With chants, shouts, cheers and jeers, more than 1,000 NYSUT members and other supporters of public education unleashed their anger at the testing giant Pearson and other corporate influences in schools during a rousing protest Monday at the very front door of the State Education Department.
NYSUT President Karen E. Magee set the tone in a voice that carried from the SED steps clear across the Capitol's west lawn as she told the cheering crowd that "public education and public schools belong to the public — they belong to students, parents educators and communities — and they belong to the taxpayers. Public schools do not belong to corporations."
The protest was part of NYSUT's continued right-back-at-you counter to efforts by corporations and private foundations to profit from public education. Corporations such as Pearson cut lucrative deals with states to design standardized tests — which Magee refuted by shredding a copy of Pearson's $32 million contract with the state, to loud applause. Privately funded foundations and conservative movements, such as those led by former CNN personality Campbell Brown, undercut teachers' ability to stand up for their students by attacking tenure and education unions.
Magee was joined at the podium by NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta; New York AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento; Fred Kowal, president of NYSUT affiliate United University Professions, which represents academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York's state-operated campuses; Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education; Shenendehowa Central Schools Superintendent Oliver Robinson; Mary Sullivan, executive vice president of the Civil Service Employees Association; and Randy Gunther, president of the Schoharie Teachers Association.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of NYSUT's national affiliates, sent a strong message of support on the protest with her reaction to the recent decision by SED to release a portion of the Common Core test questions. Weingarten criticized the release as a weak attempt to appease critics and quell parents' growing concern about the Common Core.
"Releasing some of the Common Core-aligned test questions in the middle of the summer doesn't cut it," Weingarten said in a statement.
"Parents and educators have repeatedly called for the full release of the questions – even taking our call to the Pearson shareholder meeting this past spring.
"We renew our call for the full release of the test questions and for the questions to be released in a timely manner and in a way that is most useful for parents, educators and kids – not in the middle of the summer and right before test results are announced," Weingarten added.
At the protest, Don Carlisto, co-president of the Saranac Lake Teachers Association, arrived in a limousine for his impersonation of a corporate testing executive and was almost booed off the steps by the crowd as it reacted to his symbolic role. As Carlisto approached the podium, aides portraying corporate lackeys distributed fake million-dollar bills that listed criticisms of corporate testing giants. (First on the list: A large part of the over-testing in New York results from Pearson trying out sample test questions, using classrooms as the company's developmental lab.)
Speaking "in character," Carlisto-as-billionaire told the crowd that "if you don't like the tests your children are taking, then do what we do: Send them to private schools."
NYSUT members at the protest recounted first-person experiences with excessive standardized testing that they said left them concerned for their students and frustrated by the time spent taking tests.
"I'm just getting concerned about the amount of testing, and where the tests are coming from," said Steve LaPolla, a high school history teacher in East Greenbush. "I teach the advanced history classes, so my students can handle it, but it takes a lot of time. We spent three days at the beginning of the year on tests."
Luz Mooney is a high school biology teacher in Kingston and has two children in the Saugerties public schools.
"Tax money funneled into private pockets is taking away from public schools," Mooney said. "This cookie-cutter curriculum doesn't help either of my children."
Numerous motorists passing the protest honked their horns in support as Magee assured the crowd that "United, we stand tall." She promised continued pressure on SED until it listens to parents and educators about the harm that relentless testing imposes on public education.