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Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a press conference in 2014.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a press conference in 2014.

New York to give $5,000 awards to teachers who get students excited about learning

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is using a different type of tool to promote good teachers: Carrots, not sticks.

The Empire State Excellence in Teaching Program aims to reward teachers who “foster creativity, instill a love of learning, and inspire independent thinking and student initiative,” according to an announcement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office Monday. Teachers who are selected will get $5,000 to spend on helping themselves improve.

The prize’s creation reflects Cuomo’s lighter approach to improving teacher quality across the state. For years, he fought to make the state’s teacher evaluations tougher, to increase the role of test scores in rating teachers, and to see more teachers with low scores fired.

But those efforts only ever partially paid off and more recently have been rolled back in some ways. Lawmakers temporarily disconnected teacher ratings from student test scores this year, and education policy makers have said they will launch a review of the Common Core, the learning standards that the state adopted at the same time as it changed evaluations. Rather than fight the shift, Cuomo has largely directed his attention away from education issues.

Now, leaders of city and state teachers unions will help decide who wins the awards, which will go to teachers across the state. The application asks teachers how they will empower students and inspire creative thinking — traits that standardized tests are criticized for ignoring. And rather than being limited only to top-rated educators, the prize is open to all teachers who can certify that they did not receive an “ineffective,” the state’s lowest ranking, on their most recent evaluation.

“New York State has thousands of excellent teachers who prepare our students for the future and help them reach their full potential,” Cuomo said in the statement. “This new program will recognize our most outstanding educators, while supporting their professional growth.”

New York City launched a similar program, the Big Apple Awards, in 2013, soon after then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg angered teachers by proposing to give bonuses to teachers with high ratings on their state evaluations.

Members of the public can nominate teachers for the new state award, or teachers can nominate themselves.