Saturday, November 7, 2015

Speak the Truth Even If Your Voice Shakes

In an apparent attempt to polish his tarnished image and mitigate the damage caused by his pitiful record on education matters, New York Governor Cuomo has now convened a "Task Force" to review the Common Core Standards and to "listen" to his constituents - the stakeholders who should be dominating the conversations that are once again being co-opted by a handful of selected supporters of the governor's agenda. Woefully underrepresented in the Task Force are the dissenting voices of elementary level educators and parents. As always, those who will be shaping policy are, for the most part, those who have already demonstrated loyalty to the governor's agenda. You can read the biographies of the task Force members here.

I spent hours preparing my comments for the Long Island Region Common Core Listening Session scheduled for Friday, November 6th in Stony Brook, NY.  I prepared my comments without any true belief that anything said during the "listening Tour" would really be heard but I wanted to add my voice to the dozens of others who took time in their day to share their stories, their concerns, their experiences, and in some cases, their rage. To their credit, Senator Carl Marcellino and Superintendent Constance Evelyn listened without intervening or countering any of the attendees' testimony, unlike the forums held by Former NYS Education Commissioner John King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch in 2013. However, the only indicator of how well the Task Force members at these meetings are listening will be the action, or inaction, that follows when the "listening" is over and the panel convenes to act on what the members have heard.

As I prepared my statement, I thought of this simple sentence - one that reminded me of the need for those of us who can to speak out: "Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes." And I have no doubt that at least once during my comments, my voice did shake. I spoke anyway because we need to make our position known - we will not remain silent and allow children to be harmed for profit. I urge those who can attend and speak at the remaining sessions to show up, speak out, make your presence and your dissatisfaction known. And if you can't be there, please submit your testimony on the website so the Task Force receives an avalanche of undeniably negative feedback to Cuomo's  education policies.

I was humbled and honored to be in the presence of so many eloquent speakers at last night's event: parents, teachers, superintendents, and members of local school boards, each with slightly different testimony, but almost unanimously sharing the same disdain for the Common Core Standards and the entire education reform agenda. In an effort to not be redundant and echo the same comments I expected we would hear from other speakers, I decided to share some facts with the task Force members.  My comments at the meeting appear below.

I retired in June after a 26 year career in public education. I am currently a doctoral candidate and as a result of six years of ongoing research for my dissertation, I am well aware of the origin and history of the education “reform” initiatives, as well as the players and their agendas. And my concern takes on a very personal meaning because I am fighting for the education of my four grandchildren.

It’s time to stop pretending that the dismantling of public education for profit is for the betterment of education or for the benefit of children. It is only for the benefit of the profiteers’ bank accounts and children are becoming the collateral damage of their greed. 

Twenty years ago David Berliner and Bruce Biddle published their book, The Manufactured Crisis, and laid out in detail how data was being manipulated to create a perception of the failure of public education in order to justify privatization. I mention their book because they include a powerful quote from 1770, when John Adams stated, “Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” 

Rather than repeat what you already know and what others are sharing here today about why current education policies are harming children in this state, I will provide some facts that the governor’s wishes, inclinations and dictates cannot alter: 

  • Fact: The parents, grandparents, and educators of this state do not want to hear lip service. We don’t want empty promises and we don’t want any more lies, which by the way, violate the NYS Code of Ethics for Educators, Principle 5. The members of the Task Force might want to look that up.
  • Fact: We do not negotiate with our children’s futures. We do not compromise when children are hurting because of policies grounded in corporate and political greed.
  • Fact: We do NOT want to see the Common Core Standards tweaked, re-named, or rebranded as other states have done. We want them gone. Period. If this Task Force is not sure why, its members need to listen harder.
  • Fact: Nothing less than a total shift in policy, including the decoupling of high stakes tests from teacher evaluations, is acceptable. Children’s education should not be about supplying data to evaluate their teachers, schools, or districts. And telling children the tests don’t count for them while these same tests have the power to destroy teachers’ careers is nothing short of a set-up for failure.  
  •  Fact: Last year NYS saw over 200,000 refusals for the Grade 3-8 Common Core tests. We are aware that Ms. Elia has provided a tool kit to superintendents to turn back the growing opt out movement. It will not work. It won’t work because parents will not be placated, threatened, or coerced into cooperating with policies that harm their children. We don’t need to be “educated” about the so-called value of these tests. Instead, those who dare to believe that we are that easily manipulated need to be educated about the strength of our resolve. If this Task Force doesn’t listen, I have no doubt that the refusal rate will easily double or triple next year.