Joanne Dean's 6-year-old son came home from school recently in Jamestown, eager to tell his mom what he learned.
"He was excited and it was great," said Dean, recalling how her son — a first-grader — spoke of how he learned to write in the ancient Babylonian style of "cuneiform."
A child — excited about school and learning. It was the sort of moment a parent like Dean, who also has a son in fifth grade, cherishes.
But now, with the state's over-reliance on standardized tests and its hurried implementation of a new Common Core curriculum, it is also the kind of moment she fears will become few and far between.
"With the implementation of Common Core testing, there are times it appears as though the shift is moving from teaching kids to be critical thinkers to teaching them to fill in bubble tests. Excessive testing has narrowed the content and skills our students are taught," said Dean, speaking Monday at Jamestown High School as part of the statewide Day of Action to reclaim the promise of public education.
Cameron Hurst, a 10th-grade student at Jamestown High School, expressed similar concerns. Hurst said he sees the anxiety in both his fellow students and teachers caused by the state's relentless testing. Aiming his remarks directly at State Education Department Commissioner John King, Hurst said: "Let my teachers teach and let me learn!"
Cheryl Jones, vice president of the Association of Jamestown's Paraprofessionals, echoed Hurst's concerns over the toll non-stop testing is having on the students and educators she works alongside.
"There's too much testing," she said. "We need to slow this down."
Like Hurst, Jones and Dean, parents, educators, unionists and community members statewide — from Buffalo to Long Island — joined in Monday's Day of Action, calling for greater investment in public schools and colleges. They also requested the state renew its focus on teaching and learning instead of testing, and a three-year moratorium on high-stakes decisions regarding student and teacher performances based on state assessments.
NYSUT also is advocating that state lawmakers commit to a $1.9 billion increase in funding for New York's public schools over the current school aid total. That hike would help narrow the achievement gap between students in high- and low-needs districts. The increase also would enable the state to establish community schools to address the social and health needs students have, provide universal Pre-K for all 4-year-olds, and restore vital academic and extracurricular programs that in recent years were eliminated as a result of deep budget cuts in wake of the 2008 Wall Street collapse.
Dean said that, in this era of limited state support and a revenue-restricting tax cap, local districts cannot shoulder the burden alone.
"These new reforms cannot achieve full success without adequate funding aimed at professional development, curriculum development and support for all schools," she said.
"Our schools belong to all of us: the students who learn in them, the parents who support them, the educators and staff who work in them and the communities they anchor. We owe it to our students to get back on the right track — as every student deserves the best education we have to offer, to support and encourage them as they enter the more and more demanding global economy."