Fall 2015 Issue
September 29, 2015

Magee: A game plan toward victory

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

For those who don't know me well, I am a lifelong football fan. I have spent many Saturdays and Sundays in the stands — or in front of a television set — watching 11 players working together as one cohesive unit in pursuit of a singular goal.

I love football, in part, because it teaches important life lessons about the value of hard work, perseverance and strategy. After all, it takes hours and hours of study and game-planning just to get ready for one 60-minute contest. And, at any point, the coach must be ready to adjust the team's carefully thought-out strategy and make changes based on what's happening on the field.

I see some parallels between football and the very serious work of ensuring that our testing system is appropriate and transparent; that our standards make sense; that the voices of parents and educators are heard clearly; and that any evaluation system is fair and meaningful — and not a punitive "gotcha" system.

Make no mistake: Testing and evaluations are no game. Students, parents and educators have had it with a broken system that misuses standardized tests for high-stakes decisions and values testing ahead of teaching and learning.

NYSUT has been out front, in partnership with parents, giving voice to that opposition. We have been fierce in fighting for real reforms. And, while sometimes it may be hard to see, NYSUT has indeed been moving the ball down the field, making steady progress against those who attack teachers and wrongly blame public education — from pre-K to higher education — for what are largely societal ills.

Earlier this month, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said this coming spring's standardized tests would be shorter — terrific news for our students.

The commissioner is also beginning a comprehensive review of the Common Core standards and assessments — as is a new task force appointed by the governor that includes NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino and AFT President Randi Weingarten, as well as other NYSUT members. The governor has publicly supported making it easier for teachers to appeal evaluations skewed by the state's unreliable and unstable growth model. In appointing his task force, the governor called for a "total reboot."

At its September meeting, the Board of Regents unanimously directed the commissioner to design a better, fairer teacher evaluation system — one that is more accurate, reliable and transparent.

There is also increasing realization that persistent poverty is the common denominator among schools on the state's "receivership" list, and that dismantling school communities is not the answer.

And, lawmakers supported an important bill that would strengthen the funding stream for SUNY, CUNY and our community colleges.

These "yards gained" — these signs that sanity may be returning to public education policy — came about because of tremendous advocacy by NYSUT members, parents and coalition partners, and are products of careful planning and strategizing by NYSUT officers and the Board of Directors.

From dozens of forums, rallies, letter-writing campaigns and, just recently, 30,000 emails to the Regents, we are executing a solid game plan to ensure that the voice of educators and parents — fighting for students and the future of public education — is heard.

And we are indeed being heard! In a recent Quinnipiac University Poll, New Yorkers overwhelmingly agreed state tests are not an accurate way to measure how well students are learning. Two-thirds said teachers' jobs should not depend on how well their students perform on standardized tests. And, the polls consistently show New Yorkers trust teachers — and teachers' unions — by wide margins when it comes to doing what's best for students.

Our message is resonating. Our game plan is moving forward, although, like in football, you shouldn't expect us to be publishing our playbook or publicly announcing what our next play will be. That's just not good strategy.

I would consider October still the first quarter. Where will this all lead? Is this progress about to yield significant breakthroughs? We'll see. What I do know is that NYSUT will be unyielding in pressing its strategy and fighting on until we win meaningful reforms and change this broken system.