Ken-Ton teachers rebels with a cause, propose to boycott Cuomo's evaluations

Proposed boycott by school board is incredibly risky, but sends a message Cuomo needs to hear

When teachers, rather than their students, are choosing to break the rules, it’s an indication that there is something seriously amiss.

This time around, the issue at stake is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed teaching evaluations – a proposal which threatens the independence of teachers’ instruction and their freedom in the classroom.

Unhappy with what he sees as lax standards for teacher evaluations, Cuomo has proposed new, more rigorous methods of evaluation that rely heavily on standardized tests, with students’ scores making up 20 to 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

But these Common Core tests aren’t yet familiar to teachers – they’re new and more challenging than previous exams. By relying on standardized test scores, Cuomo is encouraging a “teach to the test” classroom environment, not education.

Certainly, the current evaluations aren’t rigorous or accurate as only less than 1 percent of New York teachers were found to be “ineffective.” In a state where one in four students fail to graduate high school in four years, according to the New York State Education Department, clearly something isn’t working in the classroom.

Although a change is needed in public schools, Cuomo’s proposed exam-centric system is troubling enough to generate a call to action from the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda (Ken-Ton) school board – or rather, a call to inaction.

The Ken-Ton School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to consider a boycott of teacher evaluations and standardized testing in their district.

The proposed action would involve the district’s elimination of test results as a factor in teacher evaluations and a boycott of tests for grades three through eight.

The board is seeking to use the boycott to pressure Cuomo to release state aid information – information that the board claims he is currently withholding in order to pressure the State Legislature to pass his education agenda.

This boycott is equal parts risky and courageous, as Ken-Ton is undoubtedly endangering its financial future – the district could lose about $51 million in state aid and face removal of school officials by the state.

Clearly, the district cannot afford to lose millions in aid money, and the school board needs to think carefully about its priorities. In trying to protect its teachers, the board should not sacrifice resources for its students.

But teachers should have the right to instruct their students without the fear of evaluations and test scores hanging over them. Students will ultimately suffer if classes continue to devolve into mere test-taking instruction.

Ken-Ton’s actions are questionable, to be sure, but they do send an important message to Cuomo – his agenda does not sit well with teachers, and they’re not willing to simply stand by and let it pass into law.

And more importantly, the board’s actions have done more than simply generate threats from the State Education Department.

The proposed boycott has inspired at least two other schools, on Long Island and near Rochester, to consider taking similar actions.

An isolated boycott may not be worth the risk, but if enough schools can join in the protest, New York’s students may just get a firsthand lesson in civil disobedience – and its power.