November 2013
October 29, 2013

State Education Department, Commissioner must listen to parents and teachers

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United

Parents and teachers need to be heard, not silenced.

NYSUT delivered that pointed message to State Education Commissioner John King after he abruptly canceled appearances at a series of state PTA-sponsored forums on Common Core — the day after a disastrous town hall meeting in Dutchess County.

Less than 24 hours after NYSUT and the Alliance for Quality Education stepped up and offered to hold their own community meetings, SED announced it would conduct 12 statewide forums under a new format facilitated by state legislators.

NYSUT and AQE decided to put their own forums on hold and monitor the SED events to make sure parents and educators are able to comment and ask questions.

"We want to make sure the debacle that occurred in Poughkeepsie is not repeated," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi.

King was severely criticized — some even called for his resignation — over his handling of the first state PTA-sponsored forum in Poughkeepsie in early October. The commissioner used up an hour and a half for a presentation about Common Core. With only 20 minutes allowed for comment, parents and educators became frustrated and angry when King tried to silence the crowd over a question he didn't like. King later cited the interference of "special interests" as the reason he canceled his appearances.

NYSUT and AQE stand ready to hold their own forums if the SED sessions are inadequate.

"Parents and educators have common-sense solutions for the course corrections needed by the state, and we will ensure they have a chance to share their experience and expertise," Iannuzzi said.

In the meantime, he said, the union is making every effort to make sure NYSUT members turn out for the SED forums.

More than 400 parents and educators attended the first revamped forum Oct. 24 in Albany. Audience members who chose to speak were given two minutes each. State Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, was the moderator and was joined on the dais by other area lawmakers.

NYSUT leaders and members have been the leading voice in calling on SED to "get it right." Parents, who this fall received their children's disappointing results from April's rushed implementation of Common Core assessments, are urgently seeking answers. Two-thirds of students taking state assessments did not meet the new standards.

Grass-roots actions urging SED to slow things down have been springing up around the state this fall. In western New York, some 2,500 parents, educators and community members packed Buffalo's Kleinhans Music Hall in October for a summit on testing that the Buffalo News called "a groundswell ... that became an earthquake."

In Central New York, nearly 1,000 parents and educators gathered at Whitesboro High School to tell King about how the testing of students on curricula before it is fully taught is having a negative impact on teaching and learning.

"Parents have been our active partners in the fight for public education and to get it right," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira. "Parents, school boards and community members are standing up and saying, 'Enough!'"

Activists spearheaded by the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association on Long Island launched a "Stop it, fix it or scrap it!" email campaign protesting high-stakes testing to coincide with the Basic Education Data System, or "BEDS" day, when districts must report their census information.

"Parents want answers and it's important that they're getting the information directly from us — not the media," said Bethlehem TA President David Rounds, who led a discussion at a parent night in early October. "We really are the experts."

NYSUT and the state PTA teamed up to produce an informational booklet on Common Core. The partnership is one piece of the union's ongoing campaign to engage parents so they can make meaningful decisions about their children's education. The union also has a Web resource for parents — www.nysut.org/parents. A pamphlet, "Getting it Right: A Parent's Guide to Student Assessment" and the booklet can be downloaded from the site.

Since last spring, more than 100 NYSUT locals gained their school board's support to pass resolutions critical of the state's rollout of Common Core testing, and more are taking up the issue.

BE HEARD

State Education Department forums about the Common Core State Standards are scheduled for:

Westchester (Oct. 28), Suffolk County, Long Island (Nov. 6), Rochester (Nov. 7), Nassau County, Long Island (Nov. 13 and Dec. 9), Southern Tier (Nov. 25) and Syracuse (Dec. 3).

Check www.nysed.gov for times, sites and additional dates.