January 2016 Issue
December 20, 2015

Magee: Opening the door to transformative change

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

First, on behalf of the NYSUT officers, let me say: THANK YOU.

Thank you for being there at union rallies after a long day that started before dawn and didn’t end until you corrected papers at home into the wee hours.

Thank you for partnering with parents in forums that poignantly demonstrated how overtesting hurts students and erodes joy in learning.

Thank you for signing up at NYSUT’s Member Action Center and using the site to send emails, sign petitions and maximize our voice in the digital universe.

Thank you for your unparalleled creativity on YouTube and Facebook, where you marshaled the power of words and music and art to highlight what students need and why the era of overtesting was a disaster.

That era is now on its way out … thanks to NYSUT members in part­nership with parents.

Your union called, and you answered!

As a result, we are now seeing the beginning of real change, hard-fought change, at both the federal and state level.

The Board of Regents acted in December to ban the use of student state test scores in teacher evalu­ations for at least four years. The state Common Core Task Force recommended this change to allow breathing room for developing an evaluation process that is fair and meaningful. The work involved is sig­nificant — as are other task force recommendations, including:

  • Developing New York standards by New York teachers for New York students;
  • Less time on testing and more time for learning; and
  • Modifying the new state stan­dards and tests for students with disabilities and English language learners, and eliminating dou­ble testing for English language learners.

These New York state-specific recommendations gained momen­tum because they came in the im­mediate wake of major changes in federal education policy. President Obama has signed a new education law — the Every Student Succeeds Act — which gets the federal govern­ment out of the business of teacher evaluations. Instead, Congress is now leaving important decisions about testing and accountability up to states and local communities.

Changes at the state and federal level are essential to ending the high-stakes pressure that sucked the joy out of teaching and learning and turned too many classrooms into testing factories.

As articles in this issue of NYSUT United explain, we have opened the door to a much-needed transforma­tion of public education — away from test-and-punish and toward teach-and-inspire. Every NYSUT member deserves a moment to reflect on that demonstrated power of union solidarity in action.

While the door to transformation is now open, we are not yet through the door. The reality is: Our work is not done.

NYSUT is redoubling efforts to en­sure these necessary and transfor­mative changes are realized in every classroom. Your union will call on you to see these changes through. A lot of heavy lifting is involved in developing new standards and as­sessments; aligning curriculum and putting in place necessary profes­sional development; and develop­ing a fair and meaningful evaluation process.

These changes, while vital, are far from our only priorities. The issue of testing may dominate the headlines, but equally important priorities include supporting our locals in their negotiations for fair contracts; in­creasing the state’s investment in pre-K, K-12 schools and in SUNY, CUNY and our community colleges; providing resources for receiver­ship schools; ensuring the Fight for $15 helps improve salaries for our School-Related Professionals; and more.

As we head into 2016, let’s take a moment to be grateful for our prog­ress, even as we contemplate the unfinished work before us. Thanks to all we have done together, the pendulum is swinging back in the di­rection of sanity in education policy. I thank every member, parent and activist whose passion and dedica­tion has brought us to this moment. The sea change underway in public education, both here in New York state and at the federal level, is a shared achievement.

But make no mistake: we are not done. As we continue to be the voice that cannot be ignored, I look forward to working side by side with my fellow NYSUT officers to take the fight into 2016 and beyond.