Andrew Cuomo’s Psychological Warfare

Governor Cuomo doesn’t want to fire teachers en masse. What he’s actually up to is far more cunning and nefarious. 

Looking over the new education laws Governor Cuomo rammed through the legislature, one particular thing stands out as just not making sense. Yes, from the point of view of a rational, educated person, none of it makes sense. But even viewed through the lens of what we all know the Governor is trying to do, one particularly odd thing stands out.

Following up on a story he planted read in Newsday, Cuomo started ranting about how the teacher rating system was skewed toward teachers, resulting in a system in which too many teachers were rated effective or highly effective. Specifically the issue was the scoring bands, and he vowed to fix this and to increase the weight of tests to 50%. 

As the budget deal neared, different scenarios for revising the evaluation system were leaked out, coming so quickly that there was little time to truly examine any of them. The one that made it to the final bill was a matrix that sort of, but not exactly, gave test scores 50% weight. 

An interesting feature of this matrix is that a teacher who is rated effective or highly effective based on observations is guaranteed to be developing or higher overall. In other words, under this new system, a teacher cannot lose his/her job over test scores alone. 

This can be viewed as good news, but it doesn’t seem to add up. We know that Cuomo is not averse to firing teachers. He’s said so publicly, and his pronouncement that he wants to break the only remaining public monopoly certainly suggest he’s okay with firing lots of them. And yet, simultaneous with changes to the 3020-A process which will make it easier to fire “ineffective” teachers, he essentially built in a throttle system that will limit (or at least not greatly increase) the number of teachers who are given this rating. 

Contrast this with how this could have been done. Nobody was calling for a matrix model, so the existing points system could have easily been kept in place and it wouldn’t have been questioned (other than by all the experts who keep pointing out that teacher evaluations shouldn’t be tied to test scores, of course). The logical thing to do would be to simply adjust the scoring bands, which is what he seemed to be pointing to all along. Not only would this have been simpler, but even if he kept testing at 40%, it would have had the effect of dragging more teachers into the ineffective range and setting them up to be fired.

Cuomo is many things (most of which are not printable here), but he is not a complete idiot, which means he knows that his new system will not result in mass firings. How can this be? Is it even a little possible that the Governor is actually trying to do the right thing for students and is not out to destroy public education and get revenge on teachers for not endorsing him?

My apologies to everyone who just spit their coffee on their phones and computers. Just having a little fun with you. Obviously Cuomo couldn’t care less about kids or teachers. But he realizes that a system that would label substantial numbers of teachers ineffective AND force their firing all at once would be chaos. The backlash would be enormous and even he would be unable to avoid having the blame focused squarely on him. So what is his game? 

Clearly it’s psychological warfare.

Let’s take a look at another aspect of the matrix. As positive as it is that a teacher rated effective or highly effective on observations cannot be rated ineffective overall, it’s also true that a teacher labeled ineffective on test scores cannot be rated higher than developing. 

Why is this so important? Why would Cuomo be so set on affixing a label that does not have any real teeth to it?

If it doesn’t involve firing tenured teachers, how does having more teachers rated developing help advance Cuomo’s agenda?

It Breaks Morale
It doesn’t matter how much we know that these ratings are BS labels based on BS data, it is completely demoralizing for an experienced veteran to be told they are “developing.” As Eva Moskowitz knows, it’s easier to control people when you break their spirit, and it’s easier to bust unions when you can turn people against each other, which is just what labels like this will do.

It Slowly Turns Parents Against Us
Studies show that parents tend to look unfavorably on public schools in general, but believe that their own teachers and schools are doing well. But “evidence” that many of the teachers in their children’s schools are not effective, but are just “developing,” may begin to erode that trust – or at least that may be what the Governor is hoping for.

It Erodes Tenure From The Outside
Building on the previous point, as parents and community members see large percentages of teachers rated developing, will there be a push to end seniority rules and tenure protections to get the dead wood out?

It Erodes Tenure From The Inside
As noted in another post, this matrix, combined with new rules for earning tenure, will make it much more difficult for new teachers to earn tenure, potentially changing the face of the next generation of prospective candidates. Might another side effect be a shift in attitude where potential teachers view tenure not as a benefit but as a hindrance that they are willing to forgo?

Is this really the plan? Obviously it is pure speculation, as it’s impossible to know what’s inside Governor Cuomo’s head.  Did the fourth grade teacher he had a crush on go and get married mid-year? Is he still pining for his lost sled?  Is his heart simply two sizes too small? We may never know.

What we do know is that there are far-reaching consequences to all of this and, above all else, we need to stick together and keep the pressure on the legislature to fix this mess.

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