Students In New York, Prepare To Be Bored

School in New York is probably going to get a little more dull. Yesterday the United Federation of Teachers and Governor Cuomo struck a compromise on the issue of teacher evaluations that will probably mean less focus on creative assignments and more on standardized testing.

In a joint press conference, the UFT and Gov. Cuomo announced a system today in which “60 percent of a teacher's evaluation will be based on subjective classroom observations by the principal or other school officials, and up to 40 percent will be based on student scores on statewide standardized tests.”

This proposal comes from a good place, it's just is a bad policy for teachers in the end. This compromise is part of Gov. Cuomo’s fight to win New York $700 million in education money in the overly simplistic federal Race to the Top program, but misses the mark for reforming education in New York.

In this compromise too much of a teacher's evaluation based on test scores, warns Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education George H.W. Bush administration and appointee to the National Assessment Governing Board. She was quoted saying that the compromise means fewer "field trips, projects, music, whatever is not tested.”

Consider those teachers taking up the noble profession in an “underperforming” district. With 40% of the evaluation coming from their students’ performance, we’re making working in poorer school systems (especially those with students struggling with English) less appealing than ever.

Districts’ only alternative option to this requirement is to “base 20 percent of the score on state test results and the other 20 percent on exams developed by the districts or by a third party, provided that the exams are approved by the state.” This is a costly process for a school system at a time when districts face serious funding cuts and lower tax revenues. It remains to be seen whether achool administrators have the resources to create their own exams.

And those districts that want to refuse the requirements outright? Well, to be sure districts implement evaluations by January of 2013, Gov. Cuomo has warned that non-compliant schools risk not getting their share of an $805-million increase in school aid.

Effective evaluations would require the kind of money and manpower Americans can't or aren't willing to invest in education, at least during the Great Recession. Tested, nuanced evaluations like Small Group Instructional Diagnosis (SGID), require an objective evaluator and designated time for student group discussions about the teacher's impact on their understanding and enjoyment of the class. In an ideal world where we place real priority on education and don't just apply band-aids to the broken system, SGID and other options would be plausible.

Until that day comes, I have to agree with Ravitch's cynicism about the situation. As she put it, yesterday was “a dark day for education in New York," the consequences of which students and teachers may be feeling for a long time. 

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