By JOHN METALLO
For the Recorder
I wear a necktie to work every day because I like to wear them, and they look good on me, and I think they give me a little bit of class. Ties change over the years. Sometimes wide ties are in and sometimes narrow ties are in. Sometimes plain ties are in and sometimes wildly patterned ties are in. But one thing is true about ties: If you have one you really like and it goes out of style, just hold onto it and it will come back into style. You might be asking what neckties have to do with more money for teachers, but we are getting there ... just be patient.
I struggled with a title for this article. I thought of several -- Here we come again; Everything old is new again; Like father, like son -- and had a hard time deciding on just one. You see, like neckties, teacher excellence programs come back into style as well.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his recent State of the State address said that excellent teachers should be paid more money (up to $15,000 per year more) and that they should be used to mentor new teachers. No argument here. Excellence should always be rewarded, encouraged and used as a model for others in the field. But I have news for the self-appointed advocate for all of New York state's school children. It will not work. The thing that is mystifying is that he should know that because of history with which he should be very familiar. Gov. Cuomo I (Mario) tried this in 1986, and the program went down in a ball of flames.
As reported in the New York Times on April 9, 1991, (Josh Barganell): "Gov. Mario M. Cuomo is pressing to eliminate a program he helped enact five years ago to bolster the quality and prestige of teachers by supplementing their salaries. ... The program, known as Excellence in Teaching, provided state funds to supplement salary levels, especially for starting teachers, above those negotiated in regular collective bargaining. It was proposed by Mr. Cuomo in 1986, a state election year, and approved by the state Legislature with the strong backing of the teachers' unions. The program was opposed by local school boards that wanted authority over whether to spend the state aid on teachers' salaries or pencils or computers. Last year, Excellence in Teaching funneled $162 million into teacher salaries. But with the state facing a $6 billion budget gap, the governor has proposed cutting it, and legislative aides say the Legislature may not be able to save it."
That's right: Cuomo II is proposing a program similar to the one that failed on Cuomo I only one generation ago. New York spent $162 million to teacher salaries and it did not improve a thing, and now he wants to do it again? The funny thing is that Cuomo II and his followers think it will work this time because he is proposing it. Well, to coin a phrase, it ain't gonna happen. My skinny ties have more of a chance of coming back into style than this scheme doing one thing to improve education.
We need to stop throwing money at education where it is not needed. Teacher improvement is not about money and it is not about "bar exams" and it is not about trying to embarrass teachers with test scores printed in the local media. Teachers can tell you what they need to improve and they will do it for free. Maybe the governor and his supporters should visit a few schools and ask about teacher improvement and stop telling them what they need.
Oh well, a textbook definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Hey, there is that title I was looking for: Insanity.
JOHN METALLO is an Amsterdam native who currently resides in Slingerlands. He taught in Gloversville for 14 years, was principal at Mayfield High School and superintendent of schools in Fort Plain. He is a retired teacher who was also principal of Albany High School and an adjunct instructor at the University at Albany and SUNY Plattsburgh.