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January 25, 2014

The state Board of Regents deserves a shakeup

By Betsy Bloom Local Commentary
The Daily Star

---- —  Last Saturday, despite a blanketing snowstorm, more than a hundred people showed up, some from as far away as Binghamton and Utica, at Oneonta High School for a forum titled, “On the State of Education in New York: Reform and Resistance.”

The draw for these stalwarts was three outspoken and well-regarded school administrators from around the state who have challenged the Common Core state standards, high-stakes testing, teacher evaluation linked to test scores, InBloom’s data collection of students’ personal information and the corporate takeover of public education in New York.

Tim Farley, Ichabod Crane Elementary School Principal, described how more than 200 children, including his own children and those of U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, opted out from the state tests last year in his district. These courageous acts of civil disobedience empowered the parents in his district and demonstrated to those of us who are worried about negative consequences for children, teachers or administrators that there are zero penalties, financial or otherwise, for sending the powerful message of opting out.

Carol Burris, principal of Southside high in Rockville Center and 2013 School Administrators’ Association of NYS Principal of the Year, used her expertise to explain in detail how the Common Core Standards do not prepare students for life after school but actually diminish their capacity for success in college and the workplace.

Several of our elected officials, including state Assemblymen Clifford Crouch and Pete Lopez, state Sen. Jim Seward and Gibson attended the event. Each spoke in support of a return to local control over our schools. All noted in their remarks that they have faced a barrage of letters, emails and phone calls from concerned parents, teachers and taxpayers.

The tenor of that correspondence is consistent; children are stressed, the learning has been hijacked by canned curriculum that isn’t educative, and millions of dollars are being siphoned off from school programs to enrich big publishing companies and IT developers.

As Frank Sutliff, West Canada Valley principal and current president of the School Administrators Association of New York State, said: “In this state and across the country, we have been sold a bill of goods with Race to the Top. We are supposedly putting students first. Is the end of all professional development, including curriculum mapping and data analysis putting students first? Is cutting a guidance counselor as students’ academic and emotional needs increase putting students first? Is the cutting of numerous sports, clubs and activities putting students first? In my district, we could put students first by providing them with needed and desired courses ... however, the millions and millions of dollars for Expeditionary Learning and Common Core Inc. continue to flow unabated.”

The message our speakers and elected officials delivered was unanimous. This year, the wrong-headed debacle that has become the rollout of the new standards, accompanying tests and teacher evaluations is going to be stopped in their tracks. If the Board of Regents won’t do it, Seward promised, the Legislature will.

Gibson, Lopez and Crouch all urged us to keep the pressure on, so that sane policies will prevail once again. And Gov. Andrew Cuomo must know that this issue isn’t going to go away.

The makeup of the current Board has allowed Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Commissioner John King to blatantly ignore the voices of New York’s citizens. It has also allowed Cuomo to hide behind them and deny responsibility for their recklessly implemented reforms.

How can you help? One important step you can take is to contact our NYS Democratic Assembly members and encourage them to vote for candidates for the Board of Regents who have been endorsed by the advocacy group NYS Allies for Public Education. (www.nysape.org) In March, there will be four open seats. The Democratic majority will decide the composition of the new board. Four voices just might tip the current reform agenda back toward sanity.

I urge you to write to your member of the state Assembly and ask them to vote for a Board of Regents who will listen to the will of the people and will have the courage to stand up to and demand accountability from Cuomo. And I urge you to continue to contact your local legislators, put lawn signs out and consider opting your child out of the tests this spring.

Public schools belong to us. We pay for them, and we have the right to a say in what happens in them.

Betsy Bloom is an Associate Professor of Education at Hartwick College and founding member of Oneonta Area for Public Education