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Laurel M. Sturt Headshot

Wake Up Call For New York's Gov. Cuomo

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In a recent New York state public forum about the Common Core with Education Commissioner John King and state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch in Manhattan, the room was rife with rancor, as it had been in previous forums all over the state. Late in the evening, when it finally came my turn to speak, I sought to enliven the soporific atmosphere with a surprising declaration. Along with the rest of the shills for corporate education, I announced, Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch should be arrested on several counts: Educational neglect, child abuse, armed robbery (the theft of an authentic, quality education from our children), assault with a deadly weapon (their power and forcing a fake education on our kids), murder in the first degree (the killing of our children's spirit and their innate love of learning); and treason -- they are traitors to our children and the nation's future, and their destructive actions endanger our global status, posing a threat to our national security.

Only half tongue-in-cheek, given the current climate, my declaration was met with widespread and resounding approval. In New York state, demoralized students, furious parents and disgusted educators are fast reaching critical mass with unpopular education initiatives. In early January, education activists are staging a long overdue assault on Governor Andrew Cuomo, who's so far stayed off the radar and made Education Commissioner John King take the heat in irate public forums. The statewide protests are timed to take place around Cuomo's annual State of the State Address.

High-stakes testing is one of the rallying points for the spreading dissent. In 12 years of a destructive focus on test prep and testing, no New York legislative body has challenged this catastrophic education policy. Yet just last month, the New York City Council passed Resolution 1394, calling for the elimination of high-stakes testing in New York City schools. As such, it joins thousands of school districts across the country, including the vast majority of those in Texas, where the obsession with testing originated. Vast numbers of people are saying no to the replacement of quality education with a shallow measure, testing, which indicates neither students' achievement nor that of their teachers. Yet New York's Education Commissioner John King has responded to this outcry, so resounding that tens of thousands of children are being opted out of the tests by parents, with his embrace of the Common Core State Standards, which actually double down on high-stakes testing.

The increased emphasis on testing is a natural consequence of the Common Core, designed overwhelmingly by education businesses who stand to profit from the new mandates, many of them testing companies. Filling the coffers of these testing businesses, to the tune of billions of dollars, has been deemed more important than actually testing the Common Core. As much as it emphasizes testing, the Common Core itself has never been tested, but rushed into implementation by special interests. Imagine if pharmaceutical drugs were not tested in this way, and any poison could be forced on the public, because the bottom line of the drug company is more important than the safety of consumers. In any other field, we would never validate untested, unresearched theories -- let alone use them on our most valued treasure and national resource, our children. Yet Commissioner King and other education "leaders" across the country have seen fit to exploit our children as guinea pigs in a vast experiment, while exploiting public dollars for private profit.

The focus on testing is just one part of the systematized destruction which stands in for education these days. And the tests, moreover, have become, overnight, absurdly harder, guaranteeing the kids' failure and that of their teachers, whose job ratings, thanks to Race to the Top mandates, are tied to them. But worse, when they're not prepping for tests or taking them, our kids are being subjected to curriculum several years in advance of what they are developmentally capable. The entire school day has become a grueling obstacle course, capped off with mountains of homework so obtuse, their parents are not even able to help with it.

Kids are feeling like failures everywhere, screaming, crying, throwing tantrums -- literally banging their heads on the desk. Vast numbers of kids who used to love school are now refusing to attend. After a morning of testing, entire classes are spending the afternoon in tears. School administrators have had to call the state and ask, "What do we do when there's vomit on a student's test answer sheet?"

Gov. Cuomo has exacerbated the conflict over education by supporting the collection of students' private information, 400 points of data to be shared with private education businesses to further extract money from parents, kids and districts. Nine states originally signed up for this ill-conceived and astoundingly intrusive facet of the Race to the Top grant competition, yet all, but New York dropped out of the program because of valid privacy concerns. So this is yet another battle for beleaguered parents and educators to fight in New York state.

Governor of a state home to Sleepy Hollow and slumbering Rip Van Winkle, Andrew Cuomo's about to be jolted from his long winter's education nap. An awakened citizenry is sounding the alarm, and for state officials in New York, the snooze button's no longer an option.

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Laurel M. Sturt, a former New York City public school teacher, is the author of the book 'Davonte's Inferno: Ten Years in the New York Public School Gulag.'