Cuomo gets an ‘F’ from ICC forum

On eve of budget, teachers, parents, lawmakers disdain governor’s education plans

KINDERHOOK–The Ichabod Crane Teacher’s Association hosted a “Reclaim Public Education” forum last week, where speakers criticized the way standardized tests are being used, the level of public school funding and what they said is a loss of local control for school districts.

The event, which filled the school auditorium, came a few days before Governor Andrew Cuomo and the leaders of both houses of the state legislature announced an agreement on the annual state budget, which includes a $1.4-billion increase funding for education and a plan to have the state Education Department develop the controversial policy for teacher evaluations.

The speakers at the March 25 event included several teachers, Ichabod Crane senior Sagan Leggett, Schodack Superintendent Bob Horan, as well as Billy Easton from the Alliance for Quality Education and Tammi Kellenbenz, a Germantown school board member.

Also addressing the meeting were Assembly members Steve McLaughlin (R–107th) and Pete Lopez (R–102nd) and Robert Allard, representing Congressman Chris Gibson (R–19th).

Many of the speakers had harsh words for Governor Cuomo and his decision to hold back the amount of state aid each district will receive at the same time as districts are trying to craft their annual budgets for the next school year. When an audience member asked the Assembly members about the governor’s state budget being on time, Mr. Lopez said, “The legislature is furious at this governor.”

Mr. McLaughlin faulted state officials, saying, “This was horrendously fast roll-out of Common Core,” the educational standards adopted by many states but implemented in different ways by each state. He and Mr. Lopez described the governor being a bully with his proposed changes to education.

“It was rammed down our throats,” Mr. Lopez said of the statewide testing program.

At one point a life size cutout of Governor Cuomo joined the speakers on the stage but was then removed.

Several people criticized unfunded mandates from the state and the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which allows the state to cut the amount of aid promised to a district in the budget.

But the majority of the speakers focused on high-stakes testing that the state calls for along with requirements for the use of the new Common Core standards. A math teacher at Ichabod Crane Middle School, Kim Funk, talked about how her students were being doubly tested, required to take both the new state test and the old Regents exams. And she pointed out that her students, who were the accelerated 8th graders taking 9th grade level math, did poorly on the new test but much better on the old tests, making them question what they understood about the math program.

“Is this what we’re doing to our children, we’re double testing them?” she said. She, and other teachers who spoke, asked why the state wanted to put so much stress on kids with all the testing. “I believe it is turning our children off learning,” she said.

Michael Pudney, a Germantown teacher and parent said of the testing, “This is failure by design.” He talked about how teachers never see the new test after their students have taken it and how test scores come back just as the students are moving up to the next grade.

Cara Switzer, a mother of Ichabod Crane students, said she was refusing to have her children take the tests for the fourth year in a row. She pointed out that term “opting out,” which some schools and news reports have used for students who do not take the state exams, is wrong. “We can’t opt out; we can refuse,” she said.

Other speakers talked about the private companies, like Pearson, that have made money from public education by creating the curriculum materials and the tests. “There’s a lot of money being made and public education is the new El Dorado,” said panelist Dr. Katie Zahedi.

Mr. Eaton, from the Alliance for Quality Education, urged people to call the office of state Senator Kathy Marchione (R–43rd) and urge her to “stop holding our school funding hostage for the governor’s bad plan on testing and teacher evaluations.”

Mr. McLaughlin said that Ms. Marchione had planned to attend the forum but the state Senate had been called into session that evening.

Forums like this, hosted by local chapters of the statewide teachers union, have been hosted in several districts over the last year. Several board members of the Chatham, Taconic Hills and Germantown school boards, as well as Ichabod board, attended last week’s forum, as did community members.

In one of his last remarks, Mr. McLaughlin talked about how the governor had rolled out his new testing and teacher evaluations too fast. “It is appropriate to push back,” he said.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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