For years, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo took a hard-line approach to reforming New York's schools, calling on the state to mandate rigorous evaluations for teachers and to turn schools that fail to meet certain standards over to an outside receiver to operate.
Now, the governor appears to have stepped back from the reform agenda he touted when he first took office.
During a meeting with The Buffalo News Editorial Board on Tuesday, Cuomo said that decisions about school turnaround plans and how teachers will be evaluated should be made locally.
"That's going to be up to local school districts," Cuomo said when asked about reform efforts in Buffalo's struggling schools.
That's a sharp reversal from just two years ago when Cuomo condemned an evaluation system that rated the vast majority of New York teachers effective or highly effective – even in Buffalo where the majority of schools fail to meet state standards.
“This is the real scandal in Albany, the alarming fact that state government has stood by and done nothing as generation after generation of students have passed through failing schools,” Cuomo said in a 2015 statement about a report outlining the number of failing schools in the state. “This report underscores the severity and shocking nature of this problem. The time is now for the State Legislature to act and do something about this problem so we no longer are condemning our children to failing schools.”
At the time, Cuomo suggested that local districts where most teachers were rated "highly effective" would need to change their rating system, and that problems stemmed from how they negotiate the assessments with unions.
“The way [districts] negotiated it may be too loose because everyone’s doing well, and I think that’s a valid question,” he told The News at the time.
Those tough stances, however, elicited intense pushback from parents, teachers and the influential New York State United Teachers union, which launched a $1 million public relations campaign attacking Cuomo's policies. Masses of parents opted their students out of the standardized tests whose results would be included in teacher evaluations, fueling what would ultimately become the largest proportion of test refusals in the country.
In that climate, a state task force later in 2015 recommended the state delay the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations.
Even then, Cuomo initially insisted the delay did not signal that he planned to depart from his reform agenda.
“There was no backwards step taken,” Cuomo said last year of his reform efforts.
But on Tuesday, he seemed to fully remove the state from any significant role in assessing teacher or school performance.
"It really depends on the region," he said in assessing the success of putting failing schools in receivership, a key part of his original reform plan and one that was used in Buffalo. As for the state's role, he said, "We can provide money. We can provide guidance. We can provide parameters."
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