Monday, October 14, 2013

Town Hall Response

The purpose of the NYS PTA sponsored Town Hall meetings was to conduct a forum between members and the Commissioner of the State Education Department regarding the Common Core Initiative and its implementation in New York. This was to be an opportunity for information to be shared, for questions to be asked and facts clarified and for members to share their experiences and concerns.  

Protocol was published with the event announcements and the agenda and time sequence provided beforehand.  Knowing that emotions run high regarding Common Core implementation, adherence to a respectful exchange was requested. This was to assure a thoughtful, constructive forum that could be continued for members across the state, offering the same opportunity to meet with the Commissioner.

The support of our region directors and boards as well as our unit and council presidents of this effort was extraordinary. In order to provide a setting for the forums, they were asked to assist with the effort by reaching out to local school districts for a facility in which to host them. Understanding the importance of our intent, facilities were generously provided.

But our intent was not realized.

The purpose of the Town Hall meeting was not to hold a protest rally, nor to provide a forum for insult, personal attack, or overall disregard – this disregard was not only between the audience and the Commissioner but between audience members themselves. Some asked to be allowed to hear responses while many out-shouted their ability to do so. Despite requests by the Commissioner and NYS PTA to be courteous, disruptions continued and escalated.

Did responses to question take longer than anticipated? Yes, they did.  This part of the program ran 15 minutes beyond what was planned. But, we cannot ignore that much time was spent trying to settle the audience. 

Prior to beginning, it was agreed to extend the statement period to allow the allotted time, if the program ran behind. During the statement period the Commissioner requested to respond to some comments to clarify inaccuracies. Those commenting felt this imposed on their time. Their level of frustration was raised, precipitating more jeers and shouting from the audience and adding to an already hostile environment. It was not constructive or productive to continue. 

The decision to suspend the remaining forums was based on this experience as well as communications that there would be more of the same, yet intensified, ahead.  

Whether a program or advocacy initiative, we talk of the importance of evaluating outcomes of our efforts to determine whether we’ve met our goal -- we assess, we adjust, we regroup. The determination to conduct forums did not rest with the Region Directors, nor the local unit or council presidents. 

The forums were initiated by the collaboration of the State Education Department and NYS PTA.  However, their intended purpose cannot be achieved in similar or more contentious environments. So, rather than repeat the same, we learn from this and we regroup.  

We are now working to find an alternative for parents to both learn and share concerns regarding the Common Core Initiative and its implementation to accomplish our goal and move forward to influence change.

Lana Ajemian, President
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!

Monday, October 7, 2013

“All Great Change Begins at the Dinner Table”…Ronald Reagan

There’s a great deal of misinformation being circulated regarding NYS PTA and the Common Core Initiative (CCI). Unfortunately, there are those who seem unable to support their stance against education reform on the merits of their case and, instead, resort to manipulation of facts. 

So, let’s set the record straight:
  • At no time has NYS PTA accepted any money, either from private or public corporate, industry or education agencies, to support the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) or assessments in our state.
  • At no time has the NYS PTA president accepted any money, either from private or public corporate, industry or education agencies, to support the CCLS or assessments.
  • At no time has there been an “edict” from NYS PTA that campaigns such as “Lace to the Top” or “Opt Out” could not be mentioned or discussed.
  • At no time has there been an “edict” that individuals cannot participate in such campaigns.
  • At no time has NYS PTA governance or its president asked for members to be silenced regarding their concerns about the CCI or its implementation.
As a Matter of Fact:
  • NYS PTA supports the CCLS and, while not perfect, recognizes the need to ensure all students graduate high school, college and career ready, and; that it is necessary to evaluate progress along the way toward meeting that goal.
  • NYS PTA continues to express concerns over NY’s implementation of and the assessments associated with the CCI. Review the joint statement Common Ground on Common Core.
  • NYS PTA favors positive, constructive collaboration with decision makers. Although NYS PTA does not support negative campaigns such as Lace to the Top or Opt Out, NYS PTA recognizes the decision to do so is an individual one.
  • NYS PTA BELIEVES its role is to provide varying platforms for parent voices. To this end:
o    A survey to more than 20,000 listserv subscribers for feedback on the CCI has been disseminated for the purpose of informing our work on behalf of our membership.
o   Survey comments were collected and delivered to both the Commissioner of Education and Chancellor of the State Board of Regents
o   NYS PTA representatives have been meeting regularly with representatives of NYS Education Dept as well as with the Regents and the governor’s office to share members’ concerns and encourage enhanced parent and family engagement in formulating and implementing education polices
o   Five 5 statewide town hall meetings are scheduled to deliver an update on the state of the CCI here in NY and to provide members an opportunity to clarify information and share concerns with NY State Education representatives.
o   NYS PTA publications and events, such as the annual Legislation Education Conference and Summer Leadership Conferences, have offered many opportunities to build understanding, ask questions and comment.
o   The Deputy Commissioner of Curriculum, Assessment and Technology will be the key note speaker at November’s annual NYS PTA convention; the Deputy Commissioner of P-12 Education plans to participate in a workshop.
  • NYS PTA BELIEVES its role is to provide information and materials for parents and members to become educated on topics and make informed choices; it is left to the individual to exercise personal choice on behalf of their child/student. 
NYS PTA supports the intent of the Common Core initiative, yet at the same time recognizes the flaws of implementation and seeks to address those flaws. Our efforts to support both students and educators adhere to our NYS PTA vision to be the premier child advocacy and parent engagement association to ensure every child reaches his/her potential. 

