Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cuomo Doesn't Understand Accountability

There are many levels on which Andrew Cuomo doesn't grasp accountability, including, say, the personal accountability involved in giving one's word and then not keeping it.

But his recent remarks about the evaluation and accountability system for teachers in New York State shows that he, like many other reformsters, just doesn't get the point.

Cuomo has been criticizing the results of the evaluation system because he believes they are wrong. This is backwards.

The whole point of any sort of assessment, diagnostic, or accountability system is to find out exactly what's going on. A doctor gives a cancer test to find out if the patient has cancer. The doctor does not get the test back from the lab and say, "No, this is wrong. I already know whether the patient has cancer or not. Keep doing this test till it confirms the answer I have already decided on."

The point of any sensible accountability system for teachers should be to find out how well they are teaching. There are many ways to assess whether a system is actually telling you the truth or not, ways to see if the answer you're getting is accurate. But Cuomo apparently believes he already knows the answer, and he is just looking for an accountability system to confirm what he already knows.

We have of course seen systems like this before, but they are usually employed to hide failure. In Communist China, the leaders decided that shifting to an industrial economy would not harm their food supply, and so reports from the farming districts had to be rewritten until they showed that farms were still producing more than enough food. Meanwhile, millions of Chinese starved to death. In Vietnam, generals demanded that field reports be rewritten until they showed that our troops were winning the battles. That worked out well.

Cuomo has turned history on its head. Instead of hiding failure, he would like the New York teacher evaluation system to hide success, and he will keep rewriting the system until it produces the reports of failure that he demands (whether they are real or not).

Governor Cuomo (and many other reformsters) does not understand the purpose of an evaluation system. A sensible human does not go to the doctor and say, "I know I have cancer. Confirm it or you're fired." A sensible human does not pull out a thermometer, "I already have guessed what the temperature is. If this thermometer doesn't get that answer, it must be broken."

The purpose of an accountability system is to figure out what's going on, not to play Gotcha. By insisting on an accountability system that is based on his preferences instead of actual reality, Cuomo positions New York as a state where teachers can be evaluated as failing for No Damn Reason. He will certainly not be alone in that, but if he wants to convince teachers to come work in the Empire State, he needs a better plan. I would recommend one based on reality.


  1. I've been meaning to re-read ANIMAL FARM for a while. No time like the present, I suppose.

  2. The teacher union did not make an endorsement in the Democratic primary or the general election and many teachers supported Teachout - in the world of politics there is a simple axiom - "reward your friends and punsih your enemies," Political decisions have consequences - the accountability issue is irrelevant, "all politics is local," and according to the Cuomo calculus marginalizing teachers is a political plus.

  3. Governor Cuomo doesn't understand why the teacher evaluation accountability system he agreed to doesn't show what he thinks it should. The results indicate that 8.2% of NYC teachers are not effective, and that can't be accurate, because only a third of students are proficient in math and ELA, which to Cuomo's mind must mean that two thirds of teachers have to be ineffective. He evidently is not aware of the statistical models that show teachers account for at most 14% of the factors that influence student learning.

    Cuomo says the educational system is "a public monopoly where the paradigm is the more money you spend, the better you will do." Well, yeah, the more you spend, the better you'll do. Campaign for Fiscal Equity sued the state over inequitable funding in 1993, the courts said they had to give more money to low economic, low performing schools to target things like reduced class size and full day pre-K, and in 2007 the legislature finally complied. It worked, because in 2007-08, there were 55 schools that were low-performing. In 2008-09, that was down to 38 schools. But in 2009-10, that number was only reduced to 32 because the funds were frozen that year because of the financial crisis. Since then Cuomo has cut $1.3 billion from education and put caps on property taxes, which has brought financial levels back to pre-lawsuit levels.

    Cuomo says he just wants to reward excellent teachers and make sure struggling teachers get the help they need. The over 6000 teachers that were not rated effective are following improvement plans. So why isn't he happy?

    Cuomo wants more teachers to be found ineffective and fired because somehow (by creating the need for more charter schools) that will lead to busting the public school "monopoly," and that would be a good thing.

    The thing is, public schools can't be called a monopoly. A monopoly is having exclusive ownership or possession of a commodity. A commodity is an "article of commerce." Commerce is the buying and selling of goods on a large scale. But education isn't a "commodity" to be bought and sold. "Commodity" can also mean "something useful or valuable," which education is. But public schools aren't exclusively owned by one party. They're "public" - they belong to everyone.

  4. Obama deserves the blame here, Cuomo is just a stooge tricked into taking the RTTT funding - NY was coaxed into using a policy of teacher accountability tied to Common Core test results, an idea pushed by ALEC.

    Already teachers have started to sue, jonesing to fight the government in court over the inaccuracy of the evaluations and the junk science behind them, wasting millions.

    In NY, 20% of teacher evaluations are now tied to test results - but since the tests are only given in Math and English Language Arts, it means MOST teachers have out-of-subject scores applied to them. This is absurd, but let's move on.

    Another 20% is based on local testing, which means a second round of tests kids hate and groan over. The local measures are much more manipulable because schools can choose the tests and administer them more flexibly. The state did try to convince schools to skip giving these tests to kids, but if they did, they double the state measures from 20% to 40%, a horrible option.

    The final 60% is based on observations, but has stirred controversy as districts gamed the numbers. Studies show NY suburbs have pumped up the points allotted to the max. One Westchester district awarded 60 out of 60 points to every teacher to protest evaluations they say they don't believe in, also forbidding individual teachers to learn their results for the other 40%. Other Hudson Valley districts averaged in the high 50s for the ratings, compensating for lower test scores to keep the district's reputation intact.

    Teacher never wanted this evaluation system, knew it was inaccurate and wasting tax dollars. But now that Cuomo regrets the results, it's unknown how he'll jerry rig the evaluations to get the result he wants. States like Mississippi use test scores for a full 50% of teacher evaluations, but Cuomo will have a hard time getting something like that across NY educators.