Tuesday, April 2, 2013

My Message through NYSUT for "Tell it like it is"

To Education Commissioner John King and the Board of Regents, NYSED, Governor Cuomo and New York State legislators:

As a practitioner, I call upon you to rethink the obsession with standardized testing, and empower the dedicated educators in your public schools with time and resources for getting common core and evaluation right. "No more investing in testing" could be a motto for a New York approach that has our state "leading the nation in innovation". (are you feeling those rhymes?).

   In my school, and I'm sure in others around the state, an enormous amount of time is spent testing. Benchmark testing (beginning, middle, end of year) and progress monitoring (throughout the year) supply a data stream that must then be checked against an expected rate-of-improvement (ROI) formula that then informs the teacher/The District/NYSED/(Rupert Murdoch, Joel Klein...) whether the student is making/will make adequate yearly progress (AYP)as a measure against supposedly statistically comparable peers. With this data the teacher can tell whether or not their annual professional performance review (APPR) plan is going to be successful. In other words if their students will perform well on the one-time, end-of year, sit still in your seat, silently, for one-hour plus, fill in bubbles, read and write some stuff test, OR...if they'd better start looking for a different line of work, resign, retire...whatever is within their reach to get out of what is being done to public education by corporate interests and non-educators.

   Surprisingly Commissioner King (was it in 2008-2009?)felt it necessary to ramrod this situation down the gullet of NY schools under the threat of takeover for non-compliance, and moved to make an even greater percentage of teacher evals dependent on state examinations that didn't exist and that he had to later concede were a "work in progress" in the wake of "pineapple-gate". To his credit, he has moved to remedy this joke of a system by enforcing and paying for higher security to make sure the sad joke about thousands of dedicated teachers threatened by non-educators and invalid measures doesn't get out again.

   The result of all of this has been less time and fewer resources to support quality learning for New York State public school students. Students and teachers are being objectified-talents,goals,burdens and personalities denied as they are reduced to data points. Students who need supplemental services are already not getting them, and in order to feed the data and preserve their jobs, teachers are driven to focus on the numbers on paper not the young people in front of them. Administrators who dare to speak up agree with the teachers that do when they say "it is no longer about the students, it's about numbers".

   Needless to say, students aren't merely denied the supportive and personal approach to an education that welcomes them into the society they are growing into. They also undoubtedly feel the stress and must hear the unforgivable school-smear campaign our own leaders have joined. One excellent teacher I know personally actually said "My job is making me physically ill. I'm serious, teaching makes me nauseous- this is no longer about students."

I offer the following solutions to ensure student assessment and teacher evaluation are done right.

1) Empower communities, schools and educators to meet student needs instead of feed the bottom line(s) of private interests.

2) Endorse the creation of alternative pathways to school-to-community success. In the same way alternative paths to teaching (calling in experts from a variety of fields)are being endorsed, it is EVEN MORE practical to get young people out of the four walls of their classroom and involved in the community-familiar with the people, problems, resources in the area immediately around them; branching out and making connections or pursuing careers that make themselves apparent or available.

3) Have these things happen under the guidance of professional educators. Not everyone can do this job. Just think of the folks who have become famous legislating and "reforming", but could not ever and did not try to "hack it" in the real public education situation. Real teaching is a gift that certain people have and it reveals itself best in person-not through a monitor or online course. It is fluid, and changes with a look in the eye, the combination of cooperative live-and-in-person teams that then can branch out into virtual/distance situations.

Thank you.
A message from a dedicated practitioner.

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