“Lipstick on a Pig,” Can, or Should, the Regents Salvage the Cuomo Teacher Evaluation Plan?

The newest iteration of the state teacher evaluation plan is eating up all the air. The all-day Education Learning Summit, the release of the 56-page Department of Education summary (Read here) and hours of discussions at the P-12 Committee of the Board of Regents.

A very quick review: in order to be eligible for the hundreds of millions of Race to the Top dollars (not so affectionately referred to as “thirty pieces of silver”) Commissioner Steiner and the Unions in 2010 entered into months of discussions that produced a teacher evaluation law (Section 3012-c ) and after more months the law was converted into the 20-20-60 plan (20% student test scores, 20% a locally negotiated measure and 60% supervisory observations). The results of the plan varied widely across the state. In some districts majorities of teachers was “Highly Effective,” in others disturbing numbers of “Developing” and “Ineffective.” Do the scores reflect teacher competence or do the scores reflect the district zip code or the ability of the students? Were teachers in poorer district, teachers of English language learners and student with disabilities fates determined before any test?

Teacher, principals and parents believe the highly complex numerical algorithms were flawed, poorly applied, or, both. BTW, it doesn’t matter whether the data is actually flawed; Cuomo’s behavior has tarnished the entire system.

The State Teacher Union, NYSUT, which represents the 700 local unions strongly opposed the plan; the New York City Teacher Union, that originally fought Mayor Bloomberg over the plan, seemed relatively happy with the plan.

What’s happening?

In the year before the plan in New York City 2.8% of teachers received Unsatisfactory ratings, in the first year of the plan 1.6% of teacher received an “Ineffective” rating; teachers in New York City were faring better under the new plan.

Under the prior system ratings were based solely on supervisory judgement, aka, principal observations; under the new plan student performance mattered. A teacher who received a low score, a “Developing” or an “Ineffective” on the observation portion and “Highly Effective” or “Effective” on the student performance section will end up with a passing score, a considerable difference from the former principal rating only system.

The new, new Cuomo plan moves away from the 20-20-60 plan to a Matrix, a 4 by 4 box that determines the teacher rating, yes, it takes a while to comprehend.

Teachers are highly suspicious and view the plan as Governor Cuomo’s plan to fire teachers, and Andrew does nothing to dissuade them.

The complexity of the models stem from the wide diversity across the state; New York City developed 159 different algorithms to account for the wide variety of subjects; many districts outside of New York City used locally developed metrics that are more questionable in their impact.

At the Education Learning Summit a report from the American Statistics Association: teacher impact on student learning ranges from 1 – 14%; some Regents argued the impact of student scores should not go beyond 20%, Chancellor Tisch, in a presentation Thursday morning suggested 40%.

At the May 18th Regents Meeting many of the Regents had grave doubts about the Governor’s plan. Regents Cashin, Rosa and Johnson were especially critical. Regent Tilles referenced the “lipstick” analogy. There was no support for the plan. Acting Commissioner Wagner suggested a number of metrics, without Regents enthusiasm.

The subtext was fascinating – the Regents are a policy board, the commissioner turns the policy into regulations. The line between policy and operations is gray. Commissioner King deftly sidestepped the board, and determined both policy and operations. The board, the Regents, in the past, with the exception of a few members, rubber stamped the policies of the commissioner, until the parent and teacher backlash required a scalp. Exit the commissioner.

Will the Regents paint “lipstick on a pig,” and to the best of their ability gussy up a deeply flawed plan, or, vote down a plan provided by the commissioner that the Regents feel is inadequate?

Six of the current Regents are former superintendents; others are uncomfortable with the past direction of the board.

Many of the Regents suggested beginning with base metrics, relatively easy to achieve, and move up the goals as teachers and principals master the complexities. Clearly the Governor wants a tougher plan, a tougher plan equals more “D” and “I” grades.

The legislators, who passed the budget bill which included the Matrix, want a plan that “satisfies” parents, principals and teachers.

Let me make it perfectly clear: the legislature despises the Governor and would love if the Regents acted as their surrogate, and ripped the Governor.

