Dear Members of the Assembly who Voted for the Budget:
I am a life-long New York State educator. I have taught and have been the superintendent of school districts in urban, rural and suburban settings. I am currently in the Fairport Central Schools. Your vote for this budget language is the death of anything resembling a comprehensive, just and fair educational system in this state. I have read the language for teacher evaluation (Given the Message of Necessity, it is highly unlikely that you read the bill given its girth). It is myopic and will not ever come close to measuring the quality of a teacher. It is abusive, vindictive and serves no educational purpose. The American Statistical Association, the American Education and Research Association and two major studies (Rothstein, 2012, 2013) have demonstrated beyond any doubt that the system that New York uses and the one you have just approved are fatally flawed, do not and cannot work.
As you may have gathered by the responses you are receiving via phone calls, social media and e-mails, no one thinks this is a good idea except those of you who voted for it on the floor. This legislation is demoralizing and punitive to the people who care for and love our children every single day. Not only will the evaluation system fail miserably, but it is having a chilling effect on the entire profession. In conversations with two local colleges that certify teachers, it has been made clear that new candidates for the profession are dwindling. The University of Rochester currently has NO new candidates. Nazareth College has nine (9). This legislation puts the current fiasco of an evaluation system on steroids, subsequently further destroying any future teaching prospects.
Yesterday's column in the Albany Times-Union by LeBrun very succinctly defines the damage you have done. The use of "he" refers to the governor. You all endorsed this plan, so replace "he" with "you:"
"If it can be considered an accomplishment, he has succeeded in beating up even more on teachers, his perennial punching bag. No matter what he claims, he is encouraging more standardized testing, the juice that will be driving his newest iteration of teacher evaluations once the State Education Department and Regents get around to codifying the terms.
Too much testing is already driving students, parents and educators crazy. Odds are that there will be increased pushback from school districts, the teachers' union, parents and, at some point, legislators whose jobs will be on the line. School boards will be caught between rebelling parents and teachers and the threat of greatly diminished state aid, not to mention a tax cap that limits how much revenue can be raised locally.
In all, it is a bleak formula for creating a nurturing environment for education, with no relief in sight.
What is especially problematic is the effect Cuomo's cockamamie newest teacher evaluation plan will have on good teachers in so-called failing schools. What teacher in his or her right mind will now gamble a career on the outcome of tests given to chronically low performing students? Or on the observations of an outside evaluator who may know nothing of the challenges in that particular classroom? Equating student accomplishment with teaching ability is universally absurd because many factors contribute to how a student performs, with few of them under the teacher's control.
But that one-to-one, cause-and-effect formula the governor says exists falls apart in schools where poverty reigns, where the definition of a good teacher is probably quite different from that in a high-performing suburban school. Bottom line: troubled schools are least reliably served by standardized tests measuring student accomplishment and teaching ability.
Yet they are the very schools critics like Cuomo and his billionaire charter school buddies insist will be best served by his brand of tough love on teachers. All the while the governor has underfunded these schools more than those that perform adequately or better.
Now, there's the stuff of a Cuomo education legacy. He's become our No. 1 governor for shortchanging so-called failing schools in financial aid even with a court order hanging over the state's head to fork it over.
Cuomo's high-flying legislative ethics package, no doubt designed to impress federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, falls so far short of anything significant that it's hardly worth discussing.
The dumbest lawyer in the Legislature can see the loopholes. Let's just wait until the next legislator is indicted and then we can pick up the thread of what promises to be an eternal quest.
There's lots of legislative session left, and I suspect we have not heard the last of the governor's recently enacted education reforms. I'm told that many legislators did not have the details of what they passed, relying on talking points they were given by the leadership that proved less than accurate. Once again, rank and file legislators were largely excluded from any meaningful role in the process and had only a few hours to look at a stack of bills in that bleary closing session last Tuesday and early Wednesday morning. Once again the governor abused a message of necessity to get around a three-day aging of bills, denying proper scrutiny."
We all hoped that the Assembly would have had a backbone and stood tall against the governor's tyranny. Instead you collapsed and approved tax breaks for yachts and planes. Instead you approved $400,000 for Dean Skellos' pet projects. Instead, you chose money over common sense. Our children will suffer as a result of this legislation. No doubt our teachers and the entire public institution of education will be crushed, but our children will be collateral damage. The purposes of public education are to make good people, to make good citizens and to find and nurture the unique talents and skills of the individual learner. This legislation violates these three principles by ignoring them completely.
We are voters and we will remember each November.
William C. Cala Ed.D.
Superintendent, Fairport Central Schools