Pin It
school aerial3Teachers were hopeful after a 'Because We Care Community Forum' on education at Lansing Middle School March 19th, especially when legislators said they would vote against Governor Andrew Cuomo's so-called education reforms.  But they came back from Spring Break to bad news: Cuomo's education spending bill, widely seen by educators across the state as an attack on teachers, passed 92-54 in the State Assembly, and 36-16 in the Senate.  Lansing seventh grade English teacher and Lansing Faculty Association (LFA) president Stacie Kropp told the Lansing School Board Monday that teachers are feeling attacked by Albany.

"On behalf of all the teachers in the district I'd like to thank our board of education for your support as we fight for our jobs in New York State," she said.  "This has been a very disappointing break for many of us, and we're coming back from it disheartened and feeling attacked and under the gun.  But we know that we are in an incredible community with great support from our board of education and our administrative team.  Not every teacher in New York State has that.  We'd like to sincerely thank you for that."

The biggest bone of contention are provisions linking state aid to the new Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) requirements, and consequences that include a longer evaluation period before tenure, removal for non-performing teachers, and merit pay for high performing educators.  Kropp says the standard for evaluating teachers is flawed, putting good teachers in danger of receiving poor ratings.

"What has been voted in is essentially that 50% of the teacher's APPR score is being tied to testing," Kropp says.  "It is exactly what the legislators who came to the ('Because We Care' rally) last week openly said they would not vote for.  I think it was a fast-tracked budget, very last minute.  I think some people didn't have time to read the whole budget before they were asked to vote on it, so I am not 100% blaming the legislators who voted yes.  But what ended up happening was we have 50% of our evaluations tied to tests that have proven to be invalid.  The company that makes the tests, Pierson, is hand in hand with Governor Cuomo."

"In my opinion the Governor is anti-public education," School Board Vice President Christine Iacobucci said.  "I think it's enormously symbolic that as we have our teachers and faculties and principals and districts under attack we have in our district the president of the faculty union coming to our school board to thank us for our support.  I think that is directly a result of the leadership that we have here."

Iacobucci volunteered to monitor the state budget and the Governor's position on education and report back to the Board.

"When I listen to the professional development and curriculum work that we have going on in our school district, and the amount of collaboration that we have, we would not have that if we did not have a caring, compassionate, supportive administration and I would like to thank our superintendent for that," she said.

Kropp says that the four year tenure evaluation period is also problematic, again because of an expanded reliance on teacher evaluations.

"In itself it isn't a horrible thing," she says.  "But again, it's tied to your overall rating at the end of the year. So if you have two years of ineffective ratings at any time during those four years you are not eligible to get tenure."

Kropp notes that some students have more trouble testing than others.  She says that will now impact teacher ratings even if those students demonstrate they have learned the material in other ways than testing.

"The tests are made at a reading level of seventh, going into eighth graders," she says.  "As we know, not every kid reads at the same level.  They are forced to take a test that is far above some of their reading levels, and the tests are also timed.  Any of the processed writing they are taught to be thoughtful and argumentative in their writing, and to draft it and read and edit... there isn't time to do any of that.  It creates incredible frustration in my students.  The point I try to emphasize with them is, 'This isn't about you.  I just ask that you do the best you can.'"

Kropp says that some provisions feel like punitive attacks on teachers in general.  And she adds that merit pay is insulting to good teachers.

"Offering $20,000 for getting good scores isn't really what we're in it for," she says.  "There are some other really odd measures that were put into the bill.  For instance, if public education teachers change their names or change addresses and don't notifie the State Education Department (NYSED) within 30 days they can be subject to a moral character review by NYSED.  It's the exact same measure they use for sex offenders and child molestors.  We're very disheartened.  We feel attacked."

Both of Lansing's Albany representatives, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton and Senator Mike Nozzolio voted for the budget.  Lifton reportedly considered voting not to accept the budget, but evidently changed her mind when it came to the vote.

Kropp says that some schools are unfairly exempted from the state mandates.  While the Lansing district achieves high marks in testing and graduation rates, evidently they are not considered high enough by legislators.  Kropp says Cuomo exempted mainly downstate high achieving schools from the new rules a day or so after his budget was passed.

"They do not have to comply with any of the mandates," she says.  "They are mostly schools down near New York City -- the Scarsdale, Briarcliff, Westchester area.  Those schools are not tied to APPR and they do not have to do any of the testing for any of their kids.

Kropp said she would be meeting with the union Senate to talk about how to decimate information.

"We want to deal with fact, not rumor and how to get that out to all of our members," she said.  "We'll have a meeting next week with all of our members.  I've talked with my colleagues in the middle school and we're sad.  Because we just come to work and try to do the best job we can do."

Pin It