Pushing Back Against High Stakes for Students with Disabilities – American Educator Magazine

Originally Published in American Educator’s Winter 2014/2015 edition. Read the article in its entirety here.

“Success never will look the same for all. NCLB’s goal of 100 percent proficiency as judged by high-stakes testing is antithetical to learning. When we deny diversity in student strengths, weaknesses, and abilities, we risk robbing children of the chance to experience success that begets confidence and perseverance. We risk sending the message that to be different is to be less than. We all know the child who scores off the charts on a standardized test but can’t pack his bag at the end of the day or tie her shoes. We also know the child who struggles to read and retain math concepts but is a prodigy on the saxophone. High-stakes testing does not reveal the full picture of who children are. As educators, we must demand better for our students.”


The End of the Affair? Nah.

Originally published on @thechalkface on November 7th, 2014

After hearing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s histrionic and foot stomping comments calling public education “a monopoly” and calling for competition and teacher sanctions, it appeared that NYSUT, the AFT, and Governor Cuomo may have had a falling out. Or did they? To be fair, it was always a secret, clandestine affair that caused union members to shudder and look the other way. Some would say that the relationship was doomed from the start. But gosh darn it, it seems that NYSUT and the AFT have found it in their hearts to excuse Governor’s Cuomo most brutish behavior. Those kids….

Days before voters would decide whether or not to grant Governor Cuomo (Andy to those who know him best) a second term, the Governor exhibited what can best be described as a verbal explosion of rancid effluvia during a meeting with the editorial board of the Daily News, retching all over educators, parents, and public education in one momentous upchuck. Basically, Governor Cuomo made a fist pumping, foot stomping declaration of war on educators, parents, and public education. Those on the sidelines gasped, and wondered how the Governor could say such a thing, especially since the teachers’ unions have been so good to him!? Even more wondered, will this be the end of the AFT-NYSUT-Cuomo poly-amorous love fest?

Surely, NYSUT and the AFT harkened back to the days of old (way back in June of 2014), when Cuomo and the leaders of NYSUT were able to pass ineffective and lukewarm “hang now or hang later” legislation that would protect teachers whose evaluations were negatively affected by low CC test scores for two whole years. Never mind that this legislation offered no protection for students from harmful testing practices, and never mind that Andy has still not signed it into law, this was THEIR baby! And did the governor forget how NYSUT VP Andy Pallotta forbade photographers from photographing anti-Cuomo signs at the infamous Picket in the Pines during Cuomo’s “Philosopher’s Retreat?” Or that AFT President Randi Weingarten graciously feigned an inability to gain entrance to the retreat whilst rallying up troops of teachers, in the rain, no less?

Running for governor is hard. Perhaps the stress of things had gotten SO bad that Andy had forgotten about the baby that he had just thrown out with the bath water. But surely, he was able remember what he’d said only a week before…

Days before his blustery promise to break apart public education, aka, the largest existing “public monopoly,” Andy had this to say in a new ad featuring him, his daughter and some pumpkins, all in fetching shades of white:

“…that’s why I want real teacher and school evaluations, to stop over-testing our children, not to use Common Core scores for at least five years, and then only if our children are ready.”

Educators were very keen to hear both NYSUT and the AFT’s rejection of Andy’s bizarre flip flop and their valiant defense of teachers, to hear them heed the battle cry and lead NYS educators to victory. Clearly, the time was NOW, especially as the individual spewing such garbage was up for reelection in a matter of days.

But imagine the surprise of hundreds of thousands of NYS educators when Randi Weingarten merely said that looking at public education as a “monopoly” was “disappointing.” Perhaps, we thought, she is saving her tough criticism for twitter. But Weingarten, who had been tweeting about Time magazine’s recent anti-teacher cover almost hourly, was relatively silent regarding Cuomo’s attacks on education in NYS.

Karen Magee, the president of NYSUT, must also be one cool customer. While NYS educators and parents were fuming over the Governor’s comments, Ms. Magee seemed to take it in stride, calling Cuomo’s comments, “an unfortunate distraction.”

Many were disappointed by the utter lack of gumption displayed by the union leaders. After all, the man who had just ripped apart hundreds of thousands of New York’s public educators was running for governor in ONE WEEK! And if endorsing a gubernatorial candidate who maintains an education platform that actually benefits teachers and schools would have put too much strain on the relationship, perhaps this would have been the perfect time to break ties with the bully and, I don’t know, maybe encourage your members to vote for ANYONE OTHER THAN CUOMO?

But alas, the Governor’s remarks were not the end of the AFT/NYSUT/CUOMO affair. Just as Governor Cuomo had begun to publicize his two billion dollar technology bond, surprise, surprise, so did NYSUT. NYSUT spent $200,000 in the week prior to the election promoting a bond that public education supporters had denounced, and which president Magee had expressed concern about only months before. I would think that the promise of “free money” would be reminiscent of that old carrot called Race to the Top, but I guess that old habits die hard. So what if John King, “Mr. High Stakes Testing” himself is in charge of how this “free money” is spent? So what if these dollars will help make PARCC (the newest incarnation of high stakes testing torture) a reality for students? In this relationship, what Andy wants, Andy gets.

Of course, the AFT president is not immune to the obvious disapproval that her members have shown for this dysfunctional relationship. At first, President Weingarten tried to make excuses for the Governor’s verbal outburst and declaration of war, likening it to last minute campaign rhetoric. When that didn’t work, Weingarten decided to act like a teenager who would do anything to get keep disapproving parents distracted and at bay. She decided to pretend that the affair was over by taking to the Internet and making a carefully worded public declaration that made it sound like she would not be casting her vote for Governor Cuomo. In reality, it said nothing of the sort, other than the order in which she would fill in her ballot bubbles. Clever, but deceitful.

I’m sure that President Magee and the other leaders of NYSUT are still basking in the glow of the governor’s fait accompli that enabled their personal pension legislation to be passed in a matter of weeks this past spring (with nary a bit of publicity.) After all, a governor must think that you are very, very special in order to pass legislation that only benefits your cozy group of four. Who wouldn’t think that a guy like that is a keeper? However, the glow must have begun to fade when the educators, spurned by the governor’s declaration of war began to act up and demand that their leaders take a stand.

Remember, that while NYSUT leaders did not endorse Cuomo, they were adamant in their refusal to take up the “Anyone but Cuomo” battle cry and instead, took up the anthem of “Stand by Your Man,” refusing to allow local unions to endorse the candidate of their choice. Some would call this reaction to an anti-public education governor’s behavior “enabling.” But whatevs, love conquers all.

At some point, though, with a little help from Randi, NYSUT responded to its members and produced its own Randi-esque bait and switch by soliciting a letter of support for educators from Rob Astorino. And when Mr. Astorino graciously wrote said letter, NYSUT did the polite thing and thanked the republican gubernatorial candidate for doing what they asked of him. But lest Cuomo think that his gals had abandoned him, Randi swooped in and reminded her constituents NOT to vote for the man who had only just written a love note to teachers. And all the while, Andy’s gals were careful not to mention his pro-union, pro-public education funding, anti-high stakes testing competition, Howie Hawkins. That’s teamwork for you!

Well, it worked. NYSUT, AFT, and Cuomo will walk hand in hand towards the demise of public education in New York. That is, unless union members stand up and administer some tough love by demanding that those tasked with representing educators in New York State break up with the newly elected Governor Cuomo, effective immediately.