Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Surveying the Field

Where has the month of May gone? It started out as a whirlwind of activity with summarizing a survey we sent out to collect the opinions on the assessment process. We then used that information as a basis for commentary at the Learning Summit held by the State Education Department. As the month progressed, we continued to reach out to members with a field survey asking for your opinions on our current services, your needs, and your expectations from us as an association. Below is a brief update on each of the subjects to keep you in the loop.

Feedback from Survey on Assessments 
At the conclusion of the April 2015 NYS Testing Program, NYS PTA distributed a brief survey to approximately 27,000 members. The survey was not a scientific sampling of membership but was intended as informal background to assist us in preparing comments offered to NYS Board of Regents members at a Learning Summit held on May 7, 2015. As of May 13, 2015, 3,051 responses had been received. The results are presented as an attachment in three ways:
  1. Overall results
  2. A cross tabulation that compares demographic information in question #1 with responses to other questions
  3. A cross tabulation that compares test participation reported in question #3 with opinions on the NYS testing program reported in question #4
Click here for a pdf of the results. 

Learning Summit on Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) 
On May 7, NYS PTA had the opportunity to coordinate the viewpoints from multiple parent groups throughout the state at the New York State Education Department Learning Summit on APPR. For those of you that did not have the opportunity to view this on the simulcast, you can access information about the event at, which includes the agenda, bios and submitted materials. 
We had quite a bit of Twitter activity about our panel, and some  press coverage from the Albany Times Union at, You can see the tweets in a Storify format along with links to the testimony by clicking here.

Coordinating the many diverse parent groups with each having their opportunity to share their own opinions and suggestions proved to be an enriching experience. We look forward to continuing to converse with these groups into the future.

Your Voice Counts - Survey to the Grassroots 
Over the past several months, NYS PTA has been working on gathering information from a variety of interested individuals. Several focus group sessions have been held with different groups of individuals. Most recently, we initiated a survey that went out to all of the email contacts in our database and was also posted to our Facebook page over this past weekend. 

This survey did not go to our Governance Team as we are looking for feedback from our grassroots. The survey did close on May 23. We plan to share those results and more importantly plan our actions based on the results. Thank you to everyone who took the time to participate.


Bonnie M. Russell
NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!

Monday, April 20, 2015

We All Want to do What is Right for Our Children

As we enter into another week of NYS Assessments, NYS PTA acknowledges the significant increase in refusals that occurred this past week with the ELA Assessments as many parents chose to have their students not participate. It is anticipated that this trend will continue with the math assessments this week as parents express their right to decide what is in the best interest of their child.

We all want to do what is right for our children, their teachers and their schools. However, that means different things to different people. Every student and family is unique. As families make these decisions, we urge everyone to respect all parents and students whether they choose to take or refuse the test. Everyone should be treated equally in a respectful manner no matter what that decision is. 

In the next few weeks NYS PTA will be publishing a statement about “What’s next for education in New York?”  It will discuss what direction we will urge the decision makers to take around many hot topics affecting the ability of all children in New York to receive an equitable and excellent education. 


Bonnie M. Russell
NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!

Friday, April 3, 2015


Surprisingly, Tuesday's state budget adoption linked the distribution of increased school aid to another revision of Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) elements. Assessments are one of two elements to be weighted in the APPR that must be approved by November 15. 

With this news, the movement to promote test refusal*, as a means to make a political statement, has increased around our state. 

We have heard from many members; some urging NYS PTA to endorse test refusal, but most appreciating our position to support every parent's right to make the choice for their own child. 

As the, “New York State PTA Position Paper: Use of Student Assessment & Its Impact on High‐Stakes Educational Decisions” states:

High‐stakes testing associated with political initiatives has changed the landscape of education in New York State and across our country. The effects of some of these changes may be unintended, but when devoid of a sound educational rationale, they can actually interfere with educational improvement.

We also support the need for meaningful pupil assessment and educator accountability. Current trends unfortunately exaggerate the use of narrowly defined results to judge educational performance and make high‐stakes educational decisions. These trends cannot be permitted to stifle student and educator creativity or to impede the imperative to educate the whole child.

The latest action by our state leaders, combined with member feedback on both sides of the issue, creates an urgency to reiterate that NYS PTA strongly supports the right of every parent to decide what is best for their child whether to take or refuse the test.

We strongly recommend that parents whose children will not participate in annual testing work collaboratively with their school district’s administration on a plan for the child that is agreeable to both parties.

Finally we ask that, no matter how you choose, everyone be respectful of another parents’ right to make either a similar or different choice for their child. 

*Please note, we do not refer to this as “opt-out” as that is not an option in our state. One can "refuse the test" or "not participate" thereby causing the test to be coded 999.


Bonnie M. Russell
NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Sad Day for Education in NYS

Today is a sad day for the students and teachers of New York. 

The Governor, claiming to be the best advocate for children, has tied inadequate school funding to questionable education reform based on volatile state tests and tied to ethics reform. 

