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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Cuomo forced to retreat on linking test to teacher evals

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Credit: Getty Images / Slaven Vlasic

Last January, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the teacher evaluations carried out in New York’s school systems had proved to be “baloney.” All but a few teachers were rated effective, yet only 38 percent of high-school students were deemed college-ready, he said.

Therefore, said Cuomo, 50 percent of each future evaluation to be based on students’ state test scores.

But earlier this month, his hand-picked panel on the Common Core curriculum called for a four-year halt on tying the evaluations to the scores. This about-face came just as the federal government beat a dramatic retreat on high-stakes testing. The approach has fallen out of vogue, drawing fire from educators and parents and leaving Cuomo and others looking like public-policy fashion victims.

The state Regents followed suit and enacted the change. Game over.

Every elected executive suffers reversals. President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried and failed to expand the Supreme Court to boost the New Deal. In the days of President Ronald Reagan, the White House secretly sold arms to Iran in a failed bid to negotiate the release of hostages. Gov. Eliot Spitzer saw his push to issue drivers’ licenses to those without legal immigration status blow up bigtime. Gov. George Pataki put a death pnealty back on the books, for a time; No executions resulted.

Nearly five years into the job, Cuomo has proclaimed his share of victories. He has also done his share of retreating in situations where his public calls to arms went unheeded, issues changed, or events overtook his positions.

In his first year, 2011, the question arose of whether to keep a so-called millionaire’s income-tax surcharge imposed to deal with tough fiscal straits. No, Cuomo insisted, he would not back its extension, lest residents and businesses be prodded to move to other states.

But by that December he reached a wider tax deal with the Legislature that cut rates for most state residents. Those paying the upper-income surcharge saw its impact reduced — yet still pay at a higher rate than they would have if the surcharge had simply expired.

The governor also cut a curvy path on the minimum wage. Earlier this year, he called a proposed $13 per hour rate a “nonstarter” in Albany. Now he is calling for a $15 per hour minimum statewide.

The governor has contradicted himself outright on the corruption commission he started and later agreed to abolish.

In July 2013, he said in establishing the Moreland Commission: “We’re going to punish the wrongdoers. And to the extent that people have violated the public trust, they will be punished.”

But this month, he said: “There Moreland Commission was not an investigative, prosecutorial commission. That commission was to educate the public, to spur the legislature to pass ethics laws.”

Maybe public remarks by elected leaders could carry stamped expiration dates, like dairy products.

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