More than 600 NYSUT leaders and members from across Western New York joined NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi and Vice President Maria Neira in a thoughtful, wide-ranging and passionate dialogue about educational issues at the inaugural session of the statewide union's "Tell It Like It Is" listening tour at the University of Buffalo.
The "town hall" event was the first of several that will be held around the state to listen and engage local leaders and members in the ongoing fight against the over-reliance on standardized testing, and to complement the union's "Tell It Like It Is" campaign, in which thousands of members have blanketed State Education Commissioner John King and the Board of Regents with letters.
Members shared heart-wrenching insight into the effects of state standardized testing on their students, the debilitating impact it has on young students, the narrowing of the curriculum and the erosion of student learning time, among other issues.
Iannuzzi and Neira expressed their frustrations over the failure of policymakers at the state and local levels to align curriculum and testing in a sensible and reasonable manner and vowed to continue to voice the concerns of members with the Regents, the commissioner of education and other policymakers. They called for the state and local school boards to reduce the number and length of tests, as well as to re-evaluate the amount of instructional time and financial resources lost to maintain the current testing framework.
Members also shared their concerns about the need for more state support for higher education, teacher centers and BOCES, although the lion's share of the discussion focused on the state's rocky implementation and overuse of standardized testing.
Neira thanked members for their strong and continuing participation in the "Tell It" campaign, stressing that the letters are being continually funneled to policymakers, "and I can assure you that we make sure your voices are being heard."
Iannuzzi also thanked the members for "giving us the voice and the strength we need" to continue to stand up against policies and practices that are bad for students and educators. For example, he said to strong applause, "There is no educator in this room who would do an assessment before you did the instruction" - yet that is what the state is doing by testing on new Common Core curriculum before it has been taught.
Peter Stuhmiller, Kenmore Teachers Association president, warmly welcomed Neira and Iannuzzi, noting that an outgrowth of the dialogue will be "for us all to continue to work together and effect change." Pointing to an AFT button on his lapel, he said: "The pins we're wearing ring true for all of us: Learning is more than a test score."
The "listening tour" evolved from the recommendation of the NYSUT Policy Council. Council member Ronald Sesnie, who is president of the Tonawanda Teachers Association and also heads the Erie County Council of Presidents, joined Iannuzzi and Neira in the discussion. The event drew strong participation by NYSUT local presidents and board members from Western New York.
NYSUT members wishing to join this ongoing conversation should contact their regional office to register for the event in their area.