Sunday, January 25, 2015


It's close to the end for public education as we know it in New York State. The corporate money backed, anti-public education Governor Andrew Cuomo is looking to kill off what is left of teacher, parent and student rights with his diabolical agenda for the schools.  UFT President Michael Mulgrew accurately stated that Cuomo wants all things Bloomberg in a year.

The reaction from the UFT and our state union NYSUT to the governor's proposal to annihilate the education landscape has been to say we are at war but will the unions fight on the right battlefield?  So far, we have been waging a political fight for more education funding. Instead, we should be working with parents and students on a strategy to save public education in this state in a way that just might succeed.

Let's summarize the political situation as it stands today:
  • Cuomo wants to kill off public education by doing the following: using student test scores on one exam for half of each teacher's evaluation while most of the other half would be based on a classroom observation from an evaluator from outside our schools (this would neuter principals too), taking over, closing and privatizing more schools, making it easier to open charter schools, giving state money to private schools, raising from three to five years the time it takes for teachers to get tenure, weakening tenure, and imposing merit pay.
  • The State Legislature is in disarray because of Speaker Sheldon Silver's arrest. Since Silver is our closest ally in the Legislature, this may strengthen the governor's hand in bargaining. Relying on the Assembly to save us probably won't work.
  •  The NYSUT and UFT leadership response so far has been to focus on getting more money for districts. The strategy has already backfired as Cuomo responded by linking extra state funding for districts to passage of his anti-public education agenda.
Many would argue we are done and let's just agree to take the best surrender terms we can get. I disagree and so do many activists across the state and the country.

Now is the time to starve the data beast.
There is one way out of this mess that might actually work. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told us at the Caucus of Rank and File Educators Conference in 2013 that in order to stop the testing madness, we must starve the data beast.  Think about that for a second or two. 

We have the power to deny the people at the top the data they need to bludgeon teachers, students and schools with.  Remember, it is up to us to supply the state with the student data. We administer and grade the exams. Our pupils take them. We could make a mockery of the horrific testing system for sure.

  • What if no students took the inappropriate, invalid/unreliable common core state exams?
  • What if teachers refused to administer/grade them? 

Our friend Beth Dimino from Port Jefferson Station is refusing to administer the exams.  And so is Jia Lee, a New York City teacher. *  Dimino famously accused former State Education Commissioner John King of child abuse in 2013 because of Common Core. Is it wrong for all of us to have nothing to do with tests that we consider to be child abuse? It's time for us to turn this movement against high stakes testing into an avalanche against the governor's education agenda.

As a first step, every union local in New York State should be passing the New York State Allies for Public Education resolution to starve the data beast.

Resolution to Support “The I Refuse Movement” to Oppose High Stakes Testing

WHEREAS, the purpose of education is to educate a populace of critical thinkers who are capable of shaping a just and equitable society in order to lead good and purpose-filled lives, not solely prepare that populace for college and career; and

WHEREAS, instructional and curricular decisions should be in the hands of classroom professionals who understand the context and interests of their students; and

WHEREAS, the education of children should be grounded in developmentally appropriate practice; and

WHEREAS, high quality education requires adequate resources to provide a rich and varied course of instruction, individual and small group attention, and wrap-around services for students; and

WHEREAS, the state assessments are not transparent in that–teachers and parents are not allowed to view the tests and item analysis will likely not be made available; and

WHEREAS, the assessment practices that accompany Common Core State Standards – including the political manipulation of test scores – are used as justification to label and close schools, fail students, and evaluate educators; therefore be it

RESOLVED that NYSUT opposes standardized high stakes testing that is currently pushed by the Federal and State governments, because this testing is not being used to further instruction for children, to help children, or to support the educational needs of children; and be it further

RESOLVED, that NYSUT advocates for an engaged and socially relevant curriculum that is student-based and supported by research; and be it further

RESOLVED, that NYSUT will embark on internal discussions to educate and seek feedback from members regarding standardized high stakes testing and its impact on students; and be it further

RESOLVED, that NYSUT will lobby the NYS Board of Education to eliminate the use of high stakes testing; and be it further

RESOLVED, that NYSUT will ask that all of its members have their own children refuse to take the Grade 3-8 assessments: and be it further  

RESOLVED, that NYSUT will organize other members and affiliates to increase opposition to high stakes testing; and be it further

RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution will be sent to the NY State Board of Education, the Governor of NYS, and all members of the NYS legislative branch; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that after this resolution is passed by the YOUR LOCAL’S NAME Representative Council, an appropriate version will be submitted to the American Federation of Teachers for consideration at the AFT July 2015 Convention and to NYSUT for consideration at the 2015 RA.

If this resolution lights a spark and is supported around the state, we may just change the terms of the education debate.

Don't get me wrong, however, passing this resolution will not be enough to stop the Cuomo machine but it certainly would be a great way to change the focus of the education discussion.  We would then need to galvanize our supporters to further starve the data beast.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew is calling for an emergency meeting with community allies on Tuesday and then the UFT will be having an emergency Delegate Assembly on Wednesday.  We support these meetings. Is the UFT capable of pivoting from a political fight for more funding to actually mobilizing our membership to do more than just make some phone calls or send some tweets? 

The UFT-NYSUT need to wage a war with the governor on a front where we can emerge victorious. Let's unite to starve the data beast. Don't give Cuomo and the State Education Department the data they need to hang public education with.

*We are not in any way shape or form advocating for individual teachers or groups of teachers to commit acts of insubordination by not administering or scoring exams. We are calling for our unions to lead this fight and find a way for all of us to be legal conscientious objectors.


Anonymous said...

What will be the repercussions on any teacher that refuses? I can't even imagine the harassment I'd receive from my admins if I tried this. Besides that, what will discipline for the offending teachers look like?

Anonymous said...

The idea is for union to sanction it.

Anonymous said...

And back us up. If one person does this, it won't work. It needs to be a massive refusal.

Anonymous said...

Hah, there's more of a chance of Cuomo himself sanctioning this.

Anonymous said...

It needs to be like the police slowdown in ticket writing. No one was held accountable for the job action. No one lost their jobs. No one was punished. This I am getting from the media. The Taylor law was not discussed as the punishment for the job action. So this is how the teachers need to view this.

ed notes online said...

They are threatening teachers who even tell parents about this option. That is all I want the UFT to do -- they should be using their ads to tell people this is an option and paint the tests as child abuse. Then announce they will defend teacher rights to free speech to tell parents about this option.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see NYC teachers kick this off by not completing this STOOPID survey,
AKA- a meaningless waste of time.

Hey brothers and sisters:

Anonymous said...

Time has come to act like we are in a union.