"I've always answered without hesitation, it's the best job. I can think of no better way to spend my time," Metrakos said. "Lately, I've hesitated to answer the question. I want to say it, but now that superlative best comes with a conditional if. It would be the best job in the world if I didn’t have to deal with these new regs. I’m tired of the state coming into my classroom, telling me how I should teach my kids, reducing my passion to a formula. I know my colleagues are, too.
"Don’t misunderstand me. I believe in challenging students. I believe in the Common Core. Just give us some time. It’s time the State Education Department gets the message loud and clear that he people who know what is best for kids are the professions. And they are we."
Metrakos's message was a common one among the speakers among the educators, students, legislators and community members who gathered at five schools in the Nyack Public School District Monday morning for a Day of Action event, one of 90 such rallies nationwide with the stated goal of "reclaiming public education."
New York State Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski and Rockland County Legislator Harriett Cornell also participated in addressing concerns regarding the implementation of the Common Core learning standards, increasing mandated testing and the sharing of private student information with the outside agency inBloom.
Jaffee spoke of too much time being spend on testing and the need for the state to provide adequate funding to public schools.
"I'm here as a parent, a grandparent, a former educator...always an educator, and a state assembly member representing my community, my constituents, the parents of my community, who have been very vocal about their concerns regarding the common core, regarding education as it is moving forward in New York State," Jaffee said.
"What has been the great issue here is not the Common Core. It is the implementation and the the pathway to that implementation. Many of our schools struggling with the issue of testing. Our children undermined and losing faith in themselves because the number of tests they have to take, the hours they have to take."
Nyack School Board Trustee Dan Kaplan said that the emphasis on using standardized test results in evaluating teachers and building principals as part of APPR pushes teachers to teach to the test, which limits instruction. Nyack High School junior Daniel Pleisance said the focus on testing impacts the classroom dynamic all year, not just as the tests are administered.
"I've come to realize the most important, the most encouraging, most enriching, most enduring things I've gained from my education are skills in creativity, higher-order thinking, discussion, debate and public speaking," Plaisance said. "Activities that encourage these skills are all too often forgone in favor of rigid, formulaic instruction that is necessary to prepare students for these tests."
The gatherings of Nyack were among approximately 90 Day of Action events nation, including these New York events listed on the Alliance for Quality Education website. In addition to the rallies, everyone in Nyack was asked to wear blue. The same request was made in the Clarkstown Central School District.
The wearing of blue was encouraged by the NYSUT, a federation of over 1,200 local unions in New York State. More information, including a letter calling for resolutions by the New York State Board of Regents and Commissioner John King, is available on the NYSUT website here.
The letter, which had 8,258 online signatures as of early Monday afternoon, calls on the Regents to do the following in 2014:
- Implement high standards the right way
- Ask the legislature and governor to increase funding for public schools and colleges, and help all students succeed.
- Push for a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences linked to standardized tests
- Emphasize teaching and learning, not testing and consequences
- Listen to the real education stakeholders: parents, educators, students, and community members.
"There is shame with starting with testing and finding a way to penalize and to sanction and defund schools as opposed to growing schools together where we have the joy of learning like I had when I was in Rockland County when I grew up," Weingarten said. "We’re here today, with over 90 actions going on. Rain. Sun. Shine. Frost. All throughout the country. Ninety actions and growing. That’s because parents, educators and community want to reclaim the promise of public education. They want schools that are well-funded, want to make sure we have Pre-K education and wraparound services, not the austerity and privatized services we have now."
Weingarten also addressed the concerns specific to New York.
"In New York, that means fair and full funding and it means helping teachers prepare for Common Core before one tests it," Weingarten said. "It means recreating trust. It means actually working together to have the school as a center of community. Not the state education department. Not testing, but the relationships you see in Nyack, NY between teachers and parents and kids. That’s what reclaiming the promise is about. That is what we will fight for every day, to make learning and student joy first and foremost, not testing."
The Nyack High School gathering also featured two songs, including Nyack School Board Trustee Michael Mark leading the assembled group through "One Voice," a song he wrote with Tom Chapin about working together to address educational concerns.