Saturday, April 6 was a great day in my community of Plainview-Old Bethpage (POB). Co-hosting a legislative breakfast were the PTAs of POB and neighboring Syosset as well as the teacher unions in both districts. Two issues brought these organization together – issues that threaten the future of public education in our state – the 2 percent property tax cap and the state’s obsession with high stakes testing.
For two hours Congressman Israel, State Senator Marcellino, Assemblyman Charles Levine, a representative from Senator Kemp Hannon’s office, County Councilwoman Judi Jacobs and Town Board member Alesia listened as over 200 teachers and parents told stories about the impact high stakes testing is having on the children in our schools. Passion for relief from the State’s regime of high state tests was so strong that the dialogue between legislators and constituents never really got to the tax cap issue. At one point, in response to a question from a parent about the legality of parents opting their children out of the tests, the audience broke into a rhythmic chant of, “Opt out! Opt out! Opt out!”
All of the assembled legislators agreed that New York’s testing program has gotten out of control. All agreed that it is having a very negative impact on our schools – some of the best in the entire state. Senator Marcellino said it best when he observed that the Regents and Education Commissioner King are treating failing schools and highly successful schools the same. He urged the State Education Department to recognize that Long Island has some of the best schools in the nation. He further urged them to focus on what could be done for the failing schools in the state and to leave our most successful ones free to do what they always have – provide an excellent education.
I’ve been a witness to education politics for 40 years. The politicians ignore the testing issue at their peril. In communities throughout the nation, teachers and parents are working together to protect children from the excesses of high stakes testing. They demand and will ultimately get a balanced testing system that recognizes the needs of children, their parents and their teachers. Here in New York, the testocracy will soon launch its new state tests, a launch that will surely provoke even greater fury from parents and teachers as students get the results of exams that have been designed to produce lowered scores. Give everyone a sense of failure. That will motivate them. It certainly will, but not in the way Chancellor Tisch and Commissioner King imagine.
I’m off tomorrow to the NYSUT Representative Assembly, the annual convention of my state union. My posts this week may therefore be intermittent.