Of the nearly 6,300 public and private schools in New York State, 178 are “failing,” according to a report published yesterday by the Cuomo administration. Of these, the report finds, 77 have been failing for the past 10 years. The report comes as Governor Andrew Cuomo pushes his education reform agenda, an agenda that New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) calls misinformed and misguided. A school is designated “failing” if combined ELA and math scores are in the bottom 5 percent of statewide scores, or the graduation rate has been less than 60 percent for three years.
New York’s average per-pupil spending has risen from $11,546 in the 2002-03 school year to $19,552 in 2012-13, the highest per-pupil spending in the country. Despite this, 109,000 students are currently enrolled in failing schools. Most of these students, 93 percent, are students of color and 83 percent are from lower-income households, groups Cuomo says most need high-quality public education.
“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.” — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
The report also looks at teacher evaluations. Statewide, 95.6 percent of New York’s teachers received effective or highly effective ratings on their 2013-14 Annual Professional Performance Reviews. The report notes that the high percentage of teachers rated effective is incongruous with the low percentage of students scoring at proficiency levels on state math and language arts tests. Students’ test scores have dropped considerably over the past two years as schools adjust to the new Common Core-aligned exams.
Cuomo’s education reform plan increases the weight of test scores in a teacher’s annual evaluation from 20 to 50 percent, placing increased emphasis on standardized tests. His plan also calls for an increase in teacher probation periods to five years of consecutive effective ratings. During the probation period, which is currently three years, a teacher may be fired at will. Once a teacher earns tenure, school officials must show cause for dismissal.
Timothy G. Kremer, Executive Director of the New York State School Boards Association, calls the report Cuomo’s “latest diatribe against New York’s public schools.” In a Board Association press statement, Kremer writes that a Siena College Research poll conducted earlier this week points to the real problems in New York’s schools. The survey asked, “What do you think is the single biggest reason why not enough New York Children graduate from high school ready for college or careers?” The top responses were: Not enough parental involvement, insufficient money being spent on education and the effects of poverty.
“Let’s tackle the root causes of poor academic achievement rather than criticize those who work to overcome these obstacles.” — Timothy G. Kremer, NYSSBA
“As the Governor’s own report points out,” writes Kremer, “more than half of the students in New York’s public schools are economically disadvantaged.” Rather than blame teachers for students’ underachievement, the state needs to address the problems of poverty, school funding and parental engagement. On Monday, March 2, NYSUT is holding a “Call out Cuomo” march at the Empire State Plaza in Albany to protest the Governor’s education agenda.