July/August 2013 Issue
June 22, 2013

From the President's Desk: Speaking with One Voice

Author: Richard C. Iannuzzi
Source: NYSUT United
iannuzzi and the one voice united rally in albany

The One Voice United rally brought together many voices. At first that might seem like a contradiction. In fact, however, it speaks volumes about the union movement, NYSUT, our members and all who believe that the future depends on public education.

In my opening remarks, I put it this way:

"… This is not against anyone: not the governor, Legislature, chancellor or the commissioner ... Today is for children; children who practitioners call students; parents call daughters and sons; grandparents call grandchildren; and communities call their future."

I was clear, quoting Bob Dylan: "Get out of the way if you can't lend a hand." Educators - teachers, school-related professionals, administrators, superintendents, school boards - know we can't do it alone. We also know "we'll need everyone to lend a hand, and we can't afford to let any hands get in the way."

This issue of NYSUT United and www.nysut.org highlight the variety of voices rally-goers heard. Speakers came from the national, state and local levels. They spoke to the fundamental dysfunction that flows from allowing a corporate agenda to replace an educational agenda. Private partnerships - corporations and foundations - can play an important role in supporting quality, public education, but only if they are reinforcing the best practices of high-achieving practitioners and schools.

Speakers addressed issues of equity and fairness in education funding. A system that still directs greater percentages of state aid to wealthier school districts and uses an undemocratic and iniquitous tax cap to hamper local efforts to address educational needs will never be a system that can deliver a quality, public education for every child.

And, of course, speakers also addressed obsessive testing. In too many places, especially here in New York, assessment has become an end in itself instead of a tool to inform instruction and one of many measures applied to the continuous process of improving teacher quality.

From the podium, these were the messages. In the crowd, these messages were reinforced with homemade signs carried by adults and children alike. Some of the signs and the sentiment among the rally-goers varied from NYSUT's positions. Some called for an end to any use of student assessments in teacher evaluation; some sought an end to the Common Core State Standards; and still others advocated for a more active voice in the "opt-out" movement. These messages gave voice to the complexity of the issues facing public education. While they called for different means, they supported the same outcome: a quality, public education for every child. There was the clear understanding that, on that message, we were all speaking in one united voice.

In the days leading up to the rally and in the few weeks since, we've seen some positive occurrences: the unfair guidance dealing with the science Regents and its impact on teachers was corrected; the Board of Regents concluded that moving to a value-added model retroactively to 2012-13 was not appropriate; and, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced states would have the option to ask for additional time before tying Common Core assessments to teacher evaluations. These were all positive signs that reflect the sentiments heard loud and clear from more than 15,000 voices on June 8.

While none of these positive developments should be tied directly to one event, some linkage can't be ignored. At the top of that list is AFT President Randi Weingarten's call for a moratorium on high-stakes testing and her ability to garner support from across the education spectrum. Our strategy to give voice to practitioners through the "Tell it like it is" listening tour and to all stakeholders at the One Voice United rally also played a major role. These events complement one another as we strive to define the future of public education.

Each of these milestones marks a point on a journey, and the strategies that define that journey will be guided by the voices of practitioners and by NYSUT's values and principles. That journey continues and it would be a mistake to see the rally as either a beginning or an end.

But, for now, let's celebrate our victories because, as Bob Marley put it:

"Though the road's been rocky, it sure feels good to me."

Note: Your comments on this column or any issue you wish to share directly with me are welcomed. Email your thoughts to dialogue@ nysutmail.org.