“We want to let the legislators in Albany know how Cuomo’s plan is going to harm our children and the working conditions of teachers,” said Debra Poulos, Brooklyn representative for the United Federation of Teachers.
Cuomo has come under fire from teachers since introducing his sweeping revamp of the state’s current policy at January’s State of the State address. At Thursday’s meeting, many decried his extensive reforms as adopting a more corporate-style payment model and evaluation structure of New York public school teachers.
Among his proposals was increased emphasis on Common Core testing, which would account for 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation under his new plan, longer probation periods before teachers could earn tenure, and raising the limit on the number of state-wide charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately-run, by 100.
He said he would boost the state education budget by $1.1 billion should the legislature approve his new policies.
The point that has perhaps garnered the most contention thus far, and was cited often on Thursday, was the stronger emphasis allotted Common Core testing under the governor’s proposals.
New York’s current policy allows for 20 to 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on Common Core state tests, which have long been criticized by education officials as flawed.
Having testing comprise 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation would fail to take into account the subtler components inherent to good teaching, less easily tested, said Borough President Eric Adams.
“Some of these students, by the time they sit down in their seats, they’re broken,” he said. “They haven’t been fed, some of them have been abused. [Teachers] are their inspiration, their family. If all teachers’ had to do was teach students one and one equals two, we would have scholars throughout the entire state.”
Under Cuomo’s proposal, teachers rated as “highly effective” would also be eligible for up to $20,000 in merit pay.
Teachers voiced a wide variety of concerns about these proposals, saying that stronger emphasis on testing could mean further slashing of arts programs, as well as teachers being forced to tailor their lesson plans to narrow testing questions.
“What this new evaluation system does is it takes away professionalism, it takes away the fact that teachers want to pay attention to help and develop their craft,” said Antoinette Bryant, a teacher at P.S. 146 who has worked in the public education system for 26 years. “Teachers want to make the classroom a place where students are learning how to think rather than how to take a test.”
Multiple speakers also discussed the underfunding of their schools, criticizing Cuomo’s statement that an increase in sate funding for education would only come after his proposals were implemented.
Numerous teachers spoke about watching school arts programs slashed, and having to pay for their own classroom school supplies.
“We don’t have the proper materials to learn. We have to be able to take English tests with a book like this,” said Markus Arthur, a junior at Talented Unlimited High School in the Upper East Side, holding up a tattered paperback copy of The Great Gatsby.
He opened the book, and yellowing loose pages fluttered to the ground. “What I want to ask the governor is, would you have your children read this?”