Resolutions opposing the state's over-reliance on standardizing testing and vowing to keep up the fight against the governor's anti-public education agenda were front and center at NYSUT's Representative Assembly in Buffalo. Delegates also passed resolutions on higher education issues, health and safety and social justice. They challenged the state's "Career and College readiness" benchmarks and recognized parents who opted their children out of state assessments in protest of Gov. Cuomo's high stakes, high pressure policies.
In a special order of business offered by a diverse group of local leaders from around the state, delegates affirmed 10 points that codify "NYSUT's Continued Engagement Plan to Fight for Public Education."
Massapequa FT's Tomia Smith offered the special order of business to affirm the union's ongoing commitment to beating back Gov. Cuomo's toxic public education agenda. "We all must work together to make sure we win and we end this war," Smith said.
Specifically, the special order of business affirms that NYSUT will:
- take the lead in defining and ensuring the presence of optimal teaching and learning conditions for all students;
- continue to advocate for the decoupling of standardized tests from teachers' Annual Professional Performance Reviews;
- continue to advocate for decoupling state funding from APPR changes;
- provide every legislator with the APPR recommendations created by the NYSUT Board of Directors APPR task force;
- continue to encourage members to engage in all aspects of the political process, and encourage local leaders and Board members to meet with their local Regent to advance creation of an informative and diagnostic evaluation system for students and a constructive and valid evaluation system for our members;
- encourage members to continue ongoing personal communication with the Regents;
- encourage regional representation of the Board of Directors at the May/June meetings of the Regents;
- have representatives to the Commissioner's Advisory Committee submit the union's recommendations on APPR regulations;
- have NYSUT leadership continue to provide regular updates to the Board of Directors and local presidents; and
- coordinate a statewide "Day of Advocacy" to demonstrate respect for public education.
Delegates approved a measure recognizing the parents who opted out an estimated 200,000 children from last month's state English Language Arts and math tests. "It's important to recognize the parents," said Oceanside FT's Marla Kilfoyle.
Beth Dimino of Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association and Leroy Barr of the United Federation of Teachers. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.
In a separate resolution, delegates approved a measure opposing standardized testing that is not being used to further instruction or support the educational needs of students. The resolution calls for NYSUT to lobby the Regents to eliminate such high-stakes testing and advocate for an engaging and socially relevant curriculum that is research-based. It directs NYSUT to advocate for federal mandates on assessments "to clearly state that teacher evaluation will not require standardized testing in teacher evaluation."
The resolution includes a provision added on the floor of the convention that gives locals the option of advising their members on participating in opting out. Beth Dimino of Port Jefferson Station TA, who was an author of the original resolution, and Leroy Barr of the United Federation of Teachers, spoke jointly at microphone on that provision. Dimino said she accepted the language as a friendly amendment, noting it allowed local control to prevail.
In other action, delegates approved a special order of business opposing the current College and Career Readiness standards created by the State Education Department, calling them inappropriate and contributing to the false narrative that schools are failing. "The recent release of items from the grade 3-8 ELA and math assessments exposed how developmentally inappropriate these tests are," said Lakeland FT's Mike Lilles.
A College Board study found the current College and Career readiness benchmarks to be set to a combined score of 1630 on the SAT, which creates an expectation that all of New York's students will do better than the top 34 percent of college-bound students nationally. The resolution calls for the commissioning of a panel including educators and developmental psychologists to set new developmentally appropriate standards.
"It's a horrible benchmark," Lilles said. "Thousands of students are succeeding in college without that 1630 SAT score."
Hempstead TA President Elias Mestizo, himself an English language learner as a youngster, spoke in favor of the resolution, saying that in the current testing climate, he would have been wrongly labeled and his own education likely would have been derailed.
Kenmore's Peter Stuhlmiller, echoing a theme that was invoked by many speakers, said of the debates: "The collaboration and compromise demonstrated here is exactly what makes this union what is it and so strong."
In other educational issues, delegates approved a resolution directing the union to secure more funding for all Teacher Centers, including a special emphasis on the professional development needs of smaller and poorer districts. Other measures called for supporting fair funding for 4201 Schools, the hiring of more psychologists for schools and creation of a task force to deal with the high risk behaviors of students.
Delegates directed NYSUT to work to ensure New York makes annual gains toward integrating all public schools,
Delegates acted on dozens of other resolutions pertaining to higher education, health care, political action, pension, civil rights and more.
In higher education, delegates agreed to encourage college faculty not to adopt Pearson textbooks in light of the company's policies and profit-making emphasis.
After one delegate said a Pearson boycott could be difficult in cases where there are not strong alternate textbooks, Michael Fabricant of the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY cited the California grape boycott. "We gave up California grapes because of the larger set of issues for migrant workers," he said. "Boycotts always have a consequence."
The convention also called for reforming the taxation of graduate student tuition remission.
United University Professions' multifaceted action plan for the long-term success of SUNY was endorsed by delegates, as was a resolution by UCATS calling on New York University President John Sexton to voluntarily return the $2.5 million bonus he received on Jan. 15 as part of a retirement package.
On health care issues, delegates directed NYSUT to promote sepsis awareness and education; assist locals in negotiating best practices and protocols for Ebola preparedness; and urge the state Legislature to ensure that appropriate facilities are provided to health care professionals to implement the IEPs of students with disabilities.
A number of delegates spoke in favor of a resolution urging NYSUT to work with local unions to educate and monitor its members concerning workplace stress, including bullying by management.
Iris DeLutro of the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY said workers in all areas are experiencing more stress due to increased workload and bullying by managers. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 49 percent of workers reported they were bullied or witnessed it, DeLutro said.
"We always resist bullying of children," said Shenendehowa's Tony McCann, noting the union is also standing up to the bullying behavior of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "As local leaders, we must also make it clear we will stand up for colleagues who are being bullied."
On pensions and retirement, delegates called for legislation seeking pension credit for veterans and a measure to increase the age when Paragraph 2 death benefits begin to be reduced. Delegates also approved a resolution urging the New York State Teachers' Retirement System trustees to investigate TRS investments in the stock of any corporation or company that profits from the building or operation of prisons and to the extent consistent with their fiduciary duties, seek the divestment of any such investments by TRS. Rochester TA President Adam Urbanski said the resolution was proposed because "we need more investment in schools, not prisons."
Delegates concurred with a number of resolutions approved by the Legislative/Political Action Committees calling for minimum support staff levels in districts and BOCES; proper training for support staff; opposing the loss of revenue for high need, low-wealth districts due to PILOT tax exemption agreements, and increasing public awareness of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act giving Americans with disabilities the opportunity to establish tax-deferred savings accounts.
In the wake of the Citizens United decision, delegates directed NYSUT to work with its state and national affiliates to support a constitutional amendment to clarify that "free speech" as envisioned by the framers of the U.S. Constitution, was limited to individuals and groups — not incorporated entities.
On social justice issues, delegates urged NYSUT to promote expanded ballot access in New York elections to maximize turnout, a prohibition on the practice of conversion therapy, and a change in law that would create a more transparent and accountable judicial process in all cases of police-involved deaths.
On NYSUT governance, delegates directed the union to consider whether the SRP Advisory Committee should meet four times a year, and look at ways to amend the criteria for the establishment of a Council of Locals.
Sixteen resolutions were referred to the NYSUT Board of Directors.