I am writing this letter as a retired teacher who has been disheartened to watch the profession I love maligned, discredited and blamed for educational problems that occur mostly in areas of poverty.
Currently it appears that our policies in education are being dictated by the testing industry, politicians and well-meaning philanthropists like Bill Gates, not by those professionals who are trained to teach and spend their lives developing ways to improve learning. The testing industry has made hoards of money designing tests which has resulted in a narrower and test-driven curriculum. Now the governor is suggesting that 50 percent of teacher evaluations be based on testing results. This means the curriculum will be further stripped of any creativity or imagination, and will instead hold children’s minds hostage to the profit-driven testing industry.
I do not say there are no problems or inequities in education, or that all teachers are adequate. As in any profession there is a wide range of ability and talent. However, it seems absurd to punish everyone for a minority of inadequate staff. Better to find more effective ways of weeding them out. The governor’s attempt to extend the probationary period for tenure from three years to five is simply another method of curtailing tenure and weakening teachers’ unions. Unions are essential to protecting workers and helping workers move into the middle class. The Republicans and also some Democrats might do well to look at this issue and re-evaluate their positions on unions.
Where students struggle, the common denominator is poverty. Correcting the state’s failure to provide adequate resources to less advantaged areas should be the objective of this budget season. Instead, the governor wishes to provide tax relief for private education and drain more money out of public education by giving a 4.8 percent boost to charter schools. Some charter schools are very successful but many are not. We do not see a push for a more meaningful evaluation of the effectiveness of charter schools before more money is allocated to them.
Many of us have come through public education, city colleges and state colleges and have done well, contributed to our communities and would have found it to be an impossible journey without public education. Therefore, I also speak for no cuts in higher education in our SUNY and CUNY systems which have provided us with numerous Nobel Prize winners.
We need the active participation of our legislators and citizens to protect and support all areas of public education in our state, and to thwart the governor’s attempt to demolish public education.