After defeating Republican candidate Rob Astorino last November, Andrew Cuomo entered his second term as governor. Arguably, Cuomo’s fiercest competition did not come from Astorino, but from the little-known Fordham Associate Law Professor Zephyr Teachout.
During her primary run, Teachout received support from anti-fracking organizations and developed close ties to educational groups throughout the state. Despite her respectable turnout, Teachout lost the Democratic nomination. Her strong showing in the primary, however, showed how ineffective Cuomo has been on many issues, including addressing concerns within the education system.
Since re-election, Cuomo has almost made an act of war on the teachers of New York. His statements that it is too difficult to fire “bad teachers” as well as his suggestions on how to fix this problem have upset many. To remedy the problem of ineffective teachers in the classroom, Cuomo wants to revamp teacher evaluations, focusing more on test scores and less on in-class observations than before. Evaluations would be based on 50 percent in-class observation, and 50 percent state test scores. In-class observations would require an impartial educator, such as a SUNY professor or a teacher from another school district, to sit in during a typical school day. And if a teacher did not meet expectations for test scores or observations, he or she would be considered “ineffective” and would face the possibility of termination.
A Junior Education Major and Economics Minor, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that he understands why standardized tests are needed, but he thinks the format should be revised. “I don’t like that there’s more emphasis on state testing. If you know your job is on the line because of evaluations based 50 percent on test results, you teach kids just to pass the test and it takes away from the in-class experience.”
Another thing, he added, is that test scores don’t account for the makeup of a classroom. “If you have a class of students who have diverse needs, like ADD or ADHA, it can be hard to teach effectively and still meet standardized test requirements.”
Senior Charles Remillard, a Secondary Education major agreed. “It makes it very difficult as a future educator to deal with the many different constraints and changing guidelines occurring within state legislature. What is really bad about the legislation is that 50 percent of evaluations are based on state test results. There are so many different factors that go into determining how well a student performs on standardized tests.”
Cuomo felt changes were necessary because of what he considers falling standards in the state educational system, a system he believes has failed over 250,000 students. Cuomo has also gone so far in recent weeks to say that teachers and their unions are selfish, and that they are doing little to represent students.
Cuomo reportedly disagreed with a union member who claimed that they represent the kids, and said “You represent the teachers. Teacher salaries, teacher pensions, teacher tenure, teacher vacation rights. I respect that. But don’t say you represent the students.”
Although updates may be needed inside schools, many think that more rigorous evaluations are not the answer. One way to improve the classroom could be the opportunity for teaching workshops, where teachers could develop new and more effective skills. “A continuing education program would allow teachers to find new methods for teaching and better themselves for their students’ benefit,” says Remillard.