Who’s to blame for teacher evaluation delays?

The New York Post has joined the voices accusing the teachers union of risking $700 million in Race to the Top fund and blocking meaningful education reform.

In an editorial, the Post lays the blame squarely at the feet of New York State United Teachers. In my column Wednesday, I spelled out how Gov. Andrew Cuomo also had his role to play in prompting NYSUT’s lawsuit, which is causing confusion in districts that are on a timeline to implement the law.

The Post says NYSUT is opposed to “a meaningful teacher-evaluation system,” which is simply wrong. In fact, if you talk to researchers, you could argue that they’re the ones backing a system that would result in meaningful evaluations for teachers, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo argued last year for a system that could very well unfairly judge good teachers as ineffective.

The union sued the state (delaying RTTT reforms) because the regulations passed by the state education commissioner at the urging of Cuomo. They created a system in which up to 40 percent of a teachers evaluation could be determined by a state test.

When the Regents passed these regulations, 10 prominent education researchers wrote to the state  cautioning about putting too much emphasis on one test. They said (as much other research has shown) that there are still unknowns, margins of error and unsolved problems with assessing teachers using tests scores.

“… the research literature includes many cautions about the problems of basing teacher evaluations on student test scores. These include problems of attributing student gains to specific teachers; concerns about overemphasis on “teaching to the test” at the expense of other kinds of learning; and disincentives for teachers to serve high-need students, for example, those who do not yet speak English and those who have special education needs.”

Basically allowing up to 40 percent of an evaluation to be based on a test could result in the inappropriate firing of good teachers, which would be bad for kids.

Cuomo is sure to keep repeating his assertion that the unions are the problem. And, the unions will say they are fighting for a research-based solution that will improve our schools. Of course, in this case, that solution also happens to help teachers keep their jobs.

A judge, for one, agreed with NYSUT, saying that the regulations were not in keeping with the 2010 law.  As NYSUT pointed out this week, education commissioner John King’s could negotiating a settlement to the suit but is instead appealing.

King does believes in multiple-measures of evaluation (meaning not just relying on test scores). As he told me in an interview, “I think the research community, if one looks at the broader body of research, there’s very strong evidence that measures of student success are a very useful component of a multiple measures evaluation system.”

I urged in my column a spirit of collaboration in resolving this issue, but it seems that for now the blame game is continuing.

(For anyone interested in knowing more about the Post’s accusations about the Alliance for Quality Education: NYSUT does financially back AQE, but its director and NYSUT have always maintained that the two are separate organizations. The organizations cross-streams on some policy issues, especially when it comes to more funding for public schools. In early 2011 NYSUT paid about 3/4 of AQE’s lobbying fees, according to a Times Union article. Easton told the paper that overall, including other activities, NYSUT contributes less than half of his budget, and AQE’s biggest donor is the Schott Foundation.)



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