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Cuomo says state's teacher evaluation law was "destined to fail"

Gov. Andrew Cuomo turned up his rhetoric against teachers unions today, charging that their influence made the state’s teacher evaluation law “destined to fail.”

Cuomo was responding to the Obama administration’s warning that New York could lose hundreds of millions of federal dollars if it does not speed up reforms that include overhauling how teachers are rated.

In 2010, with the deadline to apply for federal Race to the Top funds looming, legislators passed a law requiring districts to negotiate more sophisticated evaluations. That law was key to helping the state secure $700 million in the funding competition, and it is that law that the Obama administration now wants to see in effect.

But a requirement that districts negotiate some details with their local unions has hampered implementation, including in New York City.

Speaking several days after negotiations in several districts fell apart, Cuomo said in his State of the State address last week that the state’s teacher evaluation law “didn’t work.” Today, he took that characterization even further, suggesting that legislators had been excessively influenced by teachers unions and arguing that a different law is needed.

“Over the long term, we need to overhaul the system and change the law on the books,” he added. “The Assembly-led legislation in 2010 protected the teachers union at the expense of the students and instituted a system that was destined to fail.”

The Assembly is generally seen as more sympathetic to union interests than the State Senate.

The state teachers union said in a press release that it “respectfully disagreed” with Cuomo’s characterization.

“This legislation was not designed to protect unions but, in fact, was jointly supported by NYSUT and the State Education Department and had strong bi-partisan support in the Assembly and Senate,” NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi said in a statement.

“We share the governor’s frustration with implementation. However, the failure lies not with the law, or with teachers and local school districts, but with the State Education Department’s lack of capacity to provide what’s needed to move implementation forward,” Iannuzzi added.

Today was not the first time that Cuomo indicated he thought the state’s teacher evaluation requirements could be tougher. Last year, he pushed for a policy change to let districts double the weight of test scores in the new evaluations. NYSUT sued over the change, and a judge ruled that districts should be permitted to count test scores more only if their unions agree.

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