The realities of the achievement gap are powerful, but the will to create change is strong, NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi told a closing session of NYSUT's "Every Child Counts: A Symposium Dedicated to Ending the Gap."
In a wrap-up session that gave participants an opportunity to ask questions of the NYSUT leader, Iannuzzi spoke about the importance of bringing all stakeholders to the achievement gap discussion, including public education proponents, supporters of charter and religious schools, business leaders, legislators, parents and community members.
"The diversity of views we have heard over the last days certainly helps us to focus," Iannuzzi told attendees, reminding them of the importance of asking each other "hard questions" about the achievement gap and its implications.
Attendees, who gave Iannuzzi a standing ovation at the end of the conference, talked about how the achievement gap has impacted them on a local, state and national basis.
One teacher spoke of the need for more public recognition of school successes to date in efforts to close the gap, and some of the outstanding efforts currently under way. Another told how she instills in her students - as early as first grade - the need for college.
A teacher from an urban school warned that discussions about creating competition among schools miss the point that teachers and students competing, instead of collaborating, can lead to worse educational outcomes.
When these types of ideas arise, Iannuzzi said, educators have a series of obligations.
"First, we must hear what they have to say," he said. "Then, we have to be able to say in cogent, research-based ways, why they are wrong. We then have the obligation to provide what works."
School board and community members also spoke, talking about the need to form coalitions dedicated to doing what is right for students, and electing education-friendly candidates to school boards and political office.
"We know that if we're going to go beyond improvements in the classroom, we need to build our partnerships," Iannuzzi said.
The NYSUT president also applauded attendees for attending the symposium, where they spent three days opening themselves to difficult and frank discussions. He reminded the group that the real work of closing the achievement gap still lies ahead, but that NYSUT remains committed to leading the charge.
"The painful realities of the achievement gap are contrasted by the hope that comes out of these last three days," Iannuzzi said. "This is not the end of this for NYSUT. Within NYSUT, you will see this entire topic remain front and center on our political agenda."