In December of 2015, NYSUT released a white paper entitled, “NYSUT White Paper on College, Career & Civic Readiness.” This excellent paper is a shining example of what our union can do. Through research and a thorough examination of the issue, this paper exposes the grossly inappropriate manner in which test scores have been interpreted in NYS and have led to a false narrative of failure. This paper is also an example of the crippling ineffectiveness of the current NYSUT leadership and their failure to act on behalf of educators and students.
According to NYS, if our children are not on track from the age of 5 to achieve a 1630 on their SATs, they will not be “career and college ready” (the College Board itself cites a score of 1550 as “college and career ready.”) This benchmark is used to determine proficiency on state tests. In other words, this is the benchmark that has falsely labeled our students, teachers, and schools as failures. It will likely prevent many students from graduating. This was first exposed by Dr.Carol Burris in 2014, and has been written about extensively by Lakeland physics teacher Michael Lillis.
In NYSUT’s white paper, the union finds:
“…serious deficiencies in the state‘s methodology that are promoting developmentally inappropriate test questions and creating a false narrative of failure about New York state‘s students and schools; and recommends actions to establish new, developmentally appropriate standards for college and career readiness.”
During the time this paper was authored and published, NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino and AFT President Randi Weingarten presided over Governor Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force, whose report was released on December 10th, 2015. Yet despite NYSUT’s well-researched and evidence-based paper regarding NYS’s damaging “career and college ready” benchmarks, not a single word can be found in the Task Force report regarding these concerns. Perhaps it is not surprising that this white paper (crafted in response to a unanimous vote to oppose the NYS “career and college ready” benchmarks at the 2015 NYSUT RA) was never publicly released nor given a press release. In fact, it is only accessible on the NYSUT website through a secure login.
Not only is the union committing a sin of omission, it appears that they are actively spending member dues to hoodwink educators and quiet the parent-led opt out movement. The UFT recently spent 1.4 million dollars on an ad campaign aimed at convincing educators that all is well, going so far as to say that “test scores won’t be used in teacher evaluations.” NYSUT is actually boasting of its’ recent expenditure of 1 million dollars on a media campaign touting the “sweeping changes” recommended by the Common Core Task Force. Perhaps both the UFT and NYSUT are unaware that by law, 50% of teacher evaluations are still required to be based on test scores (A different, additional test must be used for teacher evaluations while still compelling students to take the flawed state tests) and that Governor Cuomo has refused to amend this law. It is hard to imagine any other justification for over 2 million dollars worth of member-funded false advertising.
Despite the fact that the education law passed last spring must be repealed or amended in order to reduce or eliminate the use of test scores in teacher evaluations, NYSUT has failed to campaign for ANY changes to this law. As of today, NYSUT’s Member Action Center (MAC) includes calls for the Governor to sign a funding provision for CUNY/SUNY and an invitation to screenings of Education Inc, yet there is NO mention of any action calling for an immediate amendment to the Education Transformation Act.
A strong union is what stands between boots on the ground teachers and those who would dismantle public education with little to no regard for educators or, more importantly, students. Unfortunately, the current leadership has shown a commitment to effective ineffectiveness time and time again. Why?
In the spring of 2014, as a founding member of New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), myself and several others travelled to Albany to meet face to face with most of the NYSUT officers to identify any common ground that would allow us to coordinate our efforts to push back against high stakes testing and the assault on public education. During this meeting, I posed a simple question: Is NYSUT philosophically opposed to the use of test scores to evaluate teachers? As a parent and a dues paying NYSUT member, I was shocked when the NYSUT leaders seated at the table did not answer with a resounding “yes.” We were told that the issue was “complicated” and that according to NYSUT’s scientific polling, “rural areas like the testing.” On that day, NYSAPE declined to form any kind of coalition with NYSUT. It was not until one year later, in the spring of 2015, that NYSUT finally began to support the parent-led opt out movement that has garnered the attention of the media, the legislature, and the Governor.
Why draw attention to these issues now? In light of the looming Friedrich’s decision, what is the wisdom in exposing NYSUT’s effective ineffectiveness? To put them on notice that they must do better and use their influence to effect real change before it is too late.
If our unions are to survive aggressive efforts to destroy them, they can not render themselves ineffective during a time when educators, public schools, and students are under attack. If the union is to survive the current onslaught, its’ members must WANT to pay the dues required to keep them in business. This requires inspired leadership that is not afraid to speak the hard truths and take a stand for those they represent, even when it costs them a seat at the table. And that table is one at which many would argue that they are the ones being served up for dinner.
These are exciting times. The opt out movement has made strong headway, capturing the attention of policymakers and reframing the conversation about public education in New York State. But do not be fooled. The “sweeping changes” being lauded by union officials are nothing more than half-measures aimed at quieting and appeasing parents and educators while doing nothing to change the current “test and punish” system. This spring, students will not experience any relief from tests that are now universally known to be flawed, developmentally inappropriate, and too long. Impoverished schools still face privatization at the hands of biased and inappropriate testing benchmarks, and teachers will still face a 50% test based evaluation. We must continue to opt out, speak out, and hold NYSUT accountable.