Bad Grade for Gov’s Education Agenda

The governor has proposed education policy changes linking half of a teacher’s evaluation to students’ standardized test scores

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has taken on the state’s public school teachers, and they are firing back — hard. It’s about time.      

Schools and students have struggled under Mr. Cuomo’s signature 2-percent tax increase cap. Now, in his 2015 budget, the governor has proposed education policy changes linking half of a teacher’s evaluation to students’ standardized test scores. The greatest flaw in this disastrous reform is the fact that test results can depend on socioeconomic factors, notably wealth, and that linking teachers’ careers to scores could provide a strong disincentive for them to work with the state’s neediest students.

Mr. Cuomo has proposed increasing state education aid by as much as 5 percent for schools that sign on to the reforms. Rich districts could perhaps afford to sidestep them, but poorer districts, desperate for cash, might not have that luxury. He also has proposed sweetening the landscape for charter schools, which can draw away scarce funding, and he supports a backdoor path by which tax dollars could go to private and religious institutions.

As one education scholar said, the Cuomo plan would make teaching in the State of New York a very high-risk career choice. “You have made us the enemy,” 7 of the top 10 New York State teachers in the last decade wrote in a joint letter to the governor. The head of the New York State United Teachers union said, “He has declared war on the public schools.” This at a time when educators and students need all the support that can be mustered to cope with a rapidly changing world and altered job market.

One can see plenty of politics here. Teacher evaluations and school vouchers are popular with some Republicans interested in education reform. Mr. Cuomo’s 2-percent tax cap could be a message, intended for a future presidential campaign, that even though he is a Democrat he has reduced taxes in a traditionally liberal, high-tax state like New York and can do it anywhere. Unfortunately, the governor’s ambition has gotten in the way of sound policy.

What is called for now is a truce. Teachers have a tough enough job without having the governor as adversary-in-chief. Mr. Cuomo should rethink his education agenda to make it fair and especially provide for those school districts in greatest need of help.