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Amid state budget negotiations, Fariña defends keeping teacher evaluations in-house

Chancellor Carmen Fariña talks to a teacher at the School of Integrated Learning in Brooklyn.
Chancellor Carmen Fariña talks to a teacher at the School of Integrated Learning in Brooklyn.
Stephanie Snyder

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s teacher evaluation overhaul that would rely on outside evaluators is just “another way to privatize education,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Tuesday.

“The accountability has to be with the people in the building who are most directly connected to the kids,” Fariña said in an interview on WCNY’s Capitol Pressroom. “We know we can do that.”

As the state budget negotiations move into their final week, Fariña is continuing to voice her opposition to many of the education-policy proposals that Cuomo wants to tie into the budget, including changes to teacher evaluation rules. Fariña was specifically criticizing a proposal that would require outside evaluators to weigh in on teacher performance, although they would not necessarily have to come from the private sector. That proposal would also increase the share of a teacher’s evaluation that comes from student performance on state tests.

“If all we do is testing, we’re going to have robot teachers and that’s the last thing I want,” Fariña said. No more than 35 percent of evaluations should be based on test scores, she said, citing the recent recommendations from the teacher advocacy group Educators 4 Excellence.

Instead, she said, the majority of the evaluation should focus on assessing whether a teacher is planning lessons, meeting with students, addressing individual needs, creating engaging lessons, interacting with parents, and sharing best practices with fellow teachers.

The education department is working to clearly explain to principals and superintendents what it means to be an “ineffective teacher” and that they “cannot remain in the system,” she added. (Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that his administration is cracking down on subpar teachers, pointing to a group of about 290 teachers who left the school system entirely between April 2014 and this February.)

“Some people need to be tripped up and fired,” Fariña said. “I want those people to leave even before we fire them, which we already see happening.”

Cuomo proposed offering merit-based bonuses of up to $20,000 to teachers with highly-effective ratings earned through his new system, something Fariña contrasted with the city’s own system of rewarding teachers with bonuses for agreeing to spend time sharing best practices with other educators.

And while specific changes to teacher evaluations are still being debated within the state budget process, some other high-profile fights, including how to extend mayoral control of the city’s schools and raising the state’s charter-school cap, may be decided later on, lawmakers and the governor’s office indicated Monday.

Fariña and de Blasio have been vocal in pushing for permanent mayoral control of city schools, which Cuomo only wants to extend for three years. The pair have also said they oppose raising the charter cap, with Fariña citing the state law passed during last year’s budget fight that now requires the city to provide new and expanding charter schools with space or additional funding.

“With our financial resources, space is a big issue in the city,” Fariña said. “We are working very well with the existing charter schools and I’d like to be able to make that even better. If we can get this done right with the numbers we have now, I think it bodes better for the future.”

But Fariña didn’t disagree with Cuomo on everything, and said she believes he will push for allocating the right amount of funding toward education in the budget.

“Any time you raise the dialogue and you talk about what happens in classrooms and you talk about the importance of education, I think that’s all good,” she said, adding, “I worked with his mother.”

“He comes from a family that I know values education,” she said.

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