Lt. Governor touts proposed changes to teacher evaluations

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday touted Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to reign in teacher evaluations with a greater focus on standardized test scores — a suggestion that drew the ire of schools, unions and lawmakers — saying the state needs more objective metrics to identify failing schools and teachers.

Hochul, who sat down with Blank Slate Media, joined Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ticket in his re-election bid last year, replacing former Lt. Governor Bob Duffy.

She had served in Congress between 2011 and 2013, winning a heavily Republican district in upstate Erie County.

Leading up to the passage of the state budget earlier this month, Cuomo had called for significant changes to teacher evaluations, including reducing the importance of evaluations by district administrators and increasing test scores’ importance to comprise 50 percent of the evaluation.

“About 60 percent of [a teacher’s evaluation] was based on observations from people in the same school district where teachers work, so you don’t really have a lot of objectivity there,” Hochul said. “Using standards that were really advocated by the teachers…you have the people being evaluated coming up with the criteria for evaluation. I’m not sure of any other industries where that would be acceptable.”

Cuomo’s proposal led to backlash from the Legislature, school officials and parents, and Cuomo instead agreed to defer to the chancellor of education to recommend new criteria for the evaluations, Hochul said.  

“He understood and heard from a lot of school superintendents, teachers and parents and has now asked the chancellor of education to come up with a new standard of recommendations by June 1,” she said. “I think that shows the governor was listening.”

Though New York spends 84 percent more on education than the national average, test scores do not reflect the state’s increased financial commitment, signifying the need for change, Hochul said.

“I remember a time when I was younger, when New York was No. 1 for education. Now you see the scores, we’re in the middle of the pack,” she said. “As a state we are far exceeding the national average [in spending], but our outcomes statewide are nowhere where they should be. And that’s why the governor has said we should take a transformational look at how we deliver education in the state.”

She said standardized test scores remain the best and most objective barometer to measure a school and teacher’s performance.  

“What are the alternatives?” she asked. “I do think these tests are snapshots in time that give us an assessment of where a school is. I’m not sure there’s a lot of ways other than to give a test.”

And while the tests would have a greater impact on a teacher’s evaluation, the tests themselves would not change drastically, she said.

“We are still talking about the same type of test and introducing the Common Core elements,” Hochul said. “These are the same tests my kids took — the third and eighth grade assessments — back when my kids were in school. The only difference now is that it ties closer to the teacher’s evaluation.”

She added that evaluations by professionals, particularly by persons not employed by the same school district as the teacher, would supplement test scores in determining a teacher’s effectiveness.

“You need professionals to look at teaching style, and this is where the best teachers are going to rise and shine,” she said. “They’re going to absolutely shine when somebody observes them, somebody that’s not familiar with their work that’s from a neighboring district comes in and has a chance to see them personally.”

During budget negotiations, Cuomo had initially tied a large increase in state aid for school districts to the passage of his education reform policies by the legislature. Many school officials in the area accused Cuomo of holding the districts hostage as they worked to develop their budget proposal without projections of state aid figures.

“It’s negotiations,” Hochul said of Cuomo’s decision. “All I know is that there was plans to have a 1.7 percent increase if there were not going to be any reforms enacted. That’s why this got very dicey towards the end.”

The governor and legislature agreed on a 6.1 percent increase in state aid following concessions by both sides.

“The governor has capped state spending at 2 percent despite the fact that the largest element of our budget went up by 6.1 percent, so that means he is managing the state very fiscally responsible,” she said of the budget as a whole.  

In the final minutes of the interview, Hochul touched on the governor’s proposed ethics reform, including more stringent requirements for lawmakers to disclose outside income and law clients with business before the state.

“If the governor operated by himself he would have been able to accomplish a lot more, but he also realizes that when you’re asking an institution to basically take something against their self-interest… it’s a tough nut to crack,” Hochul said. “The governor would love to see it all done yesterday.”

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has been investigating the governor for the abrupt shutdown last year of the Moreland Commission Cuomo created to look into public corruption. The New York Times reported Cuomo tampered with the commission to protect donors and political allies.

Cuomo denied any wrongdoing and said it was his commission, giving him the authority to shut it down.  

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James Galloway

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