Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality....This is not saying that teachers have little effect on students, but that variation among teachers accounts for a small part of the variation in scores. The majority of the variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, and unmeasured influences.New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña—herself a former principal at one of the most highly regarded elementary schools in the state—explained her opposition to Cuomo's teacher evaluation plan:
I want to be very clear: 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations based on testing to me is not what should be happening. Teachers are not test results....Teachers should be assessed based on many things. They should be assessed on their work with parents, how they collaborate with each other, their ability to get better at their jobs through professional development....The other thing about this is it also takes away principal autonomy. No CEO in the city would allow an outside force to tell them who to hire or how to keep them.Aside from the fact that individual teachers have little control over their students' test scores, Cuomo talks about the test scores in a way that is completely divorced from reality, as Aaron Pallas, a professor of sociology and education at Columbia University's Teachers College, explained. Here's what the governor said in his State of the State address in January:
31% of third to eighth graders are proficient in English, but 99% of the teachers are rated effective. 35% of third to eighth graders are proficient in math but 98% of the math teachers are rated effective. Who are we kidding, my friends? The problem is clear and the solution is clear. We need real, accurate, fair teacher evaluations.Sounds terrible, right? But, as Pallas notes, in 2011 the figure for English wasn't 31 percent proficient but 53 percent. And in math, it wasn't 35 percent, it was 63 percent. Go back to 2009, and 77 percent of third through eighth graders were proficient in English, and 86 percent in math. Did New York state's teachers undergo a collective, gradual lobotomy over the past five years? Of course not. What happened was that the state changed its academic standards—not only implementing Common Core but testing students on this new material. The principal at Brooklyn's PS 321, the "well-respected" Liz Phillips, diagnosed some of the more significant problems with the process in a New York Times op-ed piece last year.
So, why is Andrew Cuomo rolling out this education "reform" plan? Why has he, in the words of Karen E. Magee, president of New York State United Teachers, "declared war on the public schools?" He wants people to think he's for the students, even if that means being against the teachers, as seen in a recent question-and-answer session in which the governor apparently interviewed himself.
"You would fire a teacher?" Cuomo asked rhetorically. "Yes I would, because education is about the student, and if you have data that shows the teacher is not effective and you can’t help the teacher become effective, yes I would."
Of course, as we have seen above, he has no such data. Most directly, it's about shifting the blame. If Cuomo can blame public school teachers, maybe we'll forget that he has, as Laura Clawson so eloquently put it, "stiff[ed]" New York State's public school students to the tune of $5.9 billion.
Additionally—and this one simply reflects the governor's own self-delusion—he thinks he can be president of the United States. Andy Smarick, a partner at a major non-profit organization that promotes Cuomo-style education reforms, noted: "If [Cuomo] wanted to run for president he could clearly stake out the education-reform-friendly position among the candidates." Maybe Cuomo thinks that beating up on teachers and their unions is a way of showing that he's a different kind of Democrat. Maybe he thinks there's a Scott Walker wing of the Democratic Party.
I don't know what Andrew Cuomo is thinking, but for me, this is personal. I'm a New York City public school parent. I desperately want what is best for my own children, for their school, and for the public school system as a whole. I've seen what high-stakes testing has done to the classroom already, and I certainly don't what to see happens if it becomes half of what determines every teacher's job status.
So that's why I was out there protesting, chanting, and clapping a few days ago, standing with my fellow parents and the teachers we respect. Will Cuomo's plan become law? The Democrats who control the State Assembly oppose it. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio rejected it as well. But the plan is part of the broader New York state budget, which must be voted on by April 1.
Forget all the politics. Forget the presidential ambitions of the son of the Hamlet on the Hudson. To me, this is a simple question: How should the effectiveness of my kids' teachers be assessed? Should it be done by the senior-level educators who watch them work every day? A better question is: Why would it be done by anyone else?