A Force That Can’t Be Bought

In the fall of 1775, enlisted Marines beat drums decorated with a rattlesnake sporting the motto, “Don’t Tread on Me.” These Marines voluntarily joined the continental army to fight oppression from the British government. The rattlesnake was a sublime symbol because it, “never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.”

Today public education in New York is being oppressed by our own state government. Innocent children are the victims of educational policies based on politically motivated attacks. In addition, our democracy is being compromised by politicians who owe allegiance to special interests.  In defense of our children and their schools, parents and teachers have joined together to refute the educational reform movement exposing it for the fraudulent ideas that it promotes.

Educational reformers commonly utilize benevolent titles such as “No Child Left Behind” or “Students First” to mislead the public into believing the altruistic ideals conveyed by these terms. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality behind these beguiling titles doesn’t live up to their anticipated meaning.

In an attempt to manipulate the public Governor Andrew Cuomo is promoting legislation called “Parental Choice in Education.” “Carl Korn, a spokesman for New York State United Teachers, stated that the plan would ‘siphon off taxpayer money for tax giveaways to the rich. We respect parents’ decisions to send their children to private or religious schools, but they shouldn’t ask taxpayers to subsidize those personal choices,’ Korn said.”

While the title of the legislation “Parental Choice” might sound appealing when you hear it, in reality there is little choice for public schools that are being underfunded and drained of limited resources. “It’s a public-private partnership of the worst sort — the public pays the tab, private schools and wealthy donors reap the benefits.”   This move is yet another in a long line of attacks on children, women, and public schools by New York’s leadership in order to pay back wealthy campaign donors for bankrolling political careers.

Elizabeth A. Harris and Ford Fessenden wrote in the New York Times, “As the vanguard of an anti-testing fervor that has spread across the country, New York’s opt-out movement has become a political force. Just two months ago, lawmakers from both parties, at the behest of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, increased the role of test scores in teacher evaluations and tenure decisions. Those legislators are now tripping over one another to introduce bills that guarantee the right to refuse to take tests. Some testing opponents point to Mr. Cuomo’s effort as a moment that galvanized parents to opt out.

The New York Regents are getting a lot of attention in the press as they try to sort out the mess created by Governor Cuomo and the Legislature when the new laws governing education, tied to the state budget, were rushed through without adequate deliberation. The discourse has been hopeful at times. “Board of Regents member Judith Johnson, who represents the Hudson Valley, said. “Is this just about getting rid of what we consider to be ineffective teachers or this about improving the graduation rate and the quality of life for the young children entering our public schools today?”

Regent Roger Tilles of Long Island warned that making this system appear too palatable – ‘putting lipstick on a pig’ was his analogy – could spoil chances for eventually crafting a better overall system.  I think we know that we need to change the system, but we can’t do it now, he said.”

“Members of the Board of Regents wondered aloud at their May meeting about whether the governor and Legislature have left them any opportunity to improve New York’s newest teacher evaluation system.

Over hours of discussion, several Regents urged a total overhaul or replacement of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) system approved by the governor and Legislature as part of the 2015-16 budget.

A few members even suggested refusing to carry out the technical tasks assigned by lawmakers, citing insufficient time and authority to make meaningful improvements to the latest iteration of APPR.

Ultimately, however, the Regents gave staff a go-ahead signal to continue their technical work on the new APPR law, which is on track for a vote at the Regents’ June 15-16 meetings. Legislation requires the Education Department and the Regents to carry out a number of technical tasks, such as setting weights and scoring ranges for teacher observations and student performance measures, by the end of June.

As it stands, unless the New York Legislature is able to amend this toxic legislation the oppression of our children and the effect it will have on their future for years to come will continue. Parents and teachers will persevere against the assault. Like the courageous rattlesnake, they will remain engaged in this fight.  They fight with passion and conviction. They will never surrender.  In the next election, a presidential election in which many more voters will participate, you can bet they will be voting with a vengeance seeking change in New York. They are a force that can’t be bought.

by Mark Hegenauer

You can follow me on Twitter@chessmanmark or subscribe to this blog at chessmanmark.wordpress.com

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