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Editorial: State right to push for NYC teacher evaluations

Richard Iannuzzi, left, president of New York State

Richard Iannuzzi, left, president of New York State United Teachers looks on as Gov. Andrew Cuomo addresses those gathered during a press conference at the Capitol. (Feb. 16, 2012) Credit: Albany Times Union/Paul Buckowski

If the United Federation of Teachers was waiting for a friendlier mayor to replace Michael Bloomberg before agreeing on teacher evaluations, the slow dance is over.

Albany's four maximum leaders -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate Majority Co-leaders Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) -- announced a deal on Monday that says every school district in the state must have an evaluation system in place by May 29.

Should the city blow that deadline, as it did an earlier one, state Education Commissioner John King is instructed to impose an evaluation system on the nation's largest school system. The agreement is a crucial step forward for the city's 1,700 schools and 1.1 million students.

Without a tough but honest evaluation process -- with dismissals after due process for teachers who fail to make the grade -- school reform in the city is impossible.

Yet a vigorous evaluation process has been anathema to many teachers. Of more than 73,000 teachers citywide, just 11 were terminated for ineffective performance during the 2011-12 school year and 39 more quit or retired under pressure. So let's do the math. Only one teacher in every 6,636 was fired last year for not getting the job done -- while one teacher in every 1,871 was pressured to quit or retire.

Those numbers signal an urgent need for reform.

City Hall's fight with the UFT has already taken a toll that Monday's deal won't mitigate. When the two sides failed to agree on a evaluations in January, city schools lost $240 million in state aid. That could cost the system 700 teachers through attrition this year and cutbacks in substitute teachers and teacher aides, the mayor said weeks ago at Albany budget hearings.

But at least under Monday's deal, Albany will not let the shortfall continue next year.

Still, it's never over 'til it's over. Ideally, City Hall and the UFT will find a way to meet the new deadline. Failing that, the city must implement Albany's solution. And if it doesn't? Well, let's not go there. The city and UFT need to resolve this issue and move on -- the sooner the better.

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