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New York needs accurate teacher evaluations

Before we celebrate mothers and fathers this spring,

Before we celebrate mothers and fathers this spring, it's time to take a second to honor those adults who also play an important role in our lives -- educators. Credit: iStock

It simply doesn't seem possible that in 104 of Long Island's 124 school districts, where a combined 27,073 teachers and principals were evaluated during the 2013-14 school year, not a single educator was found to be "ineffective."

Parents and taxpayers, even the ones unfamiliar with the complexities of the heated debate over accountability in education, understand it makes no sense that not one teacher got the lowest rating on a scale of one to four.

And if it's impossible that so many districts found zero ineffective educators, then what word describes the fact that almost half of the Island's districts also don't have a single educator who was rated "developing"? In the results released last week, every teacher and principal was found to be either "highly effective" or "effective" in 54 districts.

This week brought dueling education rallies at the state Capitol. With just about a month left before the state budget is due to be approved, funding battles are heating up, and none is hotter than the education wars. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is out for blood -- dealing with educators who are furious that 20 percent of their evaluations are coming from state testing. He's trying to move that number to 50 percent.

Angry that districts seem to be giving a pass to teachers on classroom evaluations and other subjective measures, the governor wants experts from outside each teacher's school to observe and rate them. Cuomo's strategy to achieve this goal is to divide parents and teachers. If educators hold out against the tougher evaluations, he says, districts will get less state aid.

Enlisted on the governor's side are charter school proponents, who rightly argue that if public schools were making the grade, parents and reformers wouldn't be clamoring for alternatives.

On the other side are teachers unions demanding more money for traditional school budgets and a move away from test-based evaluations, not heavier reliance on them. The teachers' strategy is to turn parents against Cuomo by reviving the anti-Common Core and testing opt-out movements that seemed to be dying off this year. Teachers are stoking parental fears about raising the stakes of student tests even as teachers have fears of their own about being yoked to student exam performance.

Normally in early March, the bravado and rhetoric from all camps can be dismissed as posturing. This year, there's more on the line. Inch by inch, budget by budget, this is a fight for the future of public education and our children.

You can't expect the public to trust an evaluation system that allows districts to rate every teacher and principal a high performer. Neither can you base half of a hardworking professional's evaluation on how a small group of students does on a test and have those educators trust it.

But teachers, just like any workers, can and should be evaluated objectively and impartially. Neither side is presenting a truly workable system to evaluate teachers, but the governor, at least, understands that the system must change.


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