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Cuomo's vow on teacher evals prompts flip-flop charge

UFT head Michael Mulgrew
UFT head Michael Mulgrew
Geoff Decker

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent statements that he wants to toughen up the state’s teacher evaluation system prompted confusion and anger from his critics on Tuesday.

In remarks to the New York Daily News’ editorial board, Cuomo said that he wanted to see more rigorous evaluations as he worked to dismantle the “monopoly” of public education — just months after striking a more conciliatory tone and agreeing to minimize consequences for teachers as they face the first rounds of the state’s new evaluation system. And he said he expected to battle teachers unions in the process.

“The teachers don’t want to do the evaluations and they don’t want to do rigorous evaluations — I get it,” Cuomo told the News. “I feel exactly opposite.”

Teachers statewide have protested that the use of students’ scores on new, tougher state tests in the evaluations made them an unfair measurement. Cuomo long resisted that idea, but relented in a June deal with union leaders that would remove student scores from the evaluations in cases where they led to low ratings.

“Clearly the governor seems to have problems with the law that he passed,” United Federation of Teachers chief Michael Mulgrew said on Tuesday. “Maybe he shouldn’t have supported the law he passed.” (Though Cuomo publicly supported a changes to the evaluation law, he has yet to sign the legislation, according to the State Education Department.)

Those changes he agreed to would protect many low-rated teachers from being fired or denied tenure because of their evaluations for two years — concessions critics saw as weakening the evaluation system. At the time, Cuomo defended the deal as a stopgap necessary because of a “flawed” rollout of the Common Core standards, which had been incorporated into the new state tests.

“People’s lives are being judged by this instrument,” Cuomo said in June, “so you want the instrument in the evaluation to be correct.”

A spokesperson for Cuomo did not respond to questions seeking clarification about his comments or about the evaluation bill.

Cuomo’s tougher stance comes a week after debuting a television campaign ad in which he touted the legislature’s decision to not use Common Core state test scores against students for at least five years. The ad’s tone is the opposite of Cuomo’s evaluation remarks, and it was seen as an appeal to parents who have criticized the state’s rollout of Common Core standards as happening too quickly and without enough teacher preparation.

Still, Cuomo’s comments are in line with his stance when he first ran for governor in 2010 as an outspoken charter-school supporter and was closely aligned with groups like Democrats for Education Reform, which named him to its candidate “Hot List” for that year’s election. During his first term, Cuomo also clashed with teachers unions by pushing for implementation of new teacher evaluation systems and providing city charter schools with facilities funding.

Union leaders and educators from around the state also pounced on Cuomo for his remarks deriding the unions and promoting charter schools. Randi Weingarten, head of the national American Federation of Teachers, said that looking at public education as a “monopoly” was “disappointing.”

“I don’t know why he said it,” she said.

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