July/August Issue
June 22, 2015

Magee: Voices replace rubber stamps

Author: NYSUT President Karen E. Magee
Source: NYSUT United
NYSUT President Karen E. Magee
Caption:

Many New Yorkers will tell you that one of the benefits of living and working in New York is the change of seasons. As you are reading this column — the final one of this year's publishing cycle — we are quickly moving from spring's blossoms to summer's heat. When NYSUT United resumes, we will be changing again, as summer transitions to the colors of fall. New York state really has something for everyone.

Much like the seasons, in Albany — at the Capitol and at the State Education Department — there has been a constant cavalcade of change this year. It's a change of culture; a change in the way policymakers do business. It's a change away from top-down dictates to one that relies on and considers the voices of parents, students and educators.

Nowhere has this change manifested itself more than with SED and the Board of Regents. What happened at the Regents' June meeting was truly remarkable. Some veteran Regents-watchers called it unprecedented. It wasn't so much what they did — although there was progress, and breathing room was created in righting some of the wrongs of Gov. Cuomo's test-and-punish education agenda — but, for the first time in memory, gone was the rubber-stamp approach to proposals put forward by SED staff.

Instead, led by seven courageous Regents who reaffirmed their responsibility to advocate for students, the board engaged in long, spirited debate. Some of them pointedly took on the myths about evaluations and testing. And they did make change, most notably extending the inane deadline imposed by the governor for districts and their unions to comply with his unworkable evaluation edicts.

Many state Assembly members were in attendance, and have been a regular presence at the Regents meetings. NYSUT was also well represented, as always, with the supportive presence of many members of our Board of Directors to reinforce our call for a fix to the state's testing and evaluations policy so it is good for kids and fair to teachers.

Other encouraging developments steel our resolve. For instance, polls continue to reinforce that our messaging — in television, radio, print, billboards and online advertising, as well as through news coverage — combined with the most widespread wave of grassroots engagement in modern NYSUT history — has turned the tide emphatically; public opinion has swung strongly in our favor.

Poll after poll reflect the governor's plummeting job approval, a sea change that began when we shined a light on his so-called education reforms. Clearly, the public emphatically supports and trusts NYSUT on education issues.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media is increasingly "getting it" too, as reflected in an array of editorials and columns published across the state. For instance, a recent editorial in the Capital Region's Times Union stated:

"To avoid more turmoil, which can only harm students, the Regents should tell Mr. Cuomo and lawmakers that this idea (changes to the teacher evaluation regulations) needs more thought and discussion, and that the deadline is simply too tight. Let the governor sue the Regents if he wants. New York's kids deserve better than another botched rollout.

Amen.

As I write this, the state Legislature is in the final days of its 2015 session. We've had our share of victories, with both houses passing essential "maintenance of effort" legislation that would benefit our wonderful public colleges and universities.

We are still fighting.

We are fighting against a lavish tax giveaway to billionaires in the form of a credit to those who donate to private schools. We are fighting a permanent tax cap and an expanded charter school cap. (Check nysut.org throughout the summer for updates. And, while you're there, sign up for your "My NYSUT" account so we can send you regular briefings.)

Brothers and sisters, while there is still much to do, momentum — and progress — are on our side. No one is going to stop the change that we, together, began this year.
And, as George Bernard Shaw once wrote: "Progress is impossible without change."

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