A Time to Speak up, be Heard and to Take Action

action

Stop the Assault on Public Education Alert

As the parent of a child who attends public school in NYS, I am very concerned about the agenda and direction reformists are taking public education in New York state.

Under Cuomo, years of state aid cuts, a continued Gap Elimination Adjustment clawback and frozen Foundation Aid topped off by the property tax cap siphoned money away from children and schools leaving many to face fiscal and educational insolvency. More than 30,000 educators have been laid off on Cuomo’s watch yet teachers are scrambling to teach with the little that they have to work with while trying to keep their jobs. Public schools can barely operate at all much less provide students with the resources and programs they need consistent with their constitutionally protected right to a sound basic education. Money has been siphoned away from essential programs and resources that support student achievement yet Cuomo threatens to impose the death penalty against schools that cannot provide students with what they need in order to achieve. Public schools face fiscal crisis resulting in more cuts of personnel, programs and large class sizes. Meanwhile, common core, excessive high stakes testing and flawed teacher evaluations have forced parents, students and teachers into a state of frustration and despair.

Despite the same,  the Cuomo Administration recently sent a letter to the Board of Regents and Commissioner of Education (http://www.p12.nysed.gov/docs/nysed-malatras-letter-12-31-14.pdf) with a series of questions that exposed their intention to advance egregiously flawed education reforms across the backs of students and teachers.

Although Cuomo scapegoats SED and the Regents, truth is NYS is a hot mess largely thanks to Governor Cuomo’s misguided agenda for our public schools. Cuomo has aptly demonstrated that he intends to undermine the public school system across the backs of public school children.

NYSAPE  clarifies fact from fiction in a response issued to Cuomo that is a must read.

NYSAPE writes:

Governor Cuomo’s Misguided Agenda is Harming Public Education

NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), a coalition of 50 groups statewide, has sent a letter to Governor Cuomo, responding to the questions posed in a letter from his office addressed to Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch on December 18 and shared widely by the media.

It is evident that the Governor has a misguided agenda about the state of our public schools and what strategies should be used to improve them.  In our letter, we challenge the current reform agenda and advocate for education policies that have been proven to work, based on evidence and experience.

Governor Cuomo says his responsibility is to ‘represent the students’ and that he wants ‘to do the best we can for the students and for their education.’  If so, he should listen to parents throughout the state who truly want the best for their children and who believe that the policies he is proposing —to double-down on privatization, high-stakes testing, Common Core and data sharing—are severely undermining the quality of their schools,” Eric Mihelbergel, Erie County public school parent and founding member of NYSAPE.


Jeanette Deutermann, Nassau County public school parent and founder of Long Island Opt-Out said,  “The letter claims that during the campaign, the Governor ‘spoke to New Yorkers all across the state that [sic] had many questions about…what we could do to fundamentally improve public education.’  We do not know to whom he spoke, but he clearly did not speak to public school parents, who in surveys and polls overwhelming reject the top-down policies from Albany that are leading our schools in the wrong direction.  We urge him to hold town hall meetings throughout the state, to listen to parents and hear directly their views about a better course of action, based on sufficient and equitable funding, local control, diminishing the focus on privatization and testing, and treating their children as the valuable unique individuals they are, rather than test scores or data points.”

In our letter to the Governor, http://www.nysape.org/nysape-response-letter-to-governor-on-public-education.html, NYSAPE addresses issues ranging from charter school expansion, mayoral control, teacher accountability system, and the Common Core, to consolidation of districts and the selection process for the Board of Regents.  Instead of harsh political rhetoric from Albany pushing privatization and high-stakes testing, New York students deserve support from elected and appointed officials who respect and understand what kind of support public schools need to succeed.

For example, NYSAPE’s response regarding charter schools notes that according to the 2010 amendment to the New York charter law, before charters are renewed or allowed to replicate, they must show they  enroll and retain equal numbers of at risk students as the districts in which they are located, and yet neither the Board of Regents nor SUNY have ever rejected a charter proposal on these grounds – despite the fact that many charters have sky high student suspension and attrition rates.  Neither SUNY nor the Regents have provided adequate financial oversight, and in 95 percent of charter audits, the State Comptroller’s Office has found corruption or mismanagement.  Yet when the Deputy Comptroller wrote a letter to the state’s major charter-school regulators asking for stronger oversight, he received no response.

