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Downtown School Forms 'Human Chain' to Protest Cuomo's Teacher Evaluations

 Parents and students at the Spruce Street School joined hands to protest Cuomo's proposed reforms.
Human Chain at Spruce Street School
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LOWER MANHATTAN — Chanting “protect our schools, respect our teachers,” parents and students joined hands outside the Spruce Street School Thursday morning, forming a “human chain” to protest Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial education policy changes — including teacher evaluations with heavy emphasis on standardized test results.

The linking of hands was one of more than 80 protests planned across the city Thursday at schools unhappy with the proposal, which would tie a $1.1 billion school aid package to a series of education reforms that some opponents say would make it easier to fire teachers.

At Spruce Street, a public elementary school that sits just steps from City Hall, parents echoed the concerns of many across the city, namely that Cuomo's proposed teacher evaluations put entirely too much weight on state test scores. 

“What the governor wants could be a disaster for our children and our teachers. It’s just not fair,” said Spruce Street PTA co-president Hilda Bergman. “We don’t want our teachers just to teach to a test; we want them to educate our children for life. It kills the creativity for children and for teachers.”

Under the proposed reforms, half of Cuomo's teacher evaluations would be based on state test scores, up from the current 20 percent. Thirty-five percent would be based on observations by outside "professionals."

Principal observations currently constitute 60 percent of the evaluation, but that would go down to 15 percent under Cuomo's plan.

The governor's proposal would also tie teachers' tenure to the evaluations and increase the cap on charter schools. Cuomo also plans to cut funding for schools that don't adopt his teacher-evaluation system.

The governor called the current evaluation systems "baloney" in his State of the State address, saying, "We need real, accurate, fair teacher evaluations.”

"What if you have one bad day, as a student or a teacher, or you're just not good at tests — how does this new system make sense?" Bergman added, before linking hands with a fellow parent Thursday morning.

Parents at Spruce Street were collecting signatures for a petition against the proposals that they plan to send to Cuomo.

One parent, Kristin Moshonas, also made a massive sign that read, "Please Governor Cuomo, Leave the Heart and Creativity in Our Learning" that they filled with signatures and planned on sending to Cuomo.

"I think what Cuomo is doing is trying to bring up failing schools, but it's not a plan that works for all schools," Moshonas said. "You're penalizing all schools, many of which, like ours, is doing well."