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For a reality check, let us recall the advent three years ago of a new statewide teacher-evaluation system.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's statement, still accessible on the state's website, hailed agreed-to changes as "groundbreaking" and said it would make the state "a national leader in holding teachers accountable for student achievement."
This happy document was dated Feb. 26, 2012, with supportive quotes from then-state Education Commissioner John King and then-New York State United Teachers president Richard C. Iannuzzi.
But the unions effectively gamed that system, Cuomo and company would later say, thus rendering most evaluations too routinely positive to be meaningful. So by yesterday afternoon, Cuomo aides were working to present a brand-new agreement -- contained in the latest legislative budget language -- as the real deal.
This time is different, they contended, because these new laws will bring an authentic accounting of teacher performance.
Anyone looking to evaluate political winners and losers in this extended battle between the governor and education unions may wish to wait a while. Devilish details of the process remain to work their way through the state education bureaucracy. The union-friendly Assembly in effect appoints the state Regents, who sit atop that bureaucracy.
Reaction to the budget deal Tuesday from NYSUT -- currently in full combat mode with Cuomo -- didn't specifically address evaluations. Rookie president Karen Magee said the legislature, led by the Assembly, "mitigated some of the worst elements" of Cuomo's "toxic agenda" by increasing school aid, but added that "too much of his destructive agenda remains on the table."
When Cuomo revealed his budget proposal, it included a bid to increase teacher ratings' reliance on students' standardized tests to 50 percent. That is not in the final deal, which excludes such percentages. Instead, under the new arrangement, teachers would have to be rated "effective" on student test performance and classroom observation to win an overall "effective" or "highly effective" rating. Below the details lie some basics that remain with or without these budget measures.
Not everyone believes tweaking evaluations or high-stakes testing, or links between them, matter much to whether and how students learn. Some voters believe schools, which are supposed to be run locally, are increasingly remote-controlled from Albany, Washington, or board rooms of testing companies. Other voters may not think that's so bad.
From the outset of this budget process, Cuomo raised expectations he would force enactment of his full agenda using the extraordinary powers granted New York governors. This could have meant a late spending plan. In the end, the governor instead reached a punctual, compromise budget with the Democratic-led Assembly and the Republican-led Senate.
Having opted to share credit and blame for the whole budget with the legislature rather than act as an autocrat might have been the wiser political choice for Cuomo. On March 18, the Quinnipiac poll said Cuomo's approval ratings had dropped, and that he "gets his worst job approval rating for his handling of education."
Now the question is whether this week's agreed-to school changes merit an "effective" rating from the public.