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President's Perspective

Cuomo's out of touch

New York Teacher

Gov. Cuomo, what are you so afraid of?

Is it the research that shows that, under your watch, inequality between school districts has reached record levels? The proven fact that high-stakes testing, merit pay and other warmed-over Bloomberg-era “reforms” you so eagerly push have failed miserably? Or maybe you’re afraid of the hedge-fund managers and corporate interests whose donations fill your campaign coffers —and what they’ll do if you stand up to them and implement an education agenda that actually supports students and schools?

Hundreds of teachers across the city and state have invited you to visit their classrooms to see how education works on the ground and what our kids need in order to succeed. You haven’t responded. Apparently you’re afraid of teachers, too.

But if you weren’t — if you were willing to actually talk to real, live teachers in their classrooms — you would learn a lot from them. You would learn that it is poverty and inequality and lack of funding, not “failing schools” or “bad teachers,” that are at the root of our education system’s struggles.

You would learn the impact of overcrowded classes, lack of supplies and too few supports for teachers and struggling students.

You would learn that high-stakes testing forces teachers to “teach to the test” — which doesn’t teach our kids much of anything at all.

And you would learn that teachers are motivated by seeing their students succeed, not by corporate bonus-style “merit pay.”

The fact is that your education agenda isn’t about education at all — it is political payback. You’re angry that New York’s teachers didn’t support your re-election bid. But who are you really punishing when you push failed ideas on our schools? It’s not teachers. An entire generation of our state’s children will suffer if you have your way.

You’re using the old Bloomberg corporate handbook: anti-teacher and anti-union. It’s no surprise. The same hedge-funders that worked with our former mayor were your largest campaign donors. But working with parents and the community, we beat Bloomberg when he tried to force these ideas on our schools and working with parents and the community, we will beat you, too.

Let’s look at some of your actual proposals. Most of them are half-baked at best.

You want to extend teachers’ probation from three to five years, but you have no plan to help support them during this period. You want “failing” schools to be taken over by outside agencies, which would have the power to abrogate contracts and fire entire staffs, but you don’t have a plan to support these schools either.

You acknowledge that charter schools don’t accept enough English language learners and special-needs students, yet you want to increase the cap on the number of charters in the state without requiring them to first follow the law.

Likewise, didn’t you say just last year that teachers shouldn’t be penalized for students’ scores on state exams because of the flawed rollout of the Common Core. Yet, without doing anything to fix Common Core except pass the blame, you are now proposing that 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations be based on results from those same exams.

Most teachers don’t even work in grades or subjects that are covered by a state exam, which means they will be evaluated based on student work they had no hand in. For those who do, basing 50 percent of evaluations on state test scores will force them to spend 100 percent of their time on test prep.

You’re out of touch, governor: The rest of the country is moving away from high-stakes tests for students and teachers. Even Texas, the home of the high-stakes test, is considering basing only 20 percent of teachers’ evaluations on student scores.

Like Bloomberg before you, you’re pushing for a gotcha-style evaluation system that you say will weed out “bad teachers” rather than proposing a system that will help all teachers hone their craft.

Another memo you missed: Individual merit pay has been tried — and it has failed everywhere. As for due process, which you want to gut, it is a core American value. Yet you want to deny teachers the right to defend themselves if they are brought up on charges.

What you don’t understand is that it is precisely these kinds of anti-teacher schemes that drive promising young educators — the same talented young people you spoke about recruiting in your State of the State speech — out of our profession.

You like to talk about how much you love teachers, but there wasn’t very much love for us in that speech. Your disdain for the work that we do dripped from every word you spoke about education. Sitting in the audience, I couldn’t help but feel I’d gone through a time warp back to the Bloomberg years. It’s the same old song and dance: Blame the teachers.

As historian of education Diane Ravitch has said, “You don’t improve education by demoralizing the people who have to do the work.”

Governor, classroom doors across the city and state are open to you. It seems like you could use a trip back to school. Why not make a visit?

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