From Long Island to Buffalo to Binghamton, and six other cities in between, hundreds of NYSUT members gathered June 1 to protest the state Senate’s failure to hold a vote on legislation that would decouple standardized tests from teacher evaluations and end the state’s era of test-and-punish.
After more than five weeks in New York’s upper house — with 55 of the chamber’s 63 senators signed on to bill S.8301, and with the initial Assembly version passing nearly unanimously in a matter of days in late April — the question on the lips of NYSUT members statewide was simple: “Senators, what’s the holdup?”
“It’s time to put the money where your mouth is,” said Kim Chesko of the Pittsford District Teachers Association near Rochester, hollering through a bullhorn outside the district office of Sen. Rich Funke, R-Fairport, as residents and visitors buzzed up and down the sidewalk at the start of the city’s annual Canal Days weekend.
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“You said you support this bill... That’s fantastic, we love it, we appreciate it,” she said. “It’s time for you to publicly call on Sen. Flanagan to bring this bill to the floor. Our kids deserve better, our teachers deserve better, and you have the power to do it. So let’s get going!”
The bill’s holdup comes down to one man — Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who refuses to allow the bill to come to the Senate floor for a vote, despite its heavy support from most members of his party. NYSUT members protested outside the district offices of nine senators, most of whom are “co-sponsors” of the bill. Rumors say the GOP leader wants to link the bill to completely unrelated concessions to the charter school industry.
In Fairport, West Irondequoit TA President Scott Steinberg said doing so is a deal breaker. “We are asking for this bill to come to the floor now, and in its current form with no strings attached,” he said.
Time for action
Dozens of mid-Hudson region members protested outside the Kingston office of Sen. George Amedore, R-Schenectady, against the background whir of a drone flying overhead capturing images of the event.
“Call your senators and tell them to pass this bill now,” said Sheryl Delano, co-president of the Rondout Valley Federation of Teachers and School-Related Personnel, shouting through a megaphone. She encouraged members to hold their elected officials accountable in November if they continue to drag their feet. “They need to show us that they care about schools and communities.”
Elizabeth Harrington, Rondout Valley FTSRP, a sixth-grade ELA teacher who administered the tests in April, said it’s time to pass the bill. “I don’t object to students being tested, but I do object to using the tests to unfairly punish schools and educators,” she explained, noting the current structure of the tests puts unnecessary pressure on students and educators.
After hearing from several speakers outside Amedore’s office, Kingston protesters filed inside to deliver dozens of signed placards emblazoned with “Pass S.8301 Now!” and “Let Us Teach, Let Them Learn.”
“It’s time for action,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango, who spoke on behalf of protestors with an Amedore staffer. “We don’t want to hear any more excuses. The Senate needs to do its job and pass this legislation!”
NYSUT board member Kathy Taylor, who attended the Kingston event, said she is fed up with lawmakers who claim to support the bill but won’t step up to force the leader to allow them to vote on it. “Amedore sponsored the bill, but if the bill isn’t passed what good is that?” she said. “Let’s decouple the tests [from evaluations] and vote in favor of students.”
Ray Hodges, a fellow NYSUT board member who joined Taylor in Kingston, agreed. “The teacher evaluation plan of test and punish has been flawed from the start,” he said, noting that teachers embrace, and always have embraced, evaluations that improve practice. “We’re not opposed to evaluation, we just want a return to local control. It’s important for our senators to get this bill to the floor for a vote.”
The current APPR system places impossibly high stakes on one exam sitting, said Andy Jordan, a NYSUT board member and co-president, with Joe Alati, of the BOCES United Professionals in Rochester. “The evaluation is very important to every professional. It’s how we judge ourselves from year to year,” said Jordan. “We don’t want to water them down or have them any less rigorous; we just want them to be fair.
“We really need Sen. (Joe) Robach (R-Rochester) and Sen. Funke to deliver a message to the majority leader that it is time to bring this bill for a vote,” said Jordan. “Eighty-seven percent of senators support it. Why hasn’t this gotten to the floor? The answer rests with one man: Leader Flanagan.”
Protests took place at the local Senate offices of Sen. Carl Marcellino, R-Syosset; Sen. Richard Funke, R-Fairport; Sen. George Amedore, R-Schenectady; Sen. Terrence Murphy, R-Yorktown; Sen. Sue Serino, R-Dutchess/Putnam; Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats; Sen. Chris Jacobs, R-Buffalo; Sen. Fred Akshar, R-Binghamton; and Sen. Martin Golden, R-Brooklyn.
For more information about S.8301 and NYSUT’s call for New York State to “let us teach and let them learn,” visit www.nysut.org/letusteach.