Education reform key element of State of the State agenda

ALBANY, N.Y. – Education was a major focus of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2015 State of the State address, and he said he wants to take New York in a new direction.

Cuomo’s proposed agenda includes more charter schools, new evaluations from teachers and different means to disperse state funds. The plan is very ambitious, but it isn’t sitting well with many in education.

“Education – the great equalizer,” Cuomo said in his address. “And frankly where reform is going to be difficult.”

The governor referred to New York’s education system as one that needs the most reform. He wants teachers to be evaluated by state exams and in-classroom evaluation in a 50-50 percent split.

“We need real, accurate, fair, teacher evaluations,” he said.

But those opposed don’t think it’s fair.

“It’s a convoluted, illogical system for evaluating teachers,” principal Katie Zahedi said.

Zahedi is a principal in Red Hook. She’s also a part of New York State Allies for Public Education.

“This system of evaluation does not give us better information on teachers,” she said.

Local lawmakers echoed that sentiment.

“I think we are over labeling our kids,” Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy said. “We’re making the tests too high stakes, and we are blaming everything on the teachers.”

“I think the testing has to be a part of the factors, but it can’t be the only factor to evaluate the teacher,” Assemblyman Jim Tedisco said.

Other focal points of Cuomo’s education reform included more funding and more charter schools.

“If a school wouldn’t complete a teacher evaluation system, they wouldn’t get state funding,” he said.

But others believe the funding needs to be in place before performance standards can be met.

“The best thing to help schools now is to equalize and to provide for equitable funding for schools,” Zahedi said.

Cuomo also thinks charter schools are better for New York, but he wants them to be accepting of a wider range of students.

“To ensure charters are teaching their fair share of high needs populations,” he said.

But others think the focus should be on public schools.

“Charter schools are replacing public schools, and they are not held to the same standard,” Zahedi said.

“They should not be seen as a permanent replacement for public schools because they take dollars away from public schools,” Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner said.

Many lawmakers don’t think Cuomo’s fast, aggressive approach will fix the state’s education system. And most are wary of the governor’s numbers concerning schools because they said they’re based on the last two years when schools struggled with the Common Core curriculum.

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