Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My Submitted testimony.

    Thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony to this committee regarding the progress of reform. It is somewhat humbling considering my initial doubt that any gathering of policy makers concerning education reform would allow open input from stake-holders (who have been the targets of what is being called reform). Let me briefly explain who I am:

     I am the luckiest man alive.

     I managed to convince the most amazing woman in the world to marry me. She, at this very moment is with her father in the hospital. Following a surgery, there were complications. He is the kind of father that has always been there for her, and now she is there, right where she needs to be. That leaves me with three young girls staying close to phone and text as needed.  They are amazing kids, and managed the day without me while I did a 12 hour day of parent conferences with a brief break to deliver pizza to them-but I cannot in good conscience travel over two hours away while my wife is with her father. My father stopped and checked mid-day and dropped off some lasagna from my stepmother. With apologies but no regrets I have to say that being a husband and a father trump the day with you, and I will be staying home instead of making the trip to Albany.

    Teaching third grade in the small rural school my children attend, having taught for almost 15 years; having a considerable network of longtime friends, colleagues and professional contacts in education; having been an observer of  politics since I can remember and a voter as soon as I could: I can tell you that my 3 brilliant, capable and beautiful daughters, along with their public school peers are being subjected to what has been called “education reform” but is no more than a game of distraction. Those most needing to be evaluated and reformed, those truly needing a set of standards, have pointed a finger away from their own failures and towards the schools that have always worked hard against the damage being done.

     The concept of "common core" standards is acceptable on its surface, but the purpose, sources and method in the creation are as concerning as the ineptitude in implementation. The new standards were developed using a somewhat amorphous "college ready" question mark, then skills back-filled into the grades below. The supposed demands of  "college and career ready" avoid the current realities of crushing college debt and how little our economy offers lately in terms of careers. Also, little input seemed to come from research on how learning foundations are built developmentally-it was more like a goal oriented workout schedule that now has primary age children being cored on abstract skills that brain research shows they are not prepared for. While a set of common core standards is reasonable and even wise considering the instability and transiency in a growing number of households ( caused by the pitfalls of supply side economics), a better set of standards would empower students to lead to more equitable outcomes, not submit to the demands of inequity-the true force behind the "achievement gap". Teachers have had an unreasonable expectation added to their list of "to-do's".

     A better set of standards would target the distressing lack of character in how this country is being led.  The standards I would propose probably wouldn't have primary age children grappling with abstract mathematical reasoning, but would address some of the skills the core calls for in later grades. Team building and collaboration to demonstrate critical thinking and effective writing. Imagine a district full of active learners discovering together how to submit FOIL requests in an attempt to find out who is driving the agenda of our State Education Department, and what agreements exist with vendors constructing the tangled net of assessments and data gathering systems consuming their school day.

     Imagine students involved in deep discussions regarding: 1) A governor (Cuomo) who would have the nerve to call for the "death penalty" on schools that the economy has left behind; 2) State Ed officials that repeatedly act as if our government is on the people, as opposed to of, by, and for the people.

     There would always need to be, of course, assessments-but not those branded and protected by a private corporation, created and scored in a secretive manner to gather data and pass judgment on the end-product. Assessments would (and should) serve the learning process and be developed to be executed and analyzed in a more ongoing and in-the-moment manner. Assessing would happen naturally, be a combination of observation- products created through school/community/maybe even world involvement. They should include more real world action research, less screen and bubble time. The data would be shared carefully, with the primary thought being how to develop learning opportunities instead of marketing opportunities.

     To step back into father mode for a moment: I take exception to suggestions by State Ed that the people have no choice in giving up their right to privacy when it comes to information, sometimes personal and sensitive, about themselves and their children. NYSED, InBloom...whoever: You are not welcome to poke your nose into any information regarding my three daughters. My understanding of NYSED is that they are there to facilitate and empower true educators, not pose as educators, pass judgment on them. pretend to know how to truly do the hard work, or use what were once tools (assessment and data) as weapons and cages.

     In closing, let me say again that I apologize how this past week has gone and steered me away from Albany. My 14 year old has already scolded me. She told me the shoes I bought to wear, the ones to replace my teacher shoes pulling away from the soles, were "senator worthy". 

But I am the luckiest man alive. Today I get to be a husband, a dad, and a teacher. I can be a politician any time.

Dan McConnell

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