On the question of improving teacher quality, NYSAPE responds that since 2012, due to “reform,” teacher morale is at a 20 year low. New reports have shown that there have been dramatic drops in enrollment in teacher preparation programs—New York State experienced a 22% drop in two years.   It is likely that the majority of that 22% were highly qualified candidates who had other career options.  It is clear that the rhetoric of teacher evaluation and the assignment of blame to teachers have made teaching a less attractive profession. Moving teacher evaluation systems from the control of local boards of education to politicians in Albany has resulted in a dysfunctional evaluation system that goes against current research. Worst of all, it has created unintended consequences for students, as teachers are incentivized to drill students for the tests.

The parents and educators of New York want strong and appropriate learning standards with a focus on classroom learning not testing.  Without equitable funding throughout the state, schools will continue to be at a disadvantage and not have the essential resources to help students meet their full potential. Local control has been eroded by those who want to privatize public education and destroy the most vital cornerstone of our democracy. NYSAPE and its allies around the state stand together for proven strategies to help all children succeed.

NYSAPE’s full response to the Governor’s questions was sent not only to Governor Cuomo but to every legislator in the State of New York as well as to the Board of Regents.  You can find the full NYSAPE response here: http://www.nysape.org/nysape-response-letter-to-governor-on-public-education.html

For those who are as disturbed as I am about the trajectory of public education in NYS and the harmful effects these policies are having on our children and in our schools, please join me and NYSAPE in demanding that Cuomo and the Regents stop the assault on public education.

Click the link here to send a letter to officials and help take back our schools. 

Field Test Action Alert

Likewise, the direction SED plans to take stand alone field testing is equally troublesome.

As you may have heard by now, SED is seeking to change NYS Ed Laws to give the Commissioner of Education authority, force and power to mandate field tests in schools. This proposal goes to the Regents to vote on in February 2015. If it passes, SED will be able to dictate and mandate that schools  administer draconian field tests to students over objections to the same.

Stand-alone field tests have historically been voluntary. Field tests are experimental questions that Pearson, NYS’s contracted educational testing company, uses to “test” new questions to be used for future tests. NYS standardized tests currently have approximately 25% field test questions already embedded in the nine hours of testing each year for grades three through eight.

Astoundingly, the NYS Education Department (NYSED) previously admitted stand-alone field tests are “statistically unreliable” and there are questions as whether these tests are appropriate given the excessive testing climate our children face.

This is why its important to oppose the proposal.

SEDs plan to subject our students to unncessary, abusive testing is unconscionable.

NYSSBA  agrees. NYSSBA just issued a letter to SEDs Ken Wagner objecting to SEDs proposal to give the Commissioner of Ed to mandate standalone field tests. Here is a copy of NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy Kraemer’s letter to SED objecting to standalone field tests:

