Sag Harbor Board of Education Critical of Governor’s Proposed Reforms for Teachers

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By Tessa Raebeck

In response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed education initiatives, one of which would require that half of the measurement of whether a teacher is good at his or her job be based on students’ test scores alone, the Sag Harbor Board of Education expressed its concerns over the state’s reliance on state tests.

In January, Governor Cuomo gave New York’s legislators an ultimatum: pass his package of education reforms and see the state’s schools receive an additional $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent, in funding, or fail to pass his reforms, and see that increase drop to 1.7 percent.

At the center of his reforms is teacher evaluation.

“Everyone will tell you, nationwide, the key to education reform is a teacher evaluation system,” the governor said in his State of the State address in January.

As the school board’s legislative liaison, board member Tommy John Schiavoni visited Albany on March 15 and 16 for the New York State School Boards Association Capital Conference. The conference was organized to enable school board members to lobby state legislators and “effectively advocate for [their] school district and students in Albany and at home,” according to NYSSBA.

At the Thursday, March 12, board meeting Mr. Schiavoni said he would “of course focus on funding” at the conference, urging legislators to reduce mandates, especially those that are unfunded; fully fund public education; and repeal the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a formula criticized by legislators and schools boards alike that was created to close a state budget gap five years ago, yet continues to take state aid away from some school districts.

“And if they do make us use outside observers,” Mr. Schiavoni said, referring to the specialists who would be sent into “failing” schools, “please give us money to do that.”

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., an Independent, and State Senator Kenneth LaValle, a Republican, introduced legislation to repeal the GEA in February.

School board member Diana Kolhoff, an education consultant and former math teacher, said she was particularly concerned with testing accounting for 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

“As an educator, I know evaluative testing has value,” she admitted, adding that she believes “50 percent is going to drive instruction toward test prep—and I think it’s a bad idea.”

Weighing a teacher’s merits as an educator “so heavily on one event” is unfair, Ms. Kolhoff added.

“It is ridiculous,” agreed Chris Tice, the board’s vice president. “It just puts more pressure on that single test being the only measure of effectiveness…. It’s very unhealthy. This increased anxiety-ridden testing environment that the governor’s creating and ratcheting up—I don’t think it’s healthy for students.”

“We’re reading articles about less and less people wanting to become teachers in New York State,” she continued, attributing that to a political climate in Albany that seems to be “hostile” towards both teachers and children.

Enrollment in teacher education courses has declined drastically over the last five years. In New York State, there were nearly 80,000 students registered for teaching programs during the 2009-10 school year, yet only about 62,000 in 2011-12, representing a 22 percent decline in two years. The drop has continued over the past years in New York and other large states like California and Texas, but is not uniform in all states across the country, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education.

The next meeting of the Sag Harbor Board of Education is Monday, March 23, at 7:30 p.m. in the library at Pierson Middle/High School.

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