Will Electoral Politics Force Governor Cuomo to Modify the NYS Teacher Evaluation Law?

I wish they did a teacher draft, “He has a good understanding of the common core, but lacks the measurables”. (From a principal on the day of the NFL draft)

The lesson could have been taught in the fanciest private school in the city, it was taking place in a high school in the heart of Harlem. Mr. M projected “God is Dead” on the board and facilitated a discussion about Nietzsche. He listened, he prodded, he provoked, he facilitated a discussion among the students, had them jot down ideas … it was a magnificent lesson. I thanked him for inviting us into his classroom and commented on the excellence of the lesson. He replied, “Come back tomorrow to my first period Global Studies class.”

The students, many of whom were repeating the class, dribbled in after the late bell. In spite the efforts of the teacher the kids were morose, almost hostile, disengaged and skipped out of the room the moment the class ended.

Mr. M approached me, “Well, am I an exemplary teacher or a bum?”


State Education Schools under Registration Review (SURR) teams spent four days in the lowest performing schools in the state and wrote a “findings and recommendations” report based on a 21-item template. We arrived at the middle school Monday morning, the principal was busy and we twiddled our thumbs until he finished what he was doing. He apologized, “I have three vacancies and four absent teachers, and I have to figure out the class coverages every morning.

One of the team members began with a “softball” question – “What criteria do you use to assess teacher effectiveness?”

The principal blurted, “They come every day and blood doesn’t run out from under the door.”


A couple years ago, before Charlotte Danielson became a very rich “rock star,” I attended a meeting with a 25-principal Network – Danielson made her standard presentation.

At the end of the presentation I asked, “Would you agree with Justice Potter Stewart: he could never succeed in intelligibly defining pornography but said “I know it when I see it,” …. Doesn’t the same apply for good teaching?”

Charlotte demurred, rather vigorously.


Principal A: “I rate most teachers ‘highly effective,’ it raises morale, dissuades teachers from leaving and it reflects positively on my evaluation.”

Principal B: “I haven’t written a single ‘highly effective’ observation this year – the ‘highly effective’ standard is extremely high, once in a while I’ll see a lesson with ‘highly effective ‘ elements, not an entire ‘highly effective lesson.”


Early in the fall teachers of English and Mathematics in grade 3-8 (about 20% of all teachers) receive a Teacher Data Report (TDR) – the teacher percentile standing using a Value-Added Metric (VAM). Principals and teachers have no idea what the TDR score means, two principals, Carol Burris and Liz Phillips skewer the entire evaluation system, “Why APPR Must Be Changed

The fatal flaw is that VAM teacher scores are unstable.

United States Department of Education: Value-added estimates for teacher-level analyses are subject to a considerable degree of random error when based on the amount of data that are typically used in practice for estimation

Di Carlo: A recent analysis of VAM scores in New York City shows that the average error margin is plus or minus 30 percentile points. That puts the “true score” (which we can’t know) of a 50th percentile teacher at somewhere between the 20th and 80th percentile – an incredible 60 point spread.

Economic Policy Institute: VAM estimates have proven to be unstable across statistical models, years, and classes that teachers teach. One study found that across five large urban districts, among teachers who were ranked in the top 20% of effectiveness in the first year, fewer than a third were in that top group the next year, and another third moved all the way down to the bottom 40%

The principal evaluation section – worth 60% of a teacher’s APPR – is totally dependent on the principal and we know that principal assessments vary from school to school, principals only see teachers in their schools, and principals are concerned, rightly or wrongly, that assessments are a reflection of the ability of the principal.

The VAM constructed scores emanating from student tests sores are highly unstable.

The teacher APPR scores for the 12-13 school year in New York State.

51% highly effective
40% effective
8% developing
1% ineffective

The instability of the scores, the 20% to 30% swing from year to year assures that the 1% ineffective next year will not be the same as the 1% last year.

If the current system is deeply flawed what should replace it?

Linda Darling-Hammond in the spring edition of the American Educator suggests,

Although there is widespread consensus that teacher evaluation in the United States needs serious attention, simply changing on-the-job evaluation will not, by itself, transform the quality of teaching. For all of the attention focused on identifying and removing poor teachers, we will not improve the quality of the profession if we do not also cultivate an excellent supply of good teachers who are well prepared and committed to career-long learning. And teachers’ ongoing learning, in turn, depends on the construction of a strong professional development system and useful career development approaches that can help spread expertise. Finally, improving the skills of individual teachers will not be enough: we need to create and sustain productive, collegial working conditions that allow teachers to work collectively in an environment that supports learning for them and their students.

In short, what this country really needs is a conception of teacher evaluation as part of a teaching and learning system that supports continuous improvement, both for individual teachers and for the profession as a whole. Such a system should enhance teacher learning and skill, while at the same time ensuring that teachers who are retained and tenured can effectively support student learning throughout their careers.

Unfortunately we do not live in an environment where science and rationality rules, we live in a political world, a world in which politics rules.

Governor Cuomo chose to jump on the charter school band wagon, probably to deprive his opponent if charter school dollars, he saw what $5 million could buy in the charter operators attack on Mayor de Blasio. Now, he has to win back teachers, and, amending, easing or modifying the current teacher evaluation plan would mollify teachers and their union.

I think a dog-eared copy of The Prince sits on Governor Cuomo’s night stand, with the following underlined,

Politics have no relation to morals.


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