Acknowledging the intense attention currently placed on education, NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi said teachers must deliver on the state's historic investment in public education to work toward ending the achievement gap and improving student performance. He stressed that real collaboration and more control for teachers over what happens in their classroom s are the keys to success.
In a thoughtful, 25-minute address to more than 200 members of the Watervliet Teachers Association, administrators, school board members and support personnel, Iannuzzi did not hold back, warning that - fairly or unfairly -- the stakes are high for the future of public education and the pressure is on teachers to raise student achievement.
Noting that public education has worked well for most children in New York state, Iannuzzi addressed the needs of at-risk children. "If the achievement gap isn't narrowing; if our schools in urban centers are struggling; if poor rural districts cannot make the grade, then what is the answer?" Iannuzzi asked. He stressed that, "If what educators are hearing from critics are not viable solutions, then they must be convincing as to why and offer viable alternatives to the options currently on the table."
Now that the state has delivered record school funding with the promise of even more, Iannuzzi said teachers must accept - even embrace - increased accountability and be open to change in long-standing policy. In order to fully achieve student gains, however, Iannuzzi said teachers will need a stronger voice in defining those policies - from those determined locally to the setting of state and federal education policy.
"Traditionally, teachers have been left out. Teachers have always been the last to know," Iannuzzi said. "But the movement towards collaboration is happening. It has to happen and there is no more important time for it to happen than now; in Watervliet in our state and in our country."
Iannuzzi held up Watervliet, a small city on the outskirts of Albany, as a model of the positive outgrowth of collaboration. He praised the vision of a very active union leadership - as well as the superintendent and school board members - for setting aside their differences so they can work together on behalf of children and the community. He praised the WTA, led by co-presidents Peter Strand and Jill Gainor, for recently reaching agreement on a new contract and plotting a course for greater collaboration.
"The great value of labor-management collaboration -- and your superintendent and board see the value of this -- is that you together said, 'Let's get this (contract) out of the way so we can concentrate on the children and a list of priorities that we share,'" Iannuzzi said. He included in that list mentoring, professional development, safe and healthy schools, better academic intervention and improved student performance.
Iannuzzi speaks to the media following his address to members of the Watervliet TA.
Speaking at Watervliet's staff development day, Iannuzzi also updated union members on NYSUT's efforts to fix major flaws in No Child Left Behind, which he said unfairly tests and measures students and schools against an ever-changing set of benchmarks.
Iannuzzi said NCLB's sanctions for schools not meeting AYP targets flies in the face of everything teachers know to be true about reaching youngsters.
"Every teacher knows that a system built on sanctions and punishments fails," Iannuzzi said. "You must look at a student who is not succeeding and provide support. Yet, NCLB looks at a student who is not succeeding or a school that is not succeeding and rolls out sanctions."
He added that NCLB's testing policy for students with special needs and for those who are English Language Learners "borders on criminal" and said NYSUT and its national affiliates are working diligently to influence those who will need to fix the law, including holding town meetings with key members of Congress.