New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has stunned the state’s teaching establishment by vetoing a bill he introduced that would have protected them from the consequences of poor teacher evaluations for two years.
Earlier this year, New York introduced new, more challenging standardized tests aligned with the new Common Core multistate education standards. The tougher tests resulted in an abrupt drop to student test scores, leading teachers to complain that the state’s teacher evaluation system would unfairly punish them for doing badly on tests they hadn’t been sufficiently prepared for.
The vetoed bill would have established a “safety net” against this by delaying the use of Common Core test scores in teacher evaluations for two years.
The veto is a huge surprise, because Cuomo’s own administration drafted the bill in question last summer, shepherded it through the legislature and doubled down by running ads touting it during his re-election campaign.
Now, the governor is admitting the concession was a mistake. Cuomo says the change of heart was prompted by the most recent wave of teacher evaluations, released just two weeks ago, which found that despite the test score drop virtually every teacher in the state was either “high effective” or “effective” in the classroom, while less than one percent of teachers were rated as “ineffective.”
Only about a third of New York students, in comparison, are testing at proficiency or higher on state tests of math and reading skills. Such a disparity, Cuomo argued in a statement, shows the need for tougher rather than more lenient teacher evaluations.
“Given what we know now, it would make no sense to sign this bill and further inflate these already inflated ratings,” said Cuomo. Instead the governor said that in 2015 he will propose “comprehensive reforms” to the state’s evaluation system to make it more genuinely capable of differentiating effective and ineffective teachers.
The New York State United Teachers, meanwhile, released a statement suggesting Cuomo had given in to pressure from wealthy donors — or had simply planned to betray them all along.
“The governor reneged on an agreement,” the group’s statement said. “We can’t understand why he is refusing to sign his own bill. What has changed? Could it be that the governor is doing the bidding of billionaire hedge fund managers?”
The United Teachers are organizing an impromptu protest outside the governor’s mansion for New Years Eve, which will coincide with the governor’s annual open house and demand that Cuomo refrain from policies “designed to dismantle public education.”
This is hardly Cuomo’s first clash with the state’s large and powerful unionized teacher corps, which has been frosty thanks to differences like his strong support for charter schools. As a result, even after last summer’s concession the state’s teacher unions refused to endorse his reelection during the Democratic primary and many instead backed challenger Zephyr Teachout. Having handily won reelection even without full teacher support, Cuomo’s deletion of his own compromise may be a sign he sees little need for further cooperation with what has long been a bulwark of the state’s Democratic machine.
While the bill is in itself relatively minor as far as policy implications go, the veto is yet another sign of the declining clout teachers unions hold in the Democratic Party. Solidly blue politicians like Cuomo and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are increasingly choosing to directly defy teacher union demands in order to take reformist and more budget-friendly positions on education, confident that such positions will have little impact on their electoral success.
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