Recently, I interviewed Ms. Susan Singer, a 30-year veteran New York City teacher currently, a kindergarten teacher in Queens and the UFT Chapter Leader in her school.
Schupak: Ms. Singer. You seem to believe that Governor Cuomo's education proposals are flawed.
Singer: Yes. New York City teachers have taken to social media and to the streets to educate the governor and try to stop Governor Cuomo's harmful education agenda. There is no issue more important than our children and their education. Governor Cuomo's education proposals would hurt them. It would be bad for kids and their schools and teachers.
Schupak: Hurt them in what ways?
Singer : New York City has a large and diverse student body with many problems. 31% of our students are living below the poverty line. More than 41 percent of our children come from homes where a foreign language is spoken. 175,000 children require special education services ranging from speech therapy to mental health services and full time hospital care. The governor is wasting our resources on looking for scapegoats among our teachers rather than supporting the children in our public schools.
Schupak: How is the governor wasting resources?
Singer: First, the governor proposes that students ' New York State test scores be used towards 50% of a teacher's rating, an increase from 20%. The governor needs to stop focusing on these " high stakes " tests. These tests prove little and take valuable teacher time away from meaningful classroom work and force teachers to redirect their time to prepare for these tests. He has wasted a lot of money on this. Other states already tried this and are moving away from it, including Texas. How can you expect one or two tests in one school year to fairly evaluate a year's worth of learning for a child and a year's worth of teaching for a teacher? Also, there is too much pressure on the children, parents and teachers from the state tests already.
Schupak : What do you think about the additional charter schools that Cuomo is proposing?
Singer: The Governor's proposals to increase charter schools would further undermine public education. Charter schools restrict enrollment of students with special education needs and English language learners. Also, there is no oversight for these schools. Financial improprieties and conflicts of interest are well documented from many of these schools. Charter schools take taxpayer money away from public schools without the oversight or accountability. There is no financial equity between the charter schools and their local public school counterparts. Local public school children are being shortchanged.
Schupak: You have talked about The Common Core.
Singer: Yes. The governor's poor implementation of the more difficult Common Core Standards and his continued lack of support for achieving these standards should not be blamed on teachers or students. The Governor should be held accountable for this, not the teachers.
Schupak : Can you explain why this is?
Singer: When The Common Core Standards were adopted by the state, standards were automatically raised by a lot. You can't wave a magic wand and say we are making everything harder and expect children to pass these significantly more difficult tests, using a significantly more difficult curriculum without the proper preparation and support. The Teachers Union and parents told this to the governor.
Schupak: So what did the governor do?
Singer: The Governor did nothing. He allowed this whole debacle to happen. Children were traumatized by the new tests and much harder curriculum, with no new supports. Many children who were previously successful failed. Struggling kids, failed miserably. I graded the state tests. Children were demoralized. They wrote on their test booklets how upset they were. And the schools of this state are still waiting for the necessary support.
Schupak: What are Governor Cuomo's other proposals?
Singer: Another proposal is that he wants to take over low performing schools, stripping control from local schools and districts, further punishing those schools. If he cares about these vulnerable children, the way to help would be to provide more support, instead of showering their charter school counterparts with resources.
Schupak: Where would Cuomo get the money to help these children?
Singer : New York City is owed 2.6 billion dollars in education state aid from the 2006 settlement of The Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. The court agreed that the state is not meeting its constitutional obligation on funding or supporting needy school districts. New York State has a budget surplus of more than 5 billion dollars. New York City schools are underfunded. Class sizes are at record level high numbers. Our school budgets are so sparse that in my school parents must pay for after school remedial/test prep classes. In many districts parents can't afford to pay. They shouldn't have to pay.
Schupak: Are there other proposals?
Singer : Yes. The governor proposes individual merit-pay. It doesn't work. This has been tried in many ways and places and has failed. Giving teachers bonuses for students test scores has not produced positive effects. Most importantly, our focus is on the child, not a bonus. Children cannot receive the education they deserve if their school operates like a corporation. Also, the governor proposed extending new teachers' probationary period from 3 to 5 years. There is no plausible reason for this. Three years is enough time to decide whether a teacher is effective. He makes no proposals for help or support for teachers during this period so it is pointless. He forgets that New York City Teachers earn tenure. It is not given to them. Last year, only 60 percent received tenure. The governor needs to understand that these proposals have nothing to do with better teaching or better learning. These proposals would make it harder to attract and retain new teachers.
Schupak: Has the governor made any other proposals?
Singer: Yes, due process. The Governor wants to eliminate " due process " rights. This is a fundamental right. He does not want teachers to have the right to defend themselves, when necessary. The teachers union has tried for years to make this a fair and fast process.
Schupak: Anything else?
Singer: Nationwide, non-educators should never be allowed to make education decisions. Would you want someone other than a doctor to make medical decisions? More locally, Governor Cuomo needs to understand that teachers are not the enemy. We are our children's greatest supporters and advocates. We are the experts. We are the people who are there day in and day out. We understand what each child needs to learn and succeed. And we very much want our kids to succeed. We have dedicated our lives to helping children. Listen to us when making education policy. The governor should abandon (what the NY Times calls) politically motivated ideas and proposals.
Schupak : What can people do to help?
Singer : Every parent in New York City and New York State needs to email or call or write to Governor Cuomo, as well as their state representatives. We must let the governor know that he must abandon these education proposals and agenda. He must do what is right for our kids. They can't wait. If we support our schools and teachers, we support our children.