As pols near deal in Albany, educators call for commission

Shoreham-Wading River School District Superintendent Steven Cohen. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo, file)
Shoreham-Wading River School District Superintendent Steven Cohen. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo, file)

With reports trickling out of Albany that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has reached a tentative deal with lawmakers over the state budget and education reforms, local educators are calling for an independent commission to help develop policy moving forward.

According to published reports, Mr. Cuomo has backed off his demand to tie 50 percent of teacher evaluations to state test scores — up from 20 percent — and instead will task the state education department with improving the way teachers are evaluated.

As part of the deal, teacher tenure would increase from three to four years and schools will see big increases in state aid.

Mr. Cuomo’s office issued a press release Sunday stating the deal includes $23.5 billion, a 6.1 percent increase, in state aid for schools along with the reforms, among other items.

The increase amounts to about $1.6 billion, according to Newsday.

State Senator Ken LaValle’s office staffers said Monday that no breakdown of final state aid figures have been released.

While the controversial test scores component has been withdrawn, local educators are still calling for an independent commission to develop education reform — instead of just people within the education department.

The commission should be made up of superintendents, principals and teachers, as well as state education department representatives, according to members of the advocacy group Alliance to Save Public Education, of which some local superintendents are members.

Steven Cohen, an alliance member and superintendent of the Shoreham-Wading River School District, said he and the other alliance members agree with the governor that the state’s current model doesn’t provide an accurate account of teacher performance.

They just disagree on how to fix it.

“We want a commission that will create an evaluation system that promotes student growth,” Dr. Cohen said in a statement. “It should include educational researchers, world-renowned experts in the field, psychometrics, superintendents and teachers.”

Alliance members say 197 people, a mix of superintendents, school board and PTA presidents from about 110 school districts, have signed a letter addressed to lawmakers urging them to “refrain from enacting the governor’s proposals without a thoughtful debate.”

Southold and Greenport superintendent David Gamberg, also an alliance member, said “the current tweaking of the system continues to go down the wrong path. ”

“Our call for an independent commission led by educators will take the necessary time to bring together experts on all facets of systemic school improvement,” he said, “not a rush to judgement with the continued emphasis on test based accountability. If the Legislature goes ahead and adopts this reform package we will continue to go down the wrong path, and waste millions of taxpayer dollars in the process.”

In the governor’s statement issued Sunday, Mr. Cuomo kept up his strong words in trying to address what he described as “decades of leading the nation in education spending but lagging in results.”

“New York will set an example for all other states with a complete overhaul of the entrenched education bureaucracy,” he continued. “These reforms – accompanied by an unprecedented financial investment – will put students first by bringing accountability to the classroom, recruiting and rewarding our best teachers, further reducing over-testing, and finally confronting our chronically failing schools.”

[email protected]