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Gov. Andrew Cuomo is right to test New York's teachers

Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of

Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2015 State of the State address. Photo Credit: Governor's Office

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo laid out a shopping list of plans for the upcoming year in a combined State of the State and budget presentation Wednesday. He had plenty to say about the state's economy, infrastructure and future, but the most contentious item in his cart was education.

As he starts his second term, Cuomo made a convincing argument that public education in much of New York continues to fail students, particularly poor and minority students; for instance, only 38 percent of high school graduates are ready for college or careers. This is true, and has been for years, with student results putting New York near the bottom quarter of states even though it leads the nation in school spending.

He blamed an entrenched education bureaucracy, and the teachers unions knew who he meant as they tweeted their criticism in real time.

Cuomo said advocates for the education establishment want more funding without meaningful accountability. His response: A proposed increase in education aid tied directly to his reforms.

The vast majority of teachers have the best interests of students at heart. However, the system too often hires unprepared new teachers, a fact Cuomo highlighted when he said 32 percent of prospective teachers failed a 12th-grade literacy exam in 2013. Cuomo said too many teachers have undistinguished careers in which they are deemed effective on evaluations but their students don't learn as much as they need to. It's almost impossible, he said, to fire teachers even when they receive poor evaluations.

Cuomo is proposing an almost holistic change in how we get new teachers and who they are: He proposes free tuition to top SUNY and CUNY students who teach for at least five years in New York. He proposes changing how we train teachers, including a residency program similar to what student doctors undergo.

He wants to change how we evaluate working teachers, with 50 percent of scores coming from student results on state tests or state learning objectives and the other 50 percent from classroom observation. And he emphasizes performance over seniority. He would give $20,000 performance bonuses to the best teachers, and require five years of good evaluations to earn tenure. He talks about the importance of continuing to train those who need it, and of dismissing those who can't make the grade.

Cuomo also touts more charter schools, more aid to educate 3- and 4-year-old students, and takeovers of failing schools. And for the first time, Cuomo's budget includes the Dream Act, which would allow students brought here when they were young and who are not legal residents to qualify for college tuition assistance. It's paired with tax credits for some families who send students to private schools.

It could be trading time, as many Assembly Democrats support the Dream Act, but not the private school breaks, while most Senate Republicans like the private school breaks but not the Dream Act.

Nearly all of this needs approval from the State Legislature, local unions or the Board of Regents. There will be compromises. But nearly all of this needs, in some form, to happen. To his credit, Cuomo keeps redoubling his efforts to better the system. That's sadly necessary, because his opponents keep redoubling their efforts, too.


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