Karen Magee: Progress Toward Teach And Inspire

Jan 21, 2016

As I sat listening to Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address, I was struck by the more positive tone he took toward public education. His words of respect for the great work that New York’s dedicated teachers do in their classrooms are much appreciated. 

As I told one reporter afterwards, it appears the governor has been listening to students, parents and teachers and has, well, rebooted some of his views toward teachers and public education.

What a difference a year makes.

The governor’s speech came less than a month after his Common Core Task Force released 21 recommendations on how to fix the problems with testing that were so evident to parents and educators – problems that fueled the powerful opt-out movement.

At the State of the State, he put the onus squarely on the State Education Department and Board of Regents to get it done -- and to get it done right.

For example, the Task Force identified the need to reduce standardized testing… to ensure that assessments can be used by students,  parents and teachers in meaningful ways… and to improve state tests for students with special needs and for those who are English language learners.

The Task Force correctly noted problems with the Common Core and called for fixing it.   I’m pleased to say that New York teachers expect to be at the forefront – as they should be – re-designing the standards so they are New York standards developed by New York teachers for New York students.

And, the Task Force called for a four-year moratorium on the use of state tests in teacher evaluations while the hard work of improving the standards and assessments is underway.

Undeniably, this is progress. The pendulum is swinging back toward sound education policy. We will be pressing the Regents and commissioner to move this agenda forward.

Teaching and learning should be valued over testing,

Education policy should be made by educators,

And, policymakers should listen to students, parents and educators.

The moratorium gives the Regents and state education commissioner time to develop a teacher evaluation system that is fair and meaningful. We all want a good evaluation system that actually helps all the state’s great teachers to better serve students.

As you can see, there is still a lot of hard work ahead. I’m sure there will be bumps along the way.

The governor’s school aid package, for example, falls short… and we will be pressing for full funding for SUNY, CUNY and our community colleges.  The governor’s acknowledgement that CUNY professors and staff deserve a fair contract is important, but it must be accomplished without cuts to CUNY.  In the policy areas where we disagree – such as on receivership and the property tax cap – we will be looking to both houses of the Legislature to improve on the proposed budget.  

Yet, in education there is no doubt we are moving away from test-and-punish – and toward a future of teach and inspire.

The union I lead – New York State United Teachers – has a multi-media campaign noting this progress in our classrooms. You may have seen the TV commercials which nicely sum up where we are today.

We’re making progress… though we are just getting started.

We must restore the joy of teaching and learning for our kids.

Let’s get it done, working together.

Karen Magee, a former elementary and special education teacher in Harrison, is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

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