It took long enough, but in the end, New York’s public school students won an important victory last week when the teachers union and Governor Cuomo came to an agreement on a new teacher-evaluation system.
The most immediate benefit is easy to measure: With an evaluation system in place, the state moved closer to qualifying for $700 million in federal aid through President Obama’s “Race to the Top” funding mechanism. The feds were threatening to withhold the money if New York did not implement a required evaluation system. While the state still may have to clear up other issues before qualifying for the aid, it’s clear that the evaluation system is a major step in the race to the top.
This agreement, while not perfect, also has long-term benefits that will not be measured in terms of dollars, but in terms of better, more motivated teachers, improved lesson plans, and, in the end, better educated public school students. Teachers will be evaluated based on a combination of standardized test scores and classroom observations. New York City teachers who are judged to be ineffective will have the chance to appeal their evaluation and will have a chance to develop a plan to improve their performance.
The agreement also streamlines the dismissal process, allowing the city to move quicker to rid classrooms of ineffective teachers. That, ultimately, is the best result of this historic and welcome agreement.
While Mr. Cuomo received, and deserves, the lion’s share of praise for getting this deal done, it’s important to remember that Mayor Bloomberg has been demanding an effective evaluation system for years. He was not present when the agreement was announced, and the teachers union made a point of praising the governor without mentioning the mayor, but Mr. Bloomberg’s influence and persistence on this issue helped make it happen.
The teachers union wisely chose to negotiate with Mr. Cuomo rather than remain an obstacle to change. In a sense, the union had no choice: The governor said he would impose an evaluation system on his own if the union didn’t give in. Regrettably, it takes that kind of threat to get the union’s attention on matters of urgent reform.
Still, the deal was done, and New York is all the better for it. Union leaders have to realize that the worst thing they can do is support incompetence or ineffectiveness in the classroom. If the union is perceived as the protector of failure, it will continue to be a symbol of flawed education policy in New York.
Mr. Cuomo’s aggressive leadership sealed the deal on this agreement, but it’s important to note, too, that he chose to negotiate privately and patiently rather than fight this battle in public. Across the Hudson, Governor Christie has made a point of challenging New Jersey’s teachers union, but his bellicose style has become as much of an obstacle to change as the union’s short-sightedness.
So kudos to Mr. Cuomo for tackling the issue, and to the union for recognizing the need for effective evaluation.