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Another Voice: It’s time to re-engage educators at the local level

By Scott G. Martzloff

More than two dozen educators, board members and academicians assembled in October to form the Western New York Task Force on New York Education Policy. We held a series of forums to create consensus on recommendations for New York’s Commissioner of Education, the Board of Regents and elected officials.

Our motivation was twofold. First is continued community dismay over the extraordinary dysfunction and unrest of late, including legislative action we believe is seriously misguided.

Our other motivation comes from a deep suspicion that limited regional testimony on education standards and use of an online survey is a practicable effort to address one of the state’s most pressing challenges.

It has been well established that the State Education Department did not engage local school districts. Real help with the transition to functioning under the Common Core standards was late and inadequate. Today, we have communities in revolt, a terrible and legally questionable teacher evaluation law, too much testing and too little focus on improving the craft of teaching.

That’s why we have been working on a much more reasoned assessment of what must happen next. Our task force formulated a set of six pillars for consideration by policy makers and lawmakers. They focus on smart strategies in testing, curriculum, teacher evaluation, professional development, local control and funding. The strategies are:

• Student assessments must be shortened and limited in the years tested.

• Unfairness in testing English language learners must be addressed.

• Common Core standards must be replaced with refined 2005 state standards.

• Local educators around the state must help craft these standards.

• Teacher evaluations must be decoupled from standardized testing.

• Local control of professional evaluation must be returned to districts.

• Professional development must be a locally developed effort.

• The Gap Elimination Adjustment must be fully restored, and the foundation aid formula fixed.

• Schools must not be financially penalized for not completing annual professional performance reviews.

• Tax cap refinements are critical because nominal increases are deadly.

We stand ready to engage with our elected and appointed leaders based upon what we are challenged by every day in our public schools. The experiment in corporate meddling and arms-length quantitative arm-twisting should be declared dead.

State leaders must re-engage with school districts not for the purpose of quieting the masses, but to actively seek the benefits of involving local educators in driving state education policy.

Scott G. Martzloff, Ed.D, is superintendent of the Williamsville Central School District.