The Value of Flexibility

After consistently opposing a millionaires’ tax, and insisting there would be no tax increases, Governor Cuomo turned on a dime and passed a mid-year budget package that essentially did both.  By “restructuring” the tax code, tax rates were slightly reduced for most, but increased for those earning more than $2 million per year. The net result is an estimated $1.9 billion in new revenues. Not tax increases, but new revenues.

This fiscal gyration wipes out the current year shortfall and should make the promised increase in education spending more likely, so the result is an agreeable one. It makes me wonder if the governor’s flexibility might be adopted by others.
In October, SAANYS wrote to Commissioner King and the members of the Board of Regents asking that the State Education Department apply to the U.S. Department of Education for a one-year extension of the RTTT requirement for the implementation of the APPR law. The State of Delaware did so and had its application granted. Regardless, there seems to be little interest at SED in pursuing this course of action.

It seems to me to be increasingly difficult to engage in thoughtful discussion around the practical impact and the validity of our new APPR system. It is my observation that too many people are too quick to place an individual in one philosophical corner (“education reformer”) or another (“defender of the status quo”). Each label is frequently tagged with allegedly having unflattering characteristics (blindly attacking public education despite limited public education experience versus defending the lazy and inept despite the adverse effect on children), which may or may not be true, and most often are not.

Reasonable people may, and do, debate whether student growth scores are a valid means of measuring teacher or principal effectiveness, but being on one side or another does not equate to some kind of moral failure. One may argue that having 20 percent of an evaluation based on student growth scores is insufficient, or to the contrary, that 20 percent is far too high. In either case, the position adopted does not reveal an improper motive. A concern over the method of being held accountable does not equate to opposition to accountability. The state assessment system has an unstable past, and it is not unreasonable to want an accountability system that is built on a firm foundation, and not on 80 percent of one.

It is my hope that we can have informed discussions about the costs and practical front-line implementation issues without being labeled as obstructionists. I hope that those who create a system that they believe will help children will remain humble enough to accept that they too can learn from those who face life’s often unpleasant realities in our schools on a daily basis. I hope that there will be evaluations of the evaluation system as it is implemented, and that proponents of the system will have the courage to make changes should they be warranted. Let our governor serve as our guide; if circumstances call for a modification of earlier positions, let us not be afraid to ‘restructure’ ourselves to the right result.

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