Both the Assembly and Senate, who promised $1.8 to $1.9 billion of increased aid, sold out promised relief in order to ease ethics reform. They fundamentally short-changed the children they claim they care about. 

Huge stacks of printed bill materials shared only hours before the votes last night left little time for thoughtful consideration and stakeholder input. Major educational reforms were ill-considered in the haste to meet a vote deadline.

While NYS PTA appreciates the decision to assign the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) revision to NYSED and the Board of Regents, as we advocated for, we believe the parameters and time frame for consideration are completely inadequate for all stakeholders to provide input and thoughtful feedback. Specifically: 
  •     Parent input was erased from APPR
  •     Questions remain on testing and proportions of standardized testing in APPR 
  •     What formulates student growth is not clear
  •     What elements are part of a new matrix needs to be defined 
  •     How schools will manage the use and costs of outside evaluators is unknown 

Once again, tying release of aid to approval of negotiated APPR elements by November 15, DURING the school year, is indefensible.

The lack of reliability of the current NYS standardized tests along with these hastily adopted education reforms will fuel the already increasing opposition to participation in testing scheduled for this April. 

The unfortunate message to the children of New York: your education and future are not worth the time and collaborative decision-making of Albany legislators.

With this latest state action it is even more urgent that we reinforce the right of every parent to decide what is best for their child, whether to take or refuse the test!


Bonnie M. Russell
NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Busy Time in Education

Since my last message, we have been extremely busy. As mentioned in my last posting, the governor threw us a curve ball this year by tying the budget to education reform. In response to the governor’s proposal which included keeping the state aid runs hostage, NYS PTA responded on our own and in some situations in partnership with the Educational Conference Board with the following:

  • Published an Article from President in Fast Facts about Testing Stand. Click here to read. (Please note that it was brought to our attention that some documents housed on our website with old information concerning our stand were being accessed from the search function even though they were not actively linked to our pages. Those have been remove and replaced with the updated information.)
  • Published and shared our Issues Briefs and Talking Points on: Funding our Schools and Assessing Teacher and Student Performance.
  • Released Educational Conference Board (ECB) position statements on School Funding, Career and Technical Education and multiple Pathways to Graduation, Property Tax Caps, Immigration and English Language Learners (ELL) and Challenges Associated with an Unplanned and Unanticipated Influx of Unaccompanied Minors.
  • Sent ECB letters to Governor Cuomo requesting that Executive Budget State Aid detail be released. Click here for first letter. Click here to read the follow-up letter.
  • Gave Testimony to the NYS Joint Legislative Committees as presented by our Executive Administrator Rick Longhurst in reaction to the Governor’s Executive proposals and reform agenda. Click here to read.
  • Published a Legislation Summary document. Click here to read.
  • Sent a Letter to Governor Cuomo concerning his statement on failing teachers. Click here to read.

Legislation/Education Conference and Lobby Days: We also joined with our members from NYS PTA at our Legislation/Education Conference in Albany where we continued the conversation on the above topics and heard from specialists in the field who are dealing with these issues on a day-to-day basis.

The day after, we brought 26 advocates to meet with our state senate and congressional staffs to share our opinions and ask for their support with the above issues. Our member advocates throughout the state joined our ranks to share their views on virtual lobby day where over 5,000 letters were sent to our legislators about assessing teacher and student performance and funding our schools.

Advocating for Family Engagement in Education Act in Washington: We then took our advocates to Washington, DC where we were honored to receive a co-sponsorship from Senator Chuck Schumer for the Family Engagement in Education Act. Our hope is to continue to receive this support from the rest of the federal legislators representing New York. Those we met with were very open to supporting this important legislation.

Thank you for continuing to Communicate to Advocate with us for the children of NYS!


NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Governor’s State of the State Address/Budget Proposal

On Wednesday, Governor Cuomo gave his State of the State Address in combination with his Budget Proposal. It is important to note that while the Governor offered broad budget statements, he will not release details of school aid proposals until the legislature acts on a broad range of proposed education reforms. We are extremely concerned about this and are working on a detailed response that we plan to release in the next several days. 

Here is a summary of some key points associated with the Governor’s education reform proposals:

·         Teacher Evaluation System (APPR)
o   The Governor believes the current system cannot be correct if 39.1% of high school students are college ready, but 98.7% of high school teachers are rated effective or better. He recommends that 50% of APPR be based on State tests, 15% based on observation by a local principal or administrator and 35% be based on observation by an outside observer appointed by the State Education Department.
o   NYS PTA reflected in our recent letter to the governor’s office that less emphasis should be placed on tests with more on observations. We have concerns with the heavy emphasis on testing and the way the Governor proposes to structure observations.

·         Teacher Tenure
o   The Governor proposes that tenure be granted after 5 continuous years of effective ratings. He states that non-tenured teachers should be subject to dismissal at any time for any reason.
o   NYS PTA has questioned whether five years is needed to assess effectiveness.

