December 09, 2013

DAY OF ACTION: Wearing blue - and feeling blue - in Albany

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT Communications
nysut vp maria neira
Caption: NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira addresses reporters. Photo by Don Feldstein.

A broad-based group of union leaders, community activists and parents weren't just wearing blue today. At a Capitol news conference in Albany, they told reporters they're also feeling blue because the state needs to start fully funding education and focusing on teaching and learning, not testing. 

"We demand to be heard and expect action," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, calling for state policymakers to make a "resolution" to stand up for public education in the new year.

Specifically, Neira called on lawmakers and the Board of Regents to support fair funding for public schools and colleges; a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences of state standardized tests; and a new focus on teaching and learning, rather than testing. 

Neira was joined at the news conference by a large cross-section of people who care about public education - educators, parents, community groups and Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, D-Albany. 

"Albany's policies and inadequate funding over the last few years have created a divisive gap between the haves and have-nots in this state," said Billy Easton, director of the Alliance for Quality Education, one of the sponsors of the statewide events. "Anyone who tells you money doesn't matter isn't telling the truth." 

Easton called for a $1.9 billion increase in school aid in the upcoming year in order to prevent further cuts and support for programs, such as community schools and early childhood education. 

Fred Kowal, president of the United University Professions, called for a stronger investment in public higher education. He said SUNY, CUNY and community colleges continue to be underfunded at a time when they are more essential than ever. "Over the last decade, SUNY enrollments have grown dramatically while state support for SUNY campuses has declined sharply. That imbalance must be righted," he said.

"We also must reclaim the promise of a university that is built on a faculty and staff that is honored, respected and not exploited as so many of the growing number of grossly underpaid adjunct faculty are," Kowal said.

Albany Public School Teachers Association President Susan Gray described how the state's rushed implementation of Common Core is destroying instruction that inspires students and fosters their curiosity and creativity. 

"One-size-fits-all testing is the wrong approach," Gray said. " In failing to do it right, we are failing our children. In too many instances, this constant stress over testing has led to a discouragement and disengagement from school." 

Shenendehowa parent Kerensa Rybak, a PTA leader and mother of five children, said the state's obsession with standardized testing has dramatically changed the dynamic at school and home. 

"I've seen it personally and heard from many other parents and students," Rybak said. "Kids are crying, vomiting before tests and wetting their pants. It's very traumatic."

She told how her middle-school daughter, who had always been an advanced math student and scored well on state tests, suddenly "failed" last spring's math assessment.

"She was devastated and placed in academic intervention services. She feels like a failure and doesn't want to be pulled out of class with her friends," Rybak said. "It's simply out of control and I want it to stop. That's why I'm here."