Rent control, the property tax cap, mayoral control, the Dream Act, the education tax credit, the lifting of the charter school cap, all on the table as the legislature moves to adjournment on June 17th

Towards the end of the second day of the Regents Meeting Regent Young chaired a committee meeting that began a discussion of President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative; a discussion that in the long run is probably more important than the Cuomo “fire to success” plan.

Lupe Fiasco on Freedom:


2 responses to ““Lipstick on a Pig,” Can, or Should, the Regents Salvage the Cuomo Teacher Evaluation Plan?

  1. Marc Korashan

    At the risk of repeating myself, the only way out of the mess the Governor (and former Commissioner KIng) created is to step off the track and move forward in a different direction.
    The regents should, as a matter of policy, call for a moratorium on these fights by leaving the current flawed system in place while pushing for districts to look at better ways to professionalize (and in the process) evaluate teachers.
    Teachers should be evaluated from year to year to help them see their practice through another’s eyes. We want to ensure that they are applying what we know to be the best practices and are actively engaged in trying to get the best from their students. To do this well we need to think seriously about what we want students to know and be able to do, encapsulate that in performance standards and then think long and hard about how students can demonstrate they have achieved the standard.
    Standards have to be expressed in terms of actual performance. The roll out of the Common Core was flawed because teachers were not involved in discussing what the standard looked like in practice nor were they given the time to develop activities (curriculum) to help students get to the standard or projects that would represent achievement of the standard.
    A standard like the one the CCSS abandoned, “Students will read 25 book or book equivalents in a year,” is much more meaningful in telling us which students are reading and will continue to read. (Information that even the best reading tests do not give us.) More importantly the artifacts that students submit to demonstrate they met the standard give the teacher meaningful information that s/he can use to push the student to tackle more challenging readings in their area of interest. We know that students who read more will become better readers.
    A real teacher effectiveness system will begin with the Danielson or some other rubric that defines good teaching practices, modify and clarify that language, in teacher led discussions about what goes on in classrooms and what should go on. A real teacher evaluation system will build in time for peer-to-peer non-evaluative observations and discussions. It will emphasize lesson study and professional development led by teachers on how to define and meet the needs of the students in that school.
    A real evaluation system will spend time defining the contents of and developing rubrics for evaluating student work and student portfolios, either best work, or I think more useful, growth rubrics. This allows us to see students using the skills they learned in applications they may find meaningful and encourage project-based learning, longer units of study (depth over breadth a la the CCLS).
    Developing and discussing standards and the kind of projects that will demonstrate what students have accomplished is probably the most meaningful kind of professional development for teachers, both novices and veterans. A system that allows teachers to look critically at their work with their colleagues without fear of punishment is one that promotes growth. (Think of morbidity and mortality reviews in teaching hospitals.)
    In this kind of system there are no algorithms and nothing to be gamed. Instead there is a collection of work and meaningful standards for evaluating that work. The work, the standards, and the evaluations can all be shared with parents and other interested members of the public which makes the system much more transparent than one based on tests whose creation, scoring, and scaling are all kept secret. It would be, as much as any could be, a demagogue-proof system where no Governor could proclaim that not enough teachers were fired in the aggregate because each teacher would be evaluated based on his/her work with his/her students.


  2. ken karcinell

    By not salvaging it, Cuomo migth come around to understand that good teaching is not measurable by student test score results. Any of us who ever worked in a school are familiar with the term “bottom quartile.” This was a phrase used to describe the achievement levels of the loswest scoring class on grade. Typically these classes are and weer always staffed by novice teachers. When I principaled, I assigned my best teachers to such classes. Usually those classes were anywhere from 1.5 to 2 years below grade level. So even my best teachers could only be expected to show an increase of about 8 months in achievement level, which wouls still leave those youngsters with underachieving test scores. According to the Gov’s plan I would have to rate those teachers unsatisfactory, and therein lies the rub!So there is no way that a vet teacher with anpoutstanding vitae would accept such an assignment, which means that those students are at a continued risk rate owing to the assignment of novices as their teacher.I believe that Cuomo u8nderstands these things and that in hios heart of hearts may need to be defeated with his present plan and then introduce a modified one. He is the only man in the state that can do the right thing, and I think he knows that plan A is not the right thing, and would welcome a defeat so as to implement a Plan B..


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