Teachers are already speaking up. They’re speaking through their union, NYSUT, (which is doing tons), and they are making videos and showing up at rallies, and if you have Facebook friends who are New York teachers, check their timelines and you’re likely to see plenty of anger and despair. The drawback to relying on teachers and NYSUT as the main opponents to Cuomo’s “reforms” is that he is able to portray these educators as self-promoting “special interests.” According to Cuomo’s narrative, it seems, New York’s public school teachers are too busy reading magazines and swiping school supplies to teach the 16 nutritiously fed, well-rested, well-groomed children who’ve arrived in their classrooms, on time and ready to learn, from their loving homes in which at least 30 million words have been discussed at countless tranquil family dinners.
Parents must help. Getting people going is a challenge. In my district, kids do well on tests, anyway, so parents don’t worry. And of course everyone’s busy: too busy to help, or even too busy to notice that help is required. Our district has a PTO that stays neutral on many issues, citing that they need to represent all parents without taking sides. For schools with a PTA, it’s a different story: the New York State PTA’s website is strongly pushing lobbying Albany, because the PTA is a national organization that lobbies on education issues, collects dues, and has guidelines member organizations follow. PTOs are independent, so it varies. We have amazing PTO leaders, but honestly? I think that our local PTO’s policy is a colossal bummer, and I hope that they’ll change it in the future. The folks in PTO leadership are some of the most well-informed, organized, and helpful people out there, and I believe that many of them would like to use their leadership positions to urge parents to become political activists for schools, but they feel like it’s against policy or inappropriate. For now, though–well, I am not a PTO leader. I hardly ever go to those meetings, so I feel comfortable saying that all of us parents need to do something. And if we’ve already done something, we need to do something more. And we need to do it now.
Here are things to do, many of which take less than five minutes.
If you don’t know already, learn enough so that you know what schools need. I’m advocating for:
- Full and equitable funding for public schools and elimination of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA. For more background information, you can read this School Finance 101 blog post/rant or this year-old-but-still-informative background information by Robert Lowry on behalf of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.
- Local control, aka allowing education professionals who know their teachers and students best to evaluate teachers. Currently, teacher evaluations are based on 60% local, district-level supervision & 40% testing (20% state testing, and 20% testing or other evaluations determined by the district). Cuomo is tying school aid to approval of a new evaluation process which would be 50% state testing, 35% independent observation from someone outside the district, and 15% local, district-level supervision. For more background information, you can read this letter from public school teachers in Brooklyn.
- Reduced high-stakes testing. Consult educators about methods of evaluation that can support student growth, and identify and stop testing that is meaningless and harmful (like testing special ed students at grade levels that are inappropriate or testing our youngest students). For more background information, this TU Commentary by first-grade teacher Peter Rawitsch urges folks to Advocate for Young Learners.
Sign a Petition:
Unless you are a terrible typist, this will take you less than one minute. You also have the option of sharing the petitions on social media.
- Sign a petition to end the GEA via MoveOn (here’s another MoveOn one) or change.org (multiple petitions) or NY State Senator Lavalle (who has the best graphic for it).
- This petition is calling on Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to review funding issues including discrepancies in guidelines between public schools and charter schools and charter school PAC campaign contributions.
- This petition to the governor addresses respecting public education and retaining local control.
- This petition addressed to state and national folks is protesting the latest proposed changes to the evaluation system.
Email Some Folks:
NYS Allies for Public Education has an email form that you can fill out/edit, and then it will send your message to the Governor, Lt. Governor, NYS Board of Regents, NYSED, and your State Senator and State Assembly Member. All at once. There’s an email in there, or you can edit it or replace it with your own words. So it can take two minutes to contact 22 different people. Yes, a bit longer if you’re writing your own note and agonizing over it. If so, personal anecdotes from your family & school of you are great. If you do write your own note, copy and paste it, then save it, so you can send another email again. In fact, you can create a few different sentences and mix them up for next time, plus the site can save your information to make it faster next time. You can also share via social media and use their stock wording or write your own status update.
Contact state legislators via phone, ask for an appointment, or write them a letter:
Here’s where you can find contact information for your New York State Senator. Here’s where you can find contact information for your New York State Assembly Member. This is just if you want to add a little variety to your emails. I’m not bothering with Cuomo’s contact information, because I don’t think he’s a good listener, anyway. Once I went into a full-on rant about this on his office voicemail. If there is some sort of watchlist for crazy people, I am probably on it.
Attend an Event:
NYSAPE maintains a list of public forums, and, when I know about them, I’m adding these to KidsOutAndAbout.com as well. If you’d like to list something on KidsOutAndAbout.com, contact me at katie [at] kidsoutandabout.com. This is good to educate yourself and to show bigger crowds for the news. Truth? I haven’t made it to any, because I’m usually bringing children to their various activities, and if I want to get riled up and depressed, I just go to a local board meeting instead.
Refuse the Tests:
NYSAPE has information about refusing tests as well as sample refusal letters. For grades 3-8, the English-Language Arts test 4/14-4/16/2015 and the Mathematics test is 4/22-4/24/2015. I haven’t done this before, mostly because I know it will be stressful for all of us. I am still deciding, and I’ll let you know if we decide to refuse. UPDATE: We are refusing the tests.
Say it on social media:
Yeah, okay, I try not to nag people constantly, but sharing a link (like the email form above) or a picture is easy to do and every little bit helps. I made these unbelievable amateur-ish signs because I wanted something simple and clear that shares a parent’s perspective. Make your own or right-click with your mouse and “Save Image As” to steal one of these.