·         Removal of Ineffective Teachers
o   The Governor would make it easier to remove a teacher after two ineffective ratings, unless the rating is shown to be fraudulent.
o   NYS PTA reflected in our recent letter to the governor’s office to put an emphasis on quality of information presented at hearings and the time necessary to select hearing officers in the process.

·         Charter Schools
o   The Governor would like to see the current cap raised from 460 to 560 which would be across the state, not with an update/downstate split in the cap. There would be an emphasis on “anti-creaming” to make sure that the same cross section of students accepted into the public school system would also be allowed into the charter school system.
o   NYS PTA has been supportive of the charter school concept with the proviso that charter school funding not detract from the State’s obligation to fund public schools and that charters be accountable to local school boards. Funding as proposed would divert support from funding traditional public schools.

·         Struggling/Failing Schools
o   The Governor shared that 178 schools are currently failing in NYS and 77 have been failing for a decade. He proposes using a recommendation from SED to use the Massachusetts model in our state. If a school fails for 3 years, a non-for-profit can takeover, usually in a community school format.
o   NYS PTA has promoted standards for meaningful two-way family and community engagement in the education process in the form of recommendations to the Board of Regents, legislators, community organizations and other child advocates. The family and community engagement process using SED’s Diagnostic Tool for School and District Effectiveness (DTSDE) shows promise and should be considered as a basis for building a final action prior to considering a school closing. Closing schools is a drastic step. 

·         Mayoral Control              
o   The Governor sees the NYC model as working and could see it used in other cities.
o   NYS PTA pointed out in our response to the governor - How does mayoral control differ from the fiscal dependence of our five largest school districts on their city governments? Aren’t these schools already subject to substantial mayoral control?

·        Funding and Budget Issue Connect to Education Reforms
   When announcing the amount of money to be budgeted for education, it was proposed as two options.
o   Option 1 – The legislature adopts all of the proposed reforms – 4.8% increase of $1.06B
o   Option 2 – The legislature does not adopt all of the proposed reforms - 1.7% increase of $377M

NYS PTA is concerned that a budget without detail puts school districts and children in a very tenuous planning position that will detract from learning rather than enhance it.

Please keep in mind that the Educational Conference Board (ECB) recommended $1.9B and NYSED recommended $2.0B. Even if the reforms were adopted, it still is not close to what is needed to ensure an equitable education for all children.

·        Investment Tax Credit/Dream Act 
o   The Governor is proposing a tax credit at an annual cost of $100 million, that we do not support. Further, the Governor would link support of a “dream act” which we do support to the adoption of tax credits. We will be sharing more information about this in a separate publication.

·        Age of Criminality
o   One positive item to come out of the address was his support of Raising the Age of Criminality to 18 from the current age of 16, which is in sync with current positions taken by National PTA, and which NYS PTA is working on educating and advocating for.

Overall, I wish we could say this was a surprise. The fact that the budget recommendation is tied to the governor’s education reform proposals is extremely disappointing. We definitely have our work cut out for us in the coming year.  


NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Topics of Interest

As a follow-up to my last post to The Voice of NYS PTA, below are some topics of interest that include a link to our letter to the Governor's office addressing many different issues that we believe will be included later this week in the Governor's State of the State address. 

Topics of Interest:
  • NYS PTA Letter to the Governor’s Office: This week we finalized our letter to the governor’s office addressing issues raised in the letter they sent in mid-December to the Board of Regents and State Education Department.
    • Click here to read the letter from the Governor's office we are responding to.
    • To read the response letter from NYS PTA that addresses all of the items from that letter, click here.
    • If you are interested in reading the response letter from NYSED/Board of Regents, please click here.
  • The Education Conference Board (ECB) Makes Commissioner Recommendations: ECB sent out a letter this week to Vice Chancellor Bottar with our combined recommendation for selection of the next Commissioner. Please click here to read that letter. We are also in the final stages of preparing a letter from NYS PTA with our recommendations, and we will share that with you in an upcoming posting.
  • Mark your calendars for the Governor Cuomo’s State of the State is scheduled for this Wednesday, January 21 at 1:30 p.m. As it will be later this year, the Budget announcement will be combined with this presentation.
  • Letter Supporting National Core Arts Standards: A representative of NYSED requested a letter of support from NYS PTA regarding the potential adoption or adoption with amendments of the National Core Arts Standards. Unlike the Common Core Standards, these voluntary standards were drafted with input from all the major Arts discipline organizations like the National Association of Music Educators, which included teachers and administrators. Theses core arts standards attempt to structure process and content knowledge to assist educators in developing not only performance skills, but lifelong appreciation and participation in the Arts. The standards and the grade-by-grade matrix can be found at: nationalartsstandards.orgYou can read our letter by clicking here.
Should be an interesting week ahead...

Bonnie M. Russell

NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate