October 11, 2012

NYSUT to Education Reform Commission: Invest in high-needs districts, don't rush new Common Core Standards and recalibrate testing timeline to get it right

Source: NYSUT Media Relations

NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira.
Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

ALBANY, N.Y. Oct. 11, 2012 - New York State United Teachers today presented testimony before the New York Education Reform Commission outlining a series of proposals aimed at maximizing student achievement and teacher effectiveness.

Union leaders, appearing on Long Island before the Commission, offered a string of recommendations that focused on cost savings, enhancing public education and ending the achievement gap. Their proposals included:

The creation of Empire State Partnership Schools - Partnership schools would enable the state to reach beyond its funding of traditional education services in struggling schools and, instead, provide the additional support services that students living in poverty - and their families - need to be successful. Through a comprehensive and coordinated set of programs, children in high-needs districts would not only have access to effective teachers and modern school buildings, but also health and dental clinics, counseling programs, mental health services, tutoring and more.

"As educators, we know that too often a child's academic future is determined by a home's address or a family's income," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "New York state has an opportunity to counter this by capitalizing on its ability to provide additional support in and around the academic environment in ways that can address social and economic needs, and by making critical health and nutrition services easily available. To increase academic achievement, the state must invest in its high-needs school districts by providing a rich and well-rounded array of services that can counter the disadvantages created by a circle of poverty."

Allowing the appropriate time for the implementation of Common Core Learning Standards and new evaluation systems - NYSUT supports the new Common Core Learning Standards and the high level of academic content and critical thinking the standards embody. Likewise, NYSUT is committed to a comprehensive evaluation system focused on improved instruction and student academic growth. But New York state - thanks to a pervasive "Just Do It" mentality - endangers the very reforms intended to advance teacher development, student learning and our shared mission of closing the achievement gap.

NYSUT 's testimony described the high stress level caused over the state's the fixation with standardized tests, and the effects of over-testing on students, parents and educators.

Prior to No Child Left Behind, New York tested just once a year in fourth- and eighth grade for English Language Arts and math. Now, there are at least two statewide assessments in ELA and math each year in grades 3 through 8, plus science exams and field tests. Students who take all the required tests today would complete a minimum of 4,440 minutes of standardized testing by the time they are high school seniors.

Using these tests for promotion and graduation decisions has dramatically increased stress on students and parents. Teachers report that, instead of focusing on real learning, they increasingly feel pressure to spend weeks on test prep - "drill and kill" instruction designed not to teach critical thinking skills, but to help students learn how to fill in more multiple-choice bubbles accurately.

NYSUT's leaders reiterated the union's position that standardized testing is limited in value and only serves as one component of what should be multiple authentic measures of what a child knows and can do.

"New York's public education system is under tremendous stress," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira. "The system simply does not have the capacity at this time to implement all of the Regents' reforms the right way, under such an unrealistic, hurried timetable.

"There are not enough resources - human or otherwise," Neira added. "The promise these reforms hold for transforming our public education system may never be realized if educators are not provided the time and resources to implement the Common Core and the new evaluation system with fidelity."

Adopting an array of state cost-saving initiatives - Proposals by NYSUT include modernizing the process for school-district mergers; encouraging the development of regional health care consortia made up of school districts, BOCES and municipalities to offset rising health care costs; establishing a statewide prescription drug plan to lower costs by using New York's bulk purchasing power; and accelerating efforts to increase energy efficiency in schools across the state.

"New York state stands at a critical juncture," Iannuzzi said. "If New York is to retain its place among the nation's top tier of public education systems, it must once again view public education as an investment in students, as well as in the state's economic future. The Commission's recommendations will be critical to shaping that future."

NYSUT's full testimony is available online at

NYSUT, the state's largest union, represents more than 600,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education and health care and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

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