In Classroom Accountability Battle, Cuomo Will Take the Unions to School

The teachers’ unions continue to resist the notion of accountability in the classroom, even as it becomes more and more clear that teacher performance is just as important as financial resources and parental involvement in creating a true learning environment in our public schools.

Earlier this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a series of proposals designed to foster a greater sense of accountability in the state’s schools. Test scores will now count for as much as 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation score, up from 20 percent.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other voices for education reform hailed the new formula as another step toward accountability in the classroom. Predictably, however, union leaders objected. Now they are threatening to sue the state in a sad effort to block the new evaluation scheme.

Mr. Cuomo basically has dared them to bring it on. During a recent radio interview, the governor said that he was going to “persevere” and that he intended to “accomplish the goal.”

“If there are lawsuits,” he continued, “there are going to be lawsuits and we’ll win the lawsuits and we’ll prevail.”

Make no mistake about it: those are fighting words, especially coming from a Democrat whose party traditionally is aligned with public employee unions. Mr. Cuomo has drawn a proverbial line in the sand. The unions will have to decide whether to cross it.

If the unions had any sense, they’d recognize just how bad they’ll look if they take this case to court. Imagine the fun Mr. Cuomo will have in portraying union leaders as obstacles to simple accountability, especially in failing classrooms around the state.

Mr. Cuomo is not alone in trying to figure out how and why New York spends more money per pupil than any other state–more than $18,000 per year–and yet ranks 39th in four-year high school graduation rates. That’s truly shocking–and infuriating.

Mr. Cuomo is right to be defiant and determined. But this issue goes beyond schools. States and municipalities throughout the country are re-examining the pension and benefits packages that are driving costs–and tax increases–from east to west, north to south. Reforms may have to be legislated rather than negotiated, simply because unions simply won’t recognize reality.

The road to genuine reform may wind up going through the courthouse. With any luck, governors and mayors will take a page from Mr. Cuomo: Don’t back down. Don’t panic in the face of a threat.

Instead, do the right thing and let the unions try to defend the indefensible. That’s a winning formula.