Statement on Teacher Evaluations Included in the 2015 State Budget

My initial statement in response to the budget negotiated by the Governor, Assembly and Senate wasn't as clear as it should have been on teacher evaluations. First, it is important people understand some key elements. The bill that included the education budget and teacher evaluations was not a stand-alone bill. It also included ethics reform - reforms affecting attorneys in particular.  As a former teacher I fully understand the concerns that parents and teachers have voiced. As an attorney I believe the ethics reform provisions are critically important to restoring the public's trust, especially in the wake of cases we've seen of late. 

 

The Governor's proposal for teacher evaluations would have evaluations done by a commission that he would oversee and linked education funding to the passage of his entire education package - including for example, Education Investment Tax Credits for millionaire hedge funders. Under New York's constitution, the Governor has enormous powers - the budget must come from him, and the legislature has but two choices:  accept or reject.  A rejection would empower the Governor to enact his plan through a unilateral budget extender (essentially an Executive order that you can read more about in this article by Peter Goodman in "Ed in the Apple"), something my Assembly colleagues and I believed to be far worse.

 

For many reasons I've cited before, the Assembly Majority rejected the Governor's proposal in its Assembly one-house bill budget bill passed earlier in March. I have been very vocal in my belief that policy should not be embedded into the budget and that teacher evaluations should not include student test scores at all. Unfortunately, because of federal Race to the Top provisions, the legislature did so in 2011. That was not the linkage to which I referred and I should have been clearer. 

 

From joint Senate-Assembly conference committees and negotiations with the Governor emerged the plan included in the budget whereby school districts will still be responsible for conducting their own evaluations under parameters developed by the state Board of Regents. Senate Education Chair John Flanagan defended the provisions passed this past week acknowledging that it reduces the emphasis on testing.

 

Is this a perfect answer? No!  Is it the final answer? Not even close!  But in my view, neither the Governor nor the legislature should be picking teacher evaluation weights. That is why the Regents' involvement at this level is a better approach.

 

The budget is not and should not be the final word on this process, but rather one step towards providing our children with an education that helps all our students achieve their potential in an increasingly competitive world.