Hundreds of teachers rally against Cuomo's education plans

Mar 3, 2015

Hundreds of teachers are rallied at the state Capitol late Monday, saying they are calling out Gov. Andrew Cuomo for what they say is his anti-public school agenda.

The teachers, including New York State United Teachers Union Vice President Andy Pallotta, say Cuomo has declared a war on students, parents, and teachers, and is advancing a “test and punish” agenda.

“He has no respect for public education,” Pallotta shouted, as the crowd cheered.

Cuomo wants to change the way teacher evaluations are measured; he would like to see at least half of a teacher’s grade be based on standardized tests associated with the Common Core curriculum.

He has complained that while only one third of students are passing the new tests connected to Common Core, 95 percent of teachers, under a two-year-old evaluation system, are rated as effective or highly effective.

“It’s not real,” said Cuomo recently. “You have an evaluation system in name. And you have to go back to the table.”

NYSUT President Karen Magee, in an interview before the rally, says Cuomo initially endorsed the new teacher ratings system. She says the numbers are accurate, and New York’s extensive teacher training programs weed out poorly performing teachers early.

“The system proved that New York has good teachers,” Magee said. “What happened is that the results did not meet what the governor wanted.”

Cuomo has raised the stakes with the legislature by linking all of his education reforms to passage of the state budget. He’s even held back on the details of his proposed funding for individual schools – called state aid runs -- saying if the legislature agrees to the education policy changes, he will give schools more money. Magee says the governor is trying to “usurp the local authority of elected school boards.”

“He’s held the state aid runs hostage,” Magee said.

NYSUT President Karen Magee at Monday's rally at the state Capitol
Credit Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Cuomo also wants to add 100 new charter schools in the state, which are publicly funded by taxpayers but don’t have to follow all the rules and regulations that public schools must obey. A pro-charter school group held a smaller event on Monday to support the governor’s plans.

Tenicka Boyd is with the group Students First, says 250,000 school children are trapped in failing schools.

“Our children have no more time to wait,” said Boyd. “We will not let the loud special interests drown out our voices anymore.”

All of the speakers emphasized that they have nothing against teachers, but say they want better instructors in the state’s poorest schools.

A number of charter schools are planning a larger rally for Wednesday. Several of the schools are shutting down for the day and bringing their students to lobby. That move was criticized by the teachers unions, which does not take children out of the public schools, and holds their events  after school hours and on weekends.

After the teacher’s event, a spokesman for Cuomo, in a statement, was defiant.

“The governor is fighting to reform a system that spends more money per student than any other state in the nation while condemning hundreds of thousands of children to failing schools over the last decade,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi. “The louder special interests scream to protect the status quo – and today they were screaming at the top of their lungs -- the more we know we’re right.”