January 5, 2015
Mr. Kenneth Wagner, Deputy Commissioner
Office of Curriculum, Assessment and Educational Technology
New York State Education Department
EBA Room 875, 89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234
Dear Deputy Commissioner Wagner:
Please accept this letter as the New York State School Boards Association’s (NYSSBA) formal submission of comments in opposition to the proposed rulemaking entitled “Field Tests for State Assessments, Alternate Assessments and Regents Examinations” published in the New York State Register dated December 3, 2014. Such proposed rulemaking would amend sections 100.2, 100.3, and 100.4 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education to require that schools that administer State assessments administer those related field tests as may be prescribed by the Commissioner.
Although NYSSBA has long advocated for the State to fully fund the state assessment program, it opposes stand-alone field tests based on concerns expressed by its members and the parents of the children they serve. Stand-alone field tests increase the amount of time spent on standardized tests in the classroom which negatively affects the ability of educators and local policy makers to ensure appropriate time is spent on classroom instruction. While NYSSBA recognizes that required standardized tests need to be validated, it believes such validation should not be dependent upon stand-alone field tests. Instead such validation should be accomplished by the insertion of sample questions in existing tests and by producing more versions of the tests. In this way, each test itself would not be inordinately lengthy, which has also been a subject of great debate in our State.
In addition, NYSSBA takes exception to the characterization that the proposed amendment “does not impose any additional compliance requirements or costs beyond those inherent under applicable State and federal law.” There has been a long history of field testing in the state. However, school district participation in field testing has not been mandated through law or regulation. Moreover, issues surrounding such participation are not new. Nonetheless, imposing mandatory participation through regulation appears to have been considered before but was rejected (see, New Sampling Method for Pretesting and Field Testing of Regents Examinations Memorandum from David Abrams to the field dated March 22, 2004 at http://www.p12.nysed.gov/assessment/hs/archive/damatrix.pdf).
Furthermore, NYSSBA believes that mandatory stand-alone field testing is inconsistent with Ch. 56, Part AA, Subpart F of the Laws of 2014, in which the Legislature specifically required that the Commissioner “provide guidance and advice to every school district and board of cooperative educational services to reduce and eliminate traditional standardized tests that are not required under state or federal law.” Stand-alone field tests are not mandated by either state or federal law. Therefore, instead of reducing or eliminating standardized testing, the proposed rulemaking actually increases mandated standardized testing for students. The regulatory impact statement accompanying the proposed rulemaking specifically states that there are alternatives to what has been proposed further demonstrating that stand alone field tests are not required under current state or federal law. Rather, they have been the consequence of “budget constraints” imposed on the State Education Department.
Finally, notably absent from the regulatory impact statement is what this new mandate means for the students in New York State. Our members have been receiving considerable feedback from parents regarding their increasingly negative attitude toward standardized testing. While that perception might seem uninformed, it colors parents’ confidence in public education. We are not looking for “feel good” solutions, but the impact on students should be at the forefront of any discussion on this topic.

If you have any questions related to this matter, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Sincerely,
Timothy G. Kremer
Executive Director

Given that NYSSBA opposes field testing,  shouldnt BOE members jump at the opportunity to challenge SEDs draconian proposal too? I think so.

For more info on field tests and solid objections to standalone field testing, please see here and here.

If you have not already done so, please particpate in NYSAPEs campaign to contact Albany Now & Demand No Mandatory Stand-Alone Field Tests by clicking here. The comment period is open until January 20, 2015.

Time for Action

As you can plainly see, the two action alerts above warrant your time, attention and immediate advocacy.

But, you cant do it alone. In order to save our children and our schools, we need our Board of Education members help.

A local board of education has one of the most important responsibilities in our society – they plan the education of the children in the community. Its decision affect the lives of students and their parents, the livelihoods of those the district employs and the economic well-being of the community. These folks are in a unique position in that they are gatekeepers to what goes on in our districts and classrooms. They were elected by you to serve as the voice for children and teachers in our schools.

Board members should be using their voice to change things as well.

At this time, it is imperative that not only every parent and teacher act but every Board of Education member must also act to change the trajectory that  public education is headed. They are people too and can and should particpate in these campaigns and efforts with us if not as BOE members then as residents, parents and taxpayers.

It is with this in mind that I am asking you to encourage your family, friends and the elected representatives in your district to join us in making the effort to change the public school landscape that looms before us.

A link to find the website for virtually every school district in NYS can be found here. Please find your school and invite each Board of Ed Member presently seated in your district to participate in the above campaigns  above too.

The children are counting on us to make our voices heard on their behalf. So, dont whisper, speak up as often as it takes!

Here is NYSAPEs link to the auto-letter feature demanding that Cuomo stop the assault on public education and campaign to object to stand alone field tests. Please fill them out yourself and then forward to your friends, family and BOE members for action too.

Save Public Schools: https://www.votervoice.net/NYSAPE/campaigns/37928/respond

Field Test:  https://www.votervoice.net/NYSAPE/campaigns/37674/respond

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