About two dozen teachers and parents marched outside the Town of Tonawanda home of Regent Robert M. Bennett on Monday to show their displeasure with the way the state has implemented new learning standards and tests designed to measure them.
The Buffalo Teachers Federation protest lasted only 35 minutes, but the teachers hoped to send a strong message by choosing to picket on the sidewalk outside the home of a state education official.
“What I want is for Mr. Bennett, and all of the Board of Regents, to be aware that teachers and parents alike are not happy with the implementation, are not happy with the amount of testing,” said Joanie Cavanaugh, a teacher at Hutchinson-Central Technical High School who was among the protesters.
The residential location was an unusual one during a national “Day of Action” that featured rallies and news conferences organized by teachers unions, educators and community groups across the state. The events also included a panel discussion on education in West Seneca. The BTF picketing of Bennett’s house appeared to be the only event in the state that was staged at the home of a public official.
“This is not just about teacher evaluations. This is about what we’re doing to our kids,” BTF President Phil Rumore said, pointing to the Common Core standards being pushed by State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. “The Regents are the ones who have allowed Commissioner King to take these steps that are detrimental to our students.”
Bennett, who has represented Western New York on the state’s Board of Regents since 1995 and is now chancellor emeritus, said he was disturbed by the tactic of picketing his home.
“It’s disappointing, to say the least,” Bennett said before the protest. “A phone call would have sufficed. If Phil wanted to talk to me or yell at me, he could have just picked up the phone.”
Bennett was not at the house during the protest. The pickets walked quietly on the sidewalk, carrying signs that read, “Our students are not a test score.” They ended the event by chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Emeritus Bennett has got to go.”
Seven years ago, the BTF joined other unions in the city in picketing the homes of members of Buffalo’s state-appointed financial control board. But Monday’s protest was the first time in Rumore’s more than 30 years as BTF president that the union picketed the home of an education official.
New York State United Teachers is calling for increased funding for public schools, a de-emphasis of standardized testing and a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences tied to those tests.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last year tied school districts’ increases in state aid to their implementation of teacher evaluations, with 20 percent of teacher ratings based on student performance on state tests. Districts had the option of using state tests, locally developed or selected tests, or methods other than tests to measure teacher effectiveness for another 20 percent of each teacher’s rating.
NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn said he was not aware of the BTF’s plans to picket Bennett’s house.
The Buffalo District Parent Coordinating Council said while it shares the BTF’s concerns with how Common Core standards have been implemented and “excessive use of assessments,” it does not support protesting outside “anyone’s private residence.”
“For the sake of our children,” a statement from the group read, “it is imperative that we work TOGETHER to get this right!
Educators in West Seneca took a different approach to mark the day. Panelists in an education forum in the West Seneca Central School District touched on a wide range of issues – including high-stakes testing and the creation of a new statewide system for student information that uses a nonprofit education group, inBloom, to process and store data.
“The point was to make it clear that those who have expressed their opposition to high-stakes testing and to inBloom do not represent a vocal minority,” said West Seneca Superintendent Mark J. Crawford. “There are lots of people who are concerned, and the concern, I think, is increasing throughout the state.”
New York is one of 45 states to adopt Common Core, which establishes learning standards that are intended to better prepare students for college and the workforce. The pace at which New York State has implemented Common Core has been widely criticized by parents and teachers.
New York, along with Kentucky, was the first state to implement tests aligned with Common Core. Last year, students in third through eighth grades took state tests based on the Common Core. This year, high school tests will start to be aligned with the Common Core.
Many teachers and local school officials across the state have complained that the state did not provide schools with adequate support to implement the upgraded instructional standards.
Crawford said speakers at the West Seneca event did not oppose the Common Core standards but raised concerns about the way they have been implemented.
“There are a lot of things that myself and others feel are useful and desirable in the Common Core,” Crawford said. “The problem has been that it was not completely developed, and it wasn’t given to teachers completely, and then our students are tested on material they haven’t had.”
The West Seneca event was not planned in connection with the BTF protest.
While Rumore complained that schools are “testing our kids to death,” Bennett said the amount of state-required testing has remained relatively constant for many years.
“The fact is, the state tests have not increased at all in 10 years,” Bennett said.
“That’s a mischaracterization,” Rumore said. “The state has made it a requirement for teacher evaluations that students be tested. I know it’s a local option, but they’re the ones that have been pushing this testing from the beginning.”
Rumore said his greater concern, more than the amount of testing, is what he referred to as the “premature implementation of Common Core.”
Bennett said the Common Core is designed to make students competitive. The state establishes learning standards; each district decides what curriculum to use.
“The Common Core are learning standards and not a curriculum,” Bennett said. “They were developed in 2008 and 2009 by a national council. They’re not new.”
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