|Me at the Cuomo Commission hearings with other panelists today|
The Cuomo Education Commission had its first and only public hearing in NYC for three scant hours this morning and they packed us all in a small cafeteria room at Hostos College in the Bronx.
There were still people waiting outside the building at 10:15 AM when I was finally let in; not everyone could fit in the tiny space and many who had signed up in advance were denied speaking slots. One of those who had signed up and sent in testimony days ago was Carol Burris, the Long Island principal who co-authored the letter opposing the new teacher evaluation system, signed onto by one third of the principals in the state, and yet she and other principals were denied speaking time.
And yet the organization that is pushing for the implementation of this very same test-based evaluation system, Educators for Excellence, got two speaking slots; and its reps suggested that the system be imposed by the state unilaterally in NYC even if administration doesn't get agreement to do so from the UFT.
The first panel on teacher quality was a corporate reformer's dream: speakers from Teach for America (Jemima Bernard, formerly of DOE); The New Teacher Project (Lesley Guggenheim, I believe); Educators for Excellence (Evan Stone) and Campbell Brown, formerly of CNN, who spoke about how teachers accused of sex abuse were being left in the classroom. Later Anna Hall, the new head of Students1st NY and former Bronx principal added her two cents that teacher tenure should be completely eliminated. All of them agreed that we need new evaluation system that differentiates performance, gives incentives for top performers, ends seniority protections, etc. etc. etc. as though lousy teaching was the only problem plaguing our schools.
Subsequent speakers included James Merriman of the NYC Charter Center ( longer school days and stronger school leaders ); Leo Casey of the UFT (vs. closing schools and need for more wrap-around services and IPads for students); Rev. Calvin Butts (for replicating something called the Strive network); Jennifer Jones Olsen of United Way (for quality early ed and more academic and emotional supports) and Maria Fernandez of Urban Youth Collaborative (for Student Success Centers and more voice for students and parents in policy making).
Amy Schwartz of NYU advocated widening grade spans in schools, having more data and doing research on effective programs for special ed, and this: "If you want parent participation you need to show they that you are listening to them, and parents care about class size." (Bravo to that.) Betsy Lynam of Citizens Budget Commission said we spend enough money on education in the state, it just needs to be better distributed with fewer mandates in areas like special ed. Allan Chang, principal of the City as School alternative HS, gave an amazing presentation about the achievements of his school, which makes a five year commitment to every student with housing and health care referrals, legal aid, internships and job placements, etc, but his staff needs more help from community partners.
I finally got a turn on a panel with two students, Julius Martinez from Students for Education Reform (better teacher evals, yet again, and also more access to AP and College Now); and Zak Melamed, who advocated for more student participation on the Commission, putting it this way: "If you don't put students at the table, it's like holding a criminal investigation without interviewing the victims."
Zakiyah Ansari of AQE spoke about the need to "peel back the layers of fluff" put forward by the Bloomberg administration, and fully fund the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement, reduce class size, support struggling schools rather than close them, and collaborate with parents and community members. She was also very eloquent about how the Commission should hold another hearing in NYC during the evening when normal people with jobs could attend.
I spoke about -- guess what -- class size, and that the top priority of parents on the DOE's own surveys remains smaller classes, how the research is crystal clear that it helps students succeed, and that while the DOE promised to reduce class size with CFE funds, yet class sizes are now the largest in the early grades in 13 years. I also cautioned them not to recommend more privatization through charter expansion, high stakes testing, and online learning, because they have all been tried in NYC over the last decade and have miserably failed to substantially improve results when our progress on the NAEPs is compared to the ten other large school districts in the nation. (See my testimony and slides below.)
Later, Chair of the NYC Council Education Committee Robert Jackson berated them, saying they had an obligation to hold another hearing in NYC, fight for more money to comply with CFE, and that he hoped they would act independently and not be a "rubber stamp" for the mayor or the Governor.
Truly, when you consider that NYC is the largest school district in the nation, and has more than one third of the students in the state, and yet the Commission is spending only one tenth the time hearing from NYC residents, this is unacceptable. The fact that they held the hearings in such a tiny room also shows poor planning, or worse, that they're not that interested in hearing from us at all.
Testimony Cuomo Commission 7 26 12 Final
Slides for Cuomo Commission 7.26.12