Earlier this month, the State Education Department released results from the first standardized tests tied to new Common Core learning standards.
As widely predicted, student test scores dropped dramatically, the result of new tests, far more challenging standards and the state’s rocky implementation which, in many instances, was so seriously flawed that students were tested on material they had not yet been taught.
Just as predictable were the hysterical headlines and doomsday cries from many, including the self-proclaimed “reformers” who see an opportunity to profit off public education.
Soon they will be unpacking their snake-oil remedies, claiming to speak for parents as they call for the firing of teachers, closing schools, creating “quick fix” charter schools and expanding so-called “school choice.”
The reality is, state test scores can be interpreted in many different ways, and the state has made clear that the results represent a re-setting of the bar — what it sees as a new baseline — and not a step backwards by students or teachers.
And, in reality, parents have already spoken, and they have spoken in ways quite different from what critics contend. Parents in Plattsburgh, the rest of the North Country and all of New York state have a clear understanding of what’s going on. They know what works in public education, and they know what’s needed.
At school board meetings, in letters and petitions, in forum after forum and in joining with educators at the nearly 20,000-strong One Voice United rally in Albany in June, parents loudly denounced the over-reliance on standardized testing. In its place, they called for a stronger investment in the time and tools needed to strengthen their own local schools.
A new national poll validates the message we’ve been hearing in New York state.
Parents overwhelmingly believe that public schools are the most important institution for the future of their communities and the nation. By wide margins, they choose strong neighborhood schools over any of the alternatives pushed by the privateers and profiteers, rejecting more charter schools, vouchers and budget cuts.
Indeed, 77 percent of parents polled by the American Federation of Teachers, when asked about the best approach for improving public education, choose making their own public schools stronger and safer, while just 20 percent prefer charter schools and other alternatives.
Nearly two-thirds of parents say standardized tests do not accurately measure student achievement, while nearly 60 percent say there is already too much time and energy devoted to testing and not enough spent on educating the whole child.
Parents stand firmly with teachers in supporting smaller classes with more individual attention for their children and greater access to the arts, music and extracurricular activities, and they oppose spending cuts like those which have New York’s schools opening next month with less state operating aid than in 2009.
Parents and teachers believe in the promise of public education: helping all children to reach their dreams. They know that strong public schools are a necessity if our state and national economies are going to be strong in the years to come. And, parents clearly believe in equity and see strong public schools for all children as a basic civil right.
Parents and teachers are — and will continue to be — an unstoppable force working together to fulfill the promise of public education as the pathway to opportunity for all children.
What’s needed now is for New York’s elected leaders and policy-makers to stop looking to the reformers for solutions and to start listening to parents, teachers and others in the education community.
In other words, New York has to start getting it right.
Richard C. Iannuzzi, a teacher for 34 years, is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.