Sunday, June 9, 2013


    I made a trip to Saratoga Springs this past weekend to see family and go to NYSUT's "One Voice United" rally in Albany on Saturday, June 8th. Some press coverage has focused on describing this rally and recent efforts to draw attention to flawed education policies only as speakers complaining about tests, teachers complaining about tests, parents and students complaining about tests...all opposing an education commissioner that simply wants to use tests to help students be "prepared for success in college and careers".  Having been at the rally, and being a person who has been a "news junkie" since I can remember, I would like to round out that portrayal of the people expressing their concerns.
     Keep in mind that those concerned include leaders in the field like former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch-who did not appear at the rally but has been outspoken against test-based school reform. Those concerned include union leaders-who are to be expected at such events, but also include school board members and superintendents (including a former superintendent of Cortland City Schools), and administrators trying to lead districts struggling under the state's funding (or de-funding) practices. Those concerned also include the students themselves and their teachers who actually know students as people-not just as a collection of data points generated by standardized test results. Many spoke of this 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. All of those concerned are right to be when suddenly faced with an agenda driven by non-educators who live sheltered and safe and can deny the realities faced daily in the schools that serve the less comfortably well-off. Up until the past few months the focus of school reform has centered on using tests to identify schools and educators that should be marked for improvement or eliminated, but with parents now voicing their concerns that the education of their children is being handed over to testing and data collection agencies, there has been a change in posture coming from the school reform side-shifting the PR campaign from "ineffective teachers must be fired" to "it's all for the good of the students".

   Commissioner King and Governor Cuomo made it very clear, years ago, that New York public schools and their teachers had to submit to evaluations based largely on new standards and the standardized tests that would accompany them.  the standards had not been fully integrated into school instruction, and the tests (by King's own admission) are a "work in progress". Yet the motivation to force agreements putting evaluations and reputations on the line persists, cloaked in an ever-  The catchy but ill-defined "college and career" expectations 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?
     The rally was not a complaining session, it was a call for truth and sanity in policy. If you wanted advice regarding how to best improve education, and could choose between privileged politicians and policy-makers with little or no experience in education, or teachers and parents, who would you choose?

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