No, we will not rattle and rail at the gates -- for this only drowns out any chance of being heard as the rational voice of those who understand that change is inevitably accompanied by challenge. Instead we seek opportunity in change; the opportunity to provide constructive feedback from the dinner table to the school room to the state house that builds understanding and support for positive, sustainable education reform.

Lana Ajemian, President
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Finding Common Ground

When we talk about the issues raised by the Common Core Initiative we need to distinguish between the value of the initiative and the impact of implementation, both on the intended goal and those whom we claim it will benefit.  Some say we cannot completely separate testing from educational program. Perhaps true. But, if we truly believe our goal worthy, we must also look beyond the goal itself to how we get there. And, in order to have any sustainable success, we must make every effort to examine that trajectory with an objective eye.

Many educators, administrators, business leaders and parents recognize both the need for and the value of higher learning standards. These higher standards are intended to give every child the opportunity to meet the demands of a rapidly changing, highly mobile and technical society. The goal is both necessary and laudable.  Toward this end, classroom learning and instructional delivery are undergoing significant transformation as we shift from a system of delivery and memorization of facts to a more useful, creative delivery in order to apply learning in a real world sense. A dear friend who teaches high school honors math/algebra confided that because of the need to integrate new classroom strategies and approaches, after many years in the classroom, she is once again excited about teaching.  And she’s not the only one.

Conversely, at the same time we’ve set the standards bar higher, we’ve also begun the process of assessing what rung, what level, we’re on to reach it.  And perhaps this is where we should take a deep breath, recalibrate, and climb carefully.  How can we determine whether change, i.e. reform, is successful when change is still in progress? To be fair to the integrity of the Common Core, we must be able to distinguish the need for and value of the initiative from the rush to assess whether it is fulfilling its intent. Would we critique an unfinished canvas? Similarly, to judge any new approach to learning before it is carefully and confidently assimilated into classroom curriculum and instruction undermines the excitement, the promise of its end success.

As reform evolves, marking progress is important and dynamic. Good or bad, with the release of the recent 3-8 standardized assessment scores we now have a baseline, the canvas. And, while accountability is crucial in any initiative, patience and caution in holding students or educators responsible for the outcome until they’ve developed the skills and been provided the resources necessary to be successful, is just as crucial.  Good or bad, recent test scores give us an idea of what rung we, the education community, are on in order to attain higher standards. Our students are not less-abled; our teachers are not less-abled. It’s the ladder that’s different. All these scores tell us is that there’s much to do to create solid footing for students and educators to climb it.

That said, NYS PTA has worked throughout summer as a member of the Educational Conference Board, a statewide coalition of education leaders, to identify what needs to be done to steady the ladder. We have not only come to consensus on what’s good about reform, but also what we see as the stumbling blocks to successful implementation. Constructive dialogue leads to solid solutions -- together we found Common Ground on the Common Core, a five-point plan to both address concerns and support successful, sustainable reform. From there, together we speak for every child with one voice.