November 2012 Issue
October 24, 2012

Letters: Support candidates who support education

Source: NYSUT United

Support candidates who support education

The late Albert Shanker was once asked many years ago why the teachers' union always seemed to support Democrats. At the time, Shanker was the head of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City as well as co-president with Tom Hobart of our statewide union, the New York State United Teachers.

He responded that, on the contrary, NYSUT had actually endorsed Republican state legislators who had good records on public education. But he also acknowledged that at the gubernatorial and national level it was difficult for his union to back Republicans based on their campaign rhetoric and party platforms, which he characterized as often anti-teacher union, pro-voucher and pro for-profit private charter schools. He added that he wished the GOP would put forth a candidate teacher unions could endorse so that the Democratic party did not take teacher support for granted.

Shanker's hope, however, has yet to be realized. Over the years since he expressed a desire for a political option, many Republican lawmakers have introduced and/or passed legislation to strip public employees of bargaining rights, eliminate tenure, diminish pension benefits, sponsor right-to-work laws and increase support for private schools at the expense of public ones.

Meanwhile, even some Democrats who believe the canard that teacher unions are road blocks to education reform, or who fear the GOP has successfully tapped into a popular impulse of resentment against the greater job security in public employment, have distanced themselves from their former allies. In fact, because it was facing a Hobson's choice in the last gubernatorial race, NYSUT failed to endorse either party's candidate.

Nevertheless, the long-term solution is not to urge a plague on both houses. Instead, members need to actively oppose all politicians who believe they can attack us with impunity.

We need to vote solely for those candidates, regardless of party label, whose actions truly support public education and do not advance the big lie that teachers and their unions are an enemy of the state.

Richard E. Herrmann, president,
Valley Stream Teachers Association

EZTest or taking the teacher out of testing

I recently shared a cab ride with a self-avowed young anarchist.

What ensued during a 20-minute ride was a wide-ranging conversation that began with his views on anarchy, spread to the elections, and concluded with a discussion of the challenges facing public education today. The conversation belied the driver's age and educational attainment (no college and it wasn't clear whether he graduated high school): It was steeped in history, complex analysis and obscure references that I had long since forgotten.

When talk turned to education, he remarked that the growing emphasis on standardized, fill-in-the-bubble testing is a consequence of the advent and evolution of the computer. In essence, the craze for standardized testing is driven by the desire for greater reliance on technology.

I had a light-bulb moment. Much like ATMs and the EZPass are taking over for tellers and toll takers, the fill-in-the-bubble test is supplanting educators in the administration and evaluation of assessments. It takes people to grade an essay — to measure
the nuances of meaning and the intangibles of intelligence.

I appreciate math as a counter balance to writing because in math, at its most basic, you have either a right or wrong answer. Human writing — like human language — is subjective, with lots of gray areas. These gray areas are the essence of human thought — the byproduct of an educated mind, of creativity.

A computer can't evaluate this. To compensate for the limitations of technology, we begin drilling our young to think in terms of black-and-white, right answer/wrong answer. This kind of teaching and testing is antithetical to what professional educators are dedicated to doing, which is to educate us to use our minds to think critically. Standardized testing literally demands that children be taught not to think outside the box, because "other" is not an option on a standardized test answer sheet.

This is why testing is at the heart of today's education reform debate. Educators know firsthand that the growing reliance on standardized test scores to evaluate both kids and educators has more to do with maximizing the use of technology and minimizing the number of people engaged in public education than it does with teaching and authentically measuring the educational attainment of a child or the abilities of a teacher.

The testing movement that began with lower grades now reaches into kindergarten. Standardized tests follow these students through the education pipeline. By the time they reach their senior year in high school, "reformed" testing will be de rigueur in traditional public schools. In the perverted logic of some reformers, they will have achieved the goal of providing a sound, basic education: albeit clearly not what the unions or plaintiffs in the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit had in mind.

The so-called education reformers leading the bandwagon of high-stakes testing are smart. They are thoughtful.

They were clearly educated the old-fashioned way: taught to think in shades of gray, versus blackening a bubble with a sharp No. 2 pencil.

Peggy Barmore
Assistant to the NYSUT president