July/August 2013 Issue
June 22, 2013

One Voice United: Movement is just the beginning

Author: Adam Piasecki, President, Ithaca Teachers Association
Source: NYSUT United by permission of Ithaca.com
one voice united rally

A historical and memorable event happened on Saturday, June 8. This event was for a very good cause and it occurred on the Empire State Plaza in Albany.

This event was for the children in our public schools. More than 15,000 people attended this event, titled "One Voice United," hosted by the New York State United Teachers.

Teachers, administrators, school-related professionals, parents and other members of our communities were there to advocate for public education and to speak up with one voice to show that the State Education Department needs to "get it right." If you have a child, relative or neighbor who is in public schools, you probably already know what is happening and understand why this event occurred.

This year, public education in New York state reached a new level. A level that is quite disturbing. The state has a great obsession with testing students. Students in kindergarten through grade 12 are being inundated with tests not only for scores on themselves but also for scores that are connected to teachers and principals for performance evaluations. This is a broken system that is complex, confusing, expensive and not in the best interest for the students. The event in Albany clearly showed our state officials and elected politicians that it is not working across the state and desperately needs to be changed. The public education system that works hard everyday to ensure its students get a quality education is very quickly being destroyed by absurd decisions being made at the state level. Lack of proper funding, increased standardized tests, and an INEFFECTIVE system for evaluating professionals in the field were all topics addressed by those at the event.

You may be shaking your head and asking why things haven't changed if they are not working and causing such detriment to our education system. The answer is the governor, education commissioner and others don't seem to be listening. Maybe this event with so many people will cause them to not only listen, but to make the needed changes so no one has to go through this again next school year. Call it reform, call it change, call it a fight, call it whatever you want, but it's really about those with the knowledge and experience needing to take back education.

It was clear at the rally that the professionals in education and all the advocates for students need to take back education from those making policies and laws about education that are harmful. The issue of Pearson, inBloom and other for-profit companies making a lot of money from tests and student and teacher data must be addressed immediately. 

Teachers know what good testing is and how to implement it. Teachers also know when tests are not very good or useful. Teachers know what forms of student data are needed to deliver quality instruction for all students. All anyone had to do at this event was stand and listen to the conversations teachers were engaging in to hear how dedicated and passionate they are about the children in their classrooms and schools. This would be the reason for hundreds of signs at the rally saying, "Just let me teach."

I have said for a long time now, even before this huge rally occurred, that teachers and administrators are not against new standards or being evaluated and held accountable in their practice. The issue here is tying it to test scores, especially when those tests may not be developmentally appropriate or are unreliable, when we all know that learning and growth in children is measured by more than just test scores.

By now you might be asking how you can find out more about what is really going on in the schools. I encourage you to talk with teachers to hear what is happening. You might be asking how you can help. Now that the rally is over, the movement is just beginning. Anyone can help advocate for the "right reform" in education by helping get some very important bills passed regarding testing and student privacy. Get informed and help advocate by visiting truthabouttesting.org and testing.nysut.org.

The stress, frustration and tears coming from educators and children can be stopped and you can help. There is one thing the June 8 rally taught us: So many people care about the children in our public schools that we can win this fight and we will win by being one voice united.

This article first appeared on ithaca.com