In light of the unfolding human tragedy taking place in Texas and Florida, we want to recognize those who have lost their lives and those struggling to rebuild their lives. Please consider donating to the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund to help our fellow educators.
We have a couple of points to make as we start the new year, and we will begin with the State Tests. The results were released a couple of weeks ago in a fairly subdued manner. This was the upbeat headline from SED designed to show progress from New York’s students: “Statewide, the percentage of students proficient in ELA in grades three through eight increased 1.9 percent from 37.9 percent in 2016 to 39.8 percent this year, whereas the same figures for mathematics increased 1.1 percent from 39.1 percent to 40.2 percent this year”. But really, does anybody care about what SED says about our students? Does anyone really believe that only 40% of New York’s students are proficient? For the last three years, 20% of NYS parents had their children refuse the tests. In many districts the percentage hovers at 50% or higher. Last year, only 8% of the districts in New York met the 95% testing requirement. In short, there is no longer any credibility in the State Education Department on testing issues. The testing fetish has reached its point of diminishing returns. Statewide there is not enough art, recess, or creative time left to take away in our students’ day to have the proficiency numbers inch any higher. The only thing left for SED to do is manipulate the data and adjust cut points to show growth; this is what they have done and this is why they still have not released the technical reports on the tests from the last two years. How many educators would love to be liberated from this numbers game to focus on what matters: teaching the whole child? This is why it is important that NYSUT continue to advocate that members NOT participate in test writing for the 3-8 State tests. This was demanded and supported unanimously at the Representative Assembly and needs to be enacted upon! We also encourage you to share information about Opting students out of the current regimen of the 3-8 State tests. Visit www.nysape.com for more information.
Next, Annual Professional Performance Review remains an issue. While NYSUT is calling for a removal of state test results as part of the formula, we want to remind you that the NYSUT Representative Assembly has called for a complete removal of Student Performance Measures as a mandated part of teacher evaluation. No district or teacher should be compelled to use Student Performance as part of their evaluative tools when there is no effective, accurate, or reliable methodology to do so. We must continue to lobby our lawmakers to remove any and all Student Performance requirements from APPR.
As a final point, we would also like to bring your attention to the upcoming November vote to determine if there will be a 2018 Constitutional Convention in New York. It is imperative that the Constitutional Convention referendum be defeated. As educators we, and our students, have a great deal to lose should New York’s constitution be opened and rewritten.
First are our pension protections. Article 5, Section 7 of the New York Constitution states that public employee pensions are guaranteed and cannot be reduced. This section requires that the pension system be fully funded. This is a rare and vitally important protection. To understand why, look no further than New Jersey, where for several years budget shortfalls were made up by the the state reducing pension fund contributions. Now, New Jersey has a 40 billion dollar deficit in its pension system. It will only be a matter of time before the state reduces previously promised pensions to make up the shortfall. Under New York’s current constitution, that simply cannot happen. Your pension is guaranteed under the state constitution not to be reduced.
Second, the New York Constitution guarantees students the right to a “sound basic education.” This is the language that was used to sue the state in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, and has subsequently forced the state to calculate how much each district is being underfunded. We know that the Governor and charter school industry would love to see that protection eliminated from our state constitution.
Third, the Constitution establishes the Board of Regents. While under the leadership of Chancellor Tisch, this was hardly any protection at all. However, the current Board of Regents under Chancellor Rosa has been very involved in turning back some of the worst abuses of the last decade. Had it not been for the activism of the current Board of Regents the APPR under the Education Transformation Act of 2015 would have already destroyed the profession we love.
It is estimated that a Constitutional Convention would cost taxpayers 300 million dollars, and proponents like to claim that it will lead to a new era in New York politics that will end the corruption of recent years. The reality is this convention will be dominated by the same financial and real estate interests that have historically corrupted our politics and will remove the final protections that have prevented the collapse of our pension and school systems.
There is cause for concern. In the most recent polling released this month, 80% of New York voters knew nothing about this election day referendum. Of those that did know, supporters of the constitutional convention outnumbered opponents 45% to 33%. So, we can turn the tide against this. NYSUT is campaigning heavily to educate our membership. We have until election day to to make sure that everyone in our various social circles knows to vote NO IN NOVEMBER. It is not enough that we know this though. We need to change the minds of those that support the constitutional convention, and inform those that have not heard of it. This goes much deeper than simply protecting pensions; this gets to the heart of defending our public education system itself. Order “VOTE NO” material here - https://mac.nysut.org/resources-and-links .
And finally we would be remiss if we did not mention the troubling images that came out of Charlottesville. As educators, we are in a unique and privileged position; we must engage with our students to have difficult conversations about both race and racism. Administrators, teachers, assistants, professors, nurses, aides, monitors and bus drivers are all educators. We now have classrooms and buildings, locker rooms and buses filled with students that witnessed the same images we did, and students are left angry, confused, fearful, and yes, some are even emboldened.
As educators we must engage our students on these issues, not just have them suppress this emotional turmoil so we may get on with our day or year. We have to be sure angry students know how to respond, confused students understand what racism is, fearful students feel safe, and emboldened students understand the value of all people, as well as the history of human tragedy brought about by bigoted views based on religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation. We do not have all or even many of the answers to the questions our students will have. This will need to be an ongoing collective effort from all of us. What we do know is that every young man and woman who marched in Charlottesville learned hatred, and we must do whatever we can to protect our students and society from this dark future.
It will not be easy, but it will be the most important work we do.
We wish you a wonderful and productive school year.
ST Caucus Executive Committee