It’s time to hold unions accountable
- Last Updated: 7:58 PM, January 15, 2012
- Posted: 1:19 AM, January 15, 2012
Gov. Cuomo last week waded hip-deep into New York’s fetid education-standards swamp — picking a fight he must win if the state is ever to have real teacher accountability.
Now he’s well-positioned to drain that swamp — in the process forcing real public-school reform on New York’s teachers unions and their champion, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
This opportunity is fleeting, unlikely to recur — and odds are that even if Cuomo grabs it, he’ll wind up with a bloody nose and not much else to show for it.
But grab it he must.
Teacher accountability in New York is nonexistent. Once in the classroom, little short of a felony conviction can pry-bar a teacher out.
The unions hate standards — as the current low-yield nuclear war between Mayor Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers over teacher evaluations amply illustrates.
UFT filibustering aside, folks of good faith know that there can be no public-school reform without honest teacher evaluations.
That’s why the Obama administration — and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in particular — offered New York $700 million to write and implement a meaningful evaluation regimen as part of the federal Race to the Top program.
And the fact that Silver, then-Gov. David Paterson and other legislators responded with a not-so-subtle fraud on the feds is why Duncan is about to demand his hundreds of millions back.
“The Assembly-led legislation in 2010 protected the teachers unions at the expense of the students,” he said last week, “and instituted a system that was destined to fail.”
The 2010 evaluation system, the governor said, “is unworkable. Some would say it was unworkable by design.”
Specifically, the law requires that evaluation standards be subject to union negotiations in each and every one of New York’s 700-plus local school districts — a prescription for failure if ever one was written.
Moreover, there is no meaningful role for the state Education Department in any of this — a perplexity, given that the department uses statewide standards to license teachers in the first place.
Or, not so mysterious — if the point of the law was to glom the federal money while pretending to institute real standards.
Which, of course, it was.
So here’s Cuomo’s first task: Turn the current law on its head, vesting principal responsibility for evaluation standards in Albany and leaving the loose ends to localities.
Yes, there would be many devils in those details. But the present law is utterly hopeless — “unworkable,” as Cuomo said, “by design.”
It must go.
But that won’t happen without a near-existential confrontation with the unions — that is to say, with Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a panderer not quite in the speaker’s class, but not for lack of trying.
The unions view both men as mere handles to be twisted when it’s time to turn on the money spigot — and as bulwarks against overall reform of any sort.
Charter schools, merit pay for teachers, tenure reform — their dead hands lay across it all.
In return, there is union cash and union troops and union endorsements come Election Day — lifeblood to Silver, Skelos and their members.
Railing against them may be soul satisfying, but it’s rarely productive. Ask Eliot Spitzer.
Turning the system on its head would be a dauntingly difficult job.
Is Cuomo up to it?
The powers of his office are considerable. His ability to persuade — to cajole, if not to bludgeon — is near legendary.
Certainly, he understands the issues.
Focus? Daring? Staying power?
They remain to be seen.
But the challenge is clear:
First, get straight on evaluations.
In the process, bring Silver & Co. to heel.
Then, take a bow.
Bob McManus is the Post Editorial Page Editor.