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Albany school reforms are a win for students

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The changes in how teachers are recruited, certified, evaluated and rewarded included in the new state budget are a huge victory for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and a decisive defeat for teachers unions. More important, the changes are a huge victory for the students of this state, and for the teachers who care about them most.

At the end of marathon negotiations, Cuomo got practically every reform he wanted, and the New York State United Teachers union and its new president, Karen Magee, imploded. And having lost, the 600,000-member union quickly made matters exponentially worse: It tried to take the students hostage by desperately demanding that parents opt their children out of this spring's standardized tests.

In broad strokes, a system will almost certainly be in place after legislation is approved that will recruit great education majors to state colleges in return for full scholarships and have promotion and tenure tied to performance.

It will be harder to get accredited and to game teacher evaluations. Teachers whose students fail to make measurable progress can no longer be rated effective or highly effective -- no matter how well they do on subjective evaluations like classroom observation. And testing should decrease in districts where local officials have forced more tests on students than the state required. Some districts did this as part of their local teacher evaluation agreement, but then let the state get blamed for the extra exams, a misconception this new plan will help clear up.

Great teachers will be in line for $20,000 bonuses, bad ones will be more easily removed, and schools where students aren't achieving will get meaningful outside help in the form of distinguished educators brought in to oversee turnarounds. Districts that don't go along with the deal won't get the 6 percent school-aid increases on tap for the 2015-16 school year, which should make it clear to taxpayers which side they ought to take.

This significant achievement in reform probably could not have happened without the unexpected deposing of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the ascent of Carl Heastie into the job. Critics will say Heastie lacked Silver's negotiating dominance, but in fact he prioritized the unusually large school-aid hike, and got what he wanted.

The state Education Department, which is without a commissioner, and the Board of Regents, responsible for filling that post, now find themselves facing huge responsibilities. Many teachers can't be rated effective unless their students show growth on tests, so the annual standardized tests in English and math need to be top-notch, and ever improving. Every aspect of the new evaluation system has to work fairly so teachers and students get what they need.

And the New York State United Teachers, which reacted to its reversal of fortunes with a tantrum by calling for parents to hold kids out of this spring's standardized tests and for legislators to vote down the budget? It might, for once, need to learn its lesson.