Urgently calling for an end to inappropriate student testing and the state's punitive receivership law, delegates at NYSUT's policymaking convention in Rochester took action on nearly 40 resolutions that will shape the union's agenda in the coming year. Delegates also passed resolutions on a wide range of higher education issues, to enhance health and safety and to protect collective bargaining rights.
Sending a strong message to Albany that more needs to be done to stop the harmful over-testing of students, some 2,000 delegates approved resolutions calling for a complete overhaul of the state's grades 3–8 testing program; swift implementation of the Common Core Task Force's recommendations; and new assessments that are created with true educator input to provide timely and accurate appraisals of student learning.
Guilderland TA President Erin McNamara spoke on the APPR resolution, saying "We want NYSUT to get rid of APPR."
Delegates passed a resolution seeking a reduction in the number of testing days and a study of the impact of untimed testing for state assessments. They voiced concerns that after Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia this year lifted time limits on the state assessments, students reportedly spent as many as 12 hours on the English language arts exams. Another resolution called for involvement in a pilot program under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act to pioneer innovative performance-based assessments that are "authentic, reliable and humane."
There was considerable discussion over efforts to redesign the state's unfair teacher evaluation system. One resolution called for SED to create a task force to create an entirely new system that includes measures other than test scores, adequately accounts for learning conditions, and avoids a one-size-fits-all approach.
A resolution highlighting the failure of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) system called for any "Ineffective" and "Developing" ratings to be expunged from teachers' records. Several delegates argued passionately for all ratings to be expunged because the entire system is invalid and "junk science," but that amendment was defeated after several delegates noted it would not make sense to take away good ratings. "When (you only) expunge the lower half of the ratings, that's sending a mixed message to the public," said Carmel TA's Anthony Cardinale.
"We all concur that APPR stinks and it's got to be fixed," said United Federation of Teachers' Leroy Barr. In the end, delegates voted 611 to 447 in favor of the resolution.
Martin Daly said the APPR system is "junk science."
On the issue of receivership, delegates called for an outright repeal of the law and urged NYSUT to exhaust all legal means to challenge any receivership-related unfair labor practices, including attacks on due process and collective bargaining. NYSUT also was directed to develop a plan and advise members on how they should respond to the demands of receivership.
Delegates again affirmed their strong opposition to college and career readiness standards created by SED and called for their replacement. Delegates called for the commissioning of a panel, which would include educators and developmental psychologists, to set new developmentally appropriate standards. These benchmarks are important because they determine the difficulty levels of state test questions and set cut scores for proficiency.
Other educational issue resolutions called for SED to establish a statewide advisory group on implementation issues surrounding Part 254 regulatory changes to improve services for English language learners; and urged state lawmakers to respect the constitutional autonomy of the Board of Regents to set education policy.
For higher education, delegates urged NYSUT to develop regionally based and statewide avenues for K-12 and higher education locals to meet and collaborate on issues of common concern, such as the state's recent changes in teacher education programs and certification requirements. Jamie Dangler of United University Professions noted the "horrible, invalid Pearson exams" for teacher certification and other new requirements seriously impact student teacher experiences and discourage future teachers from entering the profession. "We're seeing tremendous declines in teacher education programs," she said. "That situation will get worse unless we can work together."
In addition, delegates resolved that NYSUT reaffirm its commitment to end the exploitation and reliance on a contingent workforce for higher education. At the same time, NYSUT will continue to advocate for current contingent faculty members to achieve pay equity, equitable access to employee benefits, meaningful job security and opportunities for career advancement.
Steven Rechner, president of the Union of Clerical Administrative and Technical Staff at NYU (UCATS), noted contingent faculty members and staff are unable to fully participate in university life and politics. "Tenured faculty have the power to express themselves," Rechner noted, while contingent staffers fear retaliation and can be reluctant to get involved in union activities.
Delegates also approved a resolution urging NYU to enter into good faith bargaining with UCATS over the effects of changes that it imposed on the library staff. Administrators have been directed to do so three times by the National Labor Relations Board. Rechner urged delegates to sign a petition supporting workers' rights at NYU, via the website www.UCATS3882.org.
Under political action initiatives, delegates directed NYSUT to actively support and monitor implementation of legislation raising the minimum wage; continue to oppose the tax cap and the supermajority requirement; continue advocacy to protect and expand social insurance programs; and support single payer health care in New York State. Delegates called for more state funding to support Teacher Leadership Development programs and to urge federal passage of the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act.
Delegates were loud and clear in their opposition to a 2017 Constitutional Convention for New York State and called for NYSUT to wage a vigorous public relations campaign to convince the public to vote it down.
To counter the recent attacks from wealthy extremists, delegates called for NYSUT to redouble its efforts to raise VOTE-COPE contributions. To encourage more retirees to participate, delegates urged NYSUT to consider offering local rebates to Retiree Councils.
In the wake of the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association decision, delegates called for the union to educate members on the benefits of a strong labor movement and the importance of replacing the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as soon as possible.
For civil and human rights, delegates approved a resolution directing NYSUT to encourage state and federal governments as well as countries in the European Union to accept and welcome refugees escaping political turmoil and violence in Africa and the Middle East.
In a special order of business, delegates strongly condemned recent laws approved in North Carolina and Mississippi that allow discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender individuals. The special order urged NYSUT members to avoid travel to the two states — and any other states that enact similar discriminatory laws.
"We're in good company," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Emeritus Alan Lubin, noting Bruce Springsteen just canceled a concert in North Carolina in a similar sign of protest.
Sandie Carner-Shafran, this year's SRP of the Year praised the union's advocacy on the Fight for $15.
On health care and safety issues, delegates approved resolutions calling for establishing safe maximum temperatures in classrooms; preserving collective bargaining for health insurance contracts with municipal cooperatives; and providing all students with access to a social worker. Beth Peters, a school counselor in Wayne schools, thanked delegates for their support for social workers. "It's just such an important time to make sure we're taking care of the whole child," she said.
In other action, delegates urged NYSUT's national affiliates to advocate for the passage of a better Cost-of-Living Adjustment for Social Security that would more fairly reflect inflationary measures. Delegates also called for an end to the practice of garnishing Social Security to pay student loan debt.
Delegates directed NYSUT to urge federal lawmakers to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership and any similar trade deals that fail to restructure the misguided policies of the past.
Under solidarity, delegates voiced support for the Chicago Teachers Union and the Los Angeles School District unions in their fight against converting half their schools into charters.
Delegates also agreed to actively support a campaign to restore and furnish the Kate Mullany House in Troy, a historic site that is being restored by the American Labor Studies Center to commemorate the courageous women and men who fought for the right to organize and bargain collectively. Troy TA President Seth Cohen, whose grandmother was a leader of the International Ladies Garment Workers union, presented a special order of business asking for a collection for the Mullany house; delegates responded generously, donating $3,865.13.
Shenendehowa retiree Tony McCann said Kate Mullany must be remembered for forming a union at a time of great adversity. "She stood up and she won!"