the details to each district instead of working out a single statewide solution:

A 2010 state law created the outline for a new system, one based on students’ test scores, classroom observations by principals and other measures, with the details to be negotiated by each school district and its teachers’ union. Virtually all of the 691 districts reached an agreement, but New York City did not, mainly because of a dispute over whether the agreement should be allowed to expire in two years, as the union had wanted, or continue indefinitely, as the Bloomberg administration had desired.

As the Mayor and the UFT wrangle over who’s more to blame, the union welcomed the governor’s entrance into the controversy:

“I welcome Governor Cuomo’s involvement, and while we would prefer a negotiated settlement, it’s good to know that should the talks fail again, people who actually understand education will be part of the decision making process,” said Michael Mulgrew, the union’s president, in a statement. “Parents need to know that, thanks to the governor and the legislative leaders, there will be no further risk of the loss of state money for our schools.”

Cuomo has not provided any details of the type of solution the state could impose. At a press conference January 30, he simply said that the state will have to step in and put an end to the stalemate if it goes on. The stakes are too high for the school children whose facilities will lose money.

City officials said the loss of state aid could force them to eliminate hundreds of teaching positions through attrition and cut extracurricular activities and after-school programs.

Mayor Bloomberg’s office was less enthusiastic, and greeted the governor’s comments with silence. Cuomo’s suggestion received bipartisan support, as Democratic Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver and Republican Senate leader Dean Skelos both indicated approval. The plan would require a new law to create state authority to take over the city’s negotiation process and impose a teacher evaluation plan.