After a little push -- more like a lot of coercion -- from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, nearly every school district in the state, with the notable exception of the largest, New York City, now has a teacher and principal evaluation system in place. Although the wide variations in those plans is cause for concern, basing teacher ratings on a combination of state and local test scores (40 percent) and classroom observation and other subjective measures (60 percent) seems about as fair as you can get it. And the goals -- holding teachers accountable, helping them improve, and making it easier to get rid of bad or lazy ones -- are worthy.
Although the state Education Department had been advocating for such a system, it wasn't going to happen without involvement by the governor's office and Legislature.
The opportunity for that came in 2010, when New York state faced a deadline to apply for $700 million in federal Race to the Top money, a condition of which was a teacher evaluation system based to some extent on student test scores. The Legislature and teachers union agreed at the last minute, with the provision that the specifics would be negotiated at the local level by the union and school district.
But then it still wasn't happening -- i.e. few districts had developed a system and submitted it to State Ed for approval -- until Cuomo last year gave them his own deadline, of January 17 this year -- to reach an agreement or lose their state aid increase. Many, including in the Capital Region, waited until the last minute, but eventually got it done.
New York City did not, because Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has tried hard to shake up the educational establishment there, and union could not agree on the appeals process for a teacher challenging a bad rating. As a result, it forfeited $250 million in state aid.
This in a school district desperate for money. A district that in the past has paid hundreds of teachers at a time to stay in "rubber rooms" because it didn't want them in the classroom but, because of union protections, couldn't get rid of them. A district where, in 2005-06, only 1 percent of teachers got an "unsatisfactory" ranking (a percentage that is typical for school districts around the state). Any system is going to be better than that.