Cuomo's attempt at education reform meets hostility

Education reform invites impassioned but ineffective debate

Even with the same endgame – an improved education system for New York State – it appears impossible for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the teachers’ union to agree on just about anything.

Since the start of his second term, Cuomo has made it clear that education reform is a priority, calling for ambitious changes and pointing out flaws that need correcting.

Identifying the need for change and the importance of the state’s public school system is about as far as Cuomo can get before drawing the ire of his opponents.

Although the need for improvement is inarguable, the “how” of the matter is far less black and white.

Firmly planted in that wearisome gray area, the system of evaluation for teachers remains as contentious as ever. Cuomo has argued the tests are too easy pass and allow underperforming teachers to continue in their posts.

Not surprisingly, this claim has enraged teachers who called the evaluations a distraction.

However, when nine out of ten teachers in New York City earned one of the two highest rankings available, it seems that Cuomo may be right to worry about the test’s standards – unless the city’s educators are simply that excellent.

It’s a dilemma that would be difficult enough to solve without fiery debate creating a legitimate distraction.

Teachers who aren’t effective shouldn’t be able to get away with glowing evaluations, but students shouldn’t see their classrooms become testing arenas for their teachers or for themselves.

It would be all too easy to rely on the results of standardized testing to judge teachers’ effectiveness, but an increased emphasis on state tests is even more problematic than a shaky evaluation system.

Clearly, the issues that plague the school system come with no easy fix. Problems and solutions are far too intertwined and everyone involved – from teachers to unions to politicians – seemingly has a different idea about how to enact reform.

At the very least, it’s promising that the issues are being discussed and treated like the priorities that they are.

Cuomo merits praise for his willingness to take on such a challenging issue.

But despite this, Cuomo continues to hear criticism and insults from those with different opinions.

Name-calling and political posturing does nothing to solve the problem or benefit New York’s schools.

It allows for no progress, even as students in Buffalo and across New York attend failing, underfunded and under supported schools.

The president of the New York State United Teachers even went so far as to say that Cuomo has “declared war on the public schools.”

Such a denouncement, against a politician who clearly acknowledges the pressing need for reform, simply seems unfair.

Even though the unions and the governor don’t agree on the best way to improve the state’s schools, they’re ultimately pursuing the same goal – better schools – and care about the same group of people – New York’s students.

That common ground should, at the very least, allow for some basic civility.