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A concerned member of the human race

Thursday, March 12, 2015

They Get Letters

Recently, I took up the challenge to write my legislators in Albany--yet, again.  I surely had enough to say.  In about fifteen minutes, I was able to put together the letter below.  I would have preferred having nothing to say.  

I am writing to you, my elected representative, to urge you to oppose the Governor's harmful plans for education in NY State.  I speak to you as a parent of three elementary-school children and I also speak to you as a teacher in the NYC public-school system.

[The gist of the next paragraph:  I excelled in school.  I have much experience.  I have worked as a high-school teacher since the Fall of 1992].

In the past few years, since I gave birth to my children, I have witnessed a huge surge in the importance of testing.  I am required to give uniform quizzes and tests throughout the academic year.  It seriously eats at my teaching time.  It detracts from time for debates, current events, creativity.  Then, I must prep my students for a month and a half for the Regents.  If students do poorly, students, teachers and their schools will be counted as failures.  

The Common Core State Tests have not hit my discipline yet, but they are on their way.  At the elementary school level, they have caused tremendous damage by branding 2/3 of the State's children as failures.  When I first became a teacher, my supervisor informed me that if such high percentages failed my test, it was a sign that either the test or the test maker had failed.  In this case, politics guides the arbitrary assignments of cut scores.  The whole "science is bogus."  The tests and their makers have failed us.

I am so sad that test prep is being pushed and funded to the detriment of so many more meaningful activities in young people's lives.  Test scores will count for very little in the lives of adults.  Yet, if the Governor has his way and tests count for 50% of a teacher's evaluation, the reign of test-prep terror will grow even worse.  Music and the arts will suffer.  Vissi D'Arte.

Just today one of my high-school students told me that her younger sister's classmate threw up all over her State tests last year.  I expect that the same will happen to many children this year.  I have opted my children out of these exams in protest.

I do not feel that anyone is more equipped than a teacher in the classroom to evaluate students.  And, I do not think that anyone is more equipped than a qualified supervisor to evaluate teachers.  Supervisors see their staff every day.  They know the sum total of a teacher's professional life.  If outside observers invade schools to determine 35% of a teacher's rating, stress will mount even further for teachers and students.  People will put on shows.  Some may succeed and some may flop, but none are accurate portrayals.

I do not want merit pay, even if I could achieve it.  I do not like what it represents and I do not like the ends to which it may drive some people.  I will never forget the smiling face of Michelle Rhee as she handed out the big checks and shook hands before news of the erasure scandal hit.  I choose to view schools as primarily cooperative environments, not competitive battlefields between colleagues.

It is clear to me when the Governor expressed dissatisfaction with his previous evaluation system (he called it "Baloney") that he will not be satisfied until the percent of teachers rated ineffective mirrors more closely the bogus results of Common-Core aligned tests.  He will not be satisfied until the witch hunt brings home his predetermined results.

Of course, I am also very concerned about the CFE money schools lack and disparate funding.  This seems to go without saying.

I would hope my opinion has some resonance for you given that I am on the front lines as a parent and as an educator.  I have no million-dollar backers, but I represent the masses that vote to protect their children and their communities.  Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

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