Tuesday, June 11, 2013

At the Rally

    I made a trip this past weekend to see family and go to NYSUT's "One Voice United" rally for public education in Albany on Saturday, June 8th. Some press coverage has described this rally and recent efforts to draw attention to flawed education policy as "complaining" about tests: teachers complaining about tests, parents and students complaining about tests...and opposition to an education commissioner that simply wants to use tests to help students be "prepared for success in college and careers".  But it is more than simply about complainers and tests.
Me and my oldest
     Those at the rally included union leaders, school board members, superintendents (including a former superintendent of Cortland City Schools), and administrators who are trying to lead districts struggling under the state's funding (or de-funding) practices. They spoke passionately about misguided education policy and questionable funding practices in our state. Teachers appearing spoke of the distinction between mechanically treating a student as market-ready data instead of an actual young person with the strengths and challenges he or she may come with.  Parents spoke of wanting more for their children. 18 year old Nikhil Goyal, a recent graduate, and author, spoke powerfully-sharing the ridiculous nature of children forced to take multiple choice tests in gym class. That's reform?
     Up until the past few months the focus of school reform centered on using tests to identify schools and educators that should be marked for improvement or eliminated, but with parents and students like Nikhil now voicing concerns that education is being handed over to private interests, testing publishers and data collection agencies, there has been a change in posture on the school reform side. The reform PR has shifted from "ineffective teachers must be identified and eliminated" to "these hours upon hours of testing are essential for preparing students" (my quotes).
    Commissioner King and Governor Cuomo made the agenda clear years ago: New York public schools and their teachers had to submit to evaluations based largely on new standards and standardized tests that would accompany them-despite the fact that those standards had not been fully integrated into school instruction and those tests had not reached their final form (and are likely to change again when the state moves to through-year style assessments). Yet putting evaluations and reputations on the line persists, cloaked in a catchy but ill-defined "college and career ready" expectation that goes without clarification: what college in an era of crushing student loan debt, and what careers that would help future graduates pay back that debt? With bigger problems than the lack of tests impacting the lives of families it might be that the struggling economy, soaring college cost and the job market should be more immediate targets for reform.
     Having been there I can tell you: the rally in Albany was not a complaining session, it was a call for truth and sanity in education policy, and more input from the people who are actually in our communities, in our schools, and in our classrooms.

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