ALBANY, N.Y. April 10, 2008 - The 585,000-member New York State United Teachers, continuing to use its influence to end the achievement gap, today released a report that identifies expanded early childhood education programs; school-based health clinics; longer school days; and longer school years as promising avenues to pursue as the union focuses on improving the academic success of children in poverty.
Nearly 3,000 delegates attending NYSUT's annual Representative Assembly, which opens today in New York City, received a report detailing proposals to end the achievement gap - an agenda that is the culmination of a successful three-day symposium attended by 400 educators, business leaders, parents and state officials last October.
"This is our mission, and we must be open to bold, innovative solutions," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "While we will continue to be teachers, mentors and cheerleaders for all children, we have a special obligation to help those students who are growing up in poverty."
Iannuzzi, who taught elementary school in a high-need school district for 34 years, noted the root causes of the achievement gap can be found in inadequate pre-natal care, nutrition and health care; a lack of access to good jobs and housing, quality pre-kindergarten programs and after-school programs; and other kinds of social and economic gaps.
"The achievement gap most often affects poor children and children of color, and it is found in rural, suburban and urban school settings," he said. "The common denominator is not innate failure on a child's part, but rather variables beyond the child's control and, in many cases, beyond the schoolhouse doors."
He said ending the gap will take a concerted effort by all stakeholders, including business leaders and parents; teachers and legislators; senior citizens, community groups and college and university faculty. "We are committed to leading the way," Iannuzzi said.
NYSUT is pledging to continue to use its statewide influence and lobbying clout to press a reform agenda to help children likely to be caught in the gap. The union's plan for at-risk children includes, for example, more emphasis on quality early childhood education programs, greater access to health and dental care; and educational reforms that have proven to help children learn.
"NYSUT has a unique opportunity to use its activism and influence in Albany to improve the lives of all students, but especially those who are at risk," Iannuzzi said. "We plan on seizing on that opportunity."
Iannuzzi noted a number of NYSUT's local unions, including those in New York City, Buffalo, Rochester and Albany, have already incorporated into their collective-bargaining agreements innovative approaches to helping children in need. "A union contract is not a barrier. It is a blueprint for success," Iannuzzi said.
NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said the union's focus will be on ensuring that school districts use research-proven educational reform programs as they work to turn around consistently failing public schools. "Additional instruction time for those children who need more time with teachers is one of those promising practices," she said. "In difficult economic times, we must ensure that scarce resources are devoted to programs that work, not theories or fads," she said.
Neira also noted that building stronger relationships between schools and parents will be an essential piece of ending the achievement gap. She said participants in NYSUT's "Every Child Counts" symposium, spearheaded by union Vice President Kathleen Donahue last fall, stressed that educators need to meet parents "where they are" and pursue sustained partnerships and two-way conversations.
"Parents and teachers are natural partners. NYSUT will continue to work with parents' groups and others to find creative solutions that ensure that parents feel welcome and respected at schools, and can participate more fully in their children's educations," Neira said.
NYSUT represents 585,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education and health care and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.