Now that a truce seems to have been reached in the battle over standardized testing and teacher evaluations, the question is: How can New York State prevent the same war from breaking out when the moratorium ends in 2019?
Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Common Core panel made recommendations last week, most of them aren't terribly important or have already been put forward. Fewer, better and shorter tests for students in third through eighth grades are already the plan, as are modified academic standards. The state also will stress that districts alone control curricula, but that's a clarification, not a change.
None of these things were the biggest causes of strife. Anger and fear were, especially over teacher evaluations being based partly on student scores on standardized tests. Cuomo, furious that the system still found only about 1 percent of teachers "ineffective," doubled down, signing a law this year to withhold additional state funding for districts that don't base 50 percent of teacher evaluations on test scores.
Parent activists were mobilized by the fears of teachers, who were focused on test results. Thousands of students opted out of the spring tests. And now Cuomo has folded his cards. And although the four-year moratorium lowers the temperature of the debate, it won't put out the fire. The state needs to show how it's going to create and sell a workable system of rigorous teacher evaluations that is acceptable to unions and parents. We need a road map and a process to solve the underlying problem.
The state has to evaluate teachers, get rid of persistently bad ones and help struggling ones improve. Unions say they favor that, but fight it. The losers are mostly poor and minority kids trapped in bad schools, where terrible teachers tend to end up.
The next battle is over whether Cuomo's 2015 evaluation law needs to be repealed or whether the moratorium can be handled administratively. The law needs to stay on the books. It's still the best tool Cuomo has to craft a deal that gives every student the top-notch teachers and valuable education he or she needs.