This is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning.
While this might be too long of a letter to actually send,
not sure he reads what he receives anyway, I think it is something that needs
to be said. Or at least I need to say it.
To Governor Cuomo,
What can I say that others more eloquent and knowledgeable
haven't already said?
I am the mother of 4 children. Chris is 27. He graduated
from NY public schools and attended Bennington College in Vermont. He now works
in Washington DC at a job he loves. Nick is 25, almost 26. He graduated from NY
public schools. He attended the University of Rochester. Alexandra is 10
years-old, she is in 5th grade and she has gone to Miller Hill Elementary
School her entire education career except that year in our local pre-school.
Katharina is 8 and she has spent more time in educational programs than any of
my other children had at this point in their lives. Her path has been
My first 3 children have always been full of curiosity, they
loved to learn and had wonderful educators who helped bring them along to their
next level of education. Many times that level was ahead of their peers and
ahead of grade level, but these teachers were not concerned with keeping
students "on the same page" or on "test prep," nor were
they concerned with a formal formula curriculum, so these educators helped to
feed my children's curiosity and allowed them to keep growing at their own
paces, which further encouraged them to have curiosity and love of learning.
It's a great natural cycle.
And these educators did it for all of their students. They
met the students where they were and brought them as far they could. Not
everyone reached the same end points...but they learned as much as they each
were capable of. They had individualized instruction because everyone knows that
everyone learns differently.
My last daughter, Katharina is a stroke survivor and she has
had to be more involved with learning how to learn and formal education for
some of the years my other children had free-play time. She has mild cerebral
palsy, vision issues, cognitive delays and speech delays. But before you
discount her as someone not worthy of a 'normal' education, let me tell you
Katharina fought like hell to survive and be here. She
survived a stroke before she was born. She has been blessed to have wonderful
doctors at Albany Medical Center and now specialists throughout the Capital
District. She had wonderful therapists and programs through the Rensselear
County Early Intervention program and has amazing public school teachers in our
home district of Averill Park.
My Kath has a burning curiosity and desire to learn. Just
like her siblings. She has more empathy than many adults. She has the
resiliency and the persistence that would outshine Olympic athletes. Her laugh
is contagious, her hugs are healing and her eye contact is steady. She dances
in ballet, tap and jazz with accommodating teachers who see potential and not
disability. She rides a horse at hippotherapy. She loves museums and books and
dolls. When she grows up she wants to work with Winter, the dolphin that the
movie "Dolphin Tales" is based on.
Kath knows she had a stroke. She's beginning to understand
that's the reason she can't always keep up with friends on the playground and
in the classroom.
Kath is beginning to understand that for her, her life will
always mean that she will need to work harder and smarter. She knows that
learning her math facts means spending 5 times (or more) longer than the other
kids. She knows she might not get through all of the stations in physical
education class or have the time to complete an art project or finish reading
the library book in the given week of borrow time. She knows she wants to play
an instrument when she gets to 5th grade, besides the piano she already takes
weekly lessons on with another wonderfully patient teacher. She knows when we
sit to do homework each night it will probably take her two hours to do the
work she missed during her different therapies as well as the 'normal'
My community--Averill Park, Miller Hill Elementary School,
Albany Medical Center, Rensselear County, Isabelle School of Dance, EBC Horse
Therapy, Ms Mary, my friends and her siblings-- have surrounded Kath with so
much love and support that Kath has succeeded in ways none of us imagined when
she was first diagnosed as a massive stroke survivor.
However, what I fear now for my amazing daughter, as well as
for my other daughter, my students and my husband's inner city students is a
one-size-fits-all education model which does not work for the various abilities
and strengths our real life children (the children behind the data) have.
We, as communities, have an obligation to raise our villages
up. To lift one another to our highest branches. Our children each bloom at
different times: some need more sun, some need more rain, some need more time,
some need it all, but they bloom and they grow...given the respect for who they
are and what they can do. And given the time they need.
The idea behind making sure that each student has an equal
opportunity at a solid education is a noble one. The idea of testing and
forcing each student to gallop through the curriculum regardless of how they
learn is devastating to our children. Tying students' scores to the
effectiveness of a teacher is insane. Teachers are not quality control agents
inspecting each product and passing them along or rejecting them.
My beautiful, courageous, strong, smart, caring daughter
struggles to take tests, especially timed tests. She shuts down and cries when
we try to practice at home. Her confidence-level is fragile and this education
reform of standardized one-size-fits-all education is chipping away at her and
other students who teeter in your data margins.
The idea that next year she will be asked to have hours of
test prep instead of furthering her love of learning, her curiosity, her math
facts, her reading, her love of cultures is frightening. The fact that with her
disability she will be permitted extra time for this insanity...time which will
be taken from learning...means that my daughter will not have a chance to
'catch up'...she will not be able to ever ever catch up.
This education reform that you are pushing through, Governor
Cuomo, goes against everything we have found to be research-based. This
education reform will mean that only certain students wll be able to get a
decent education, the rest will be forced into more 'academic intervention
services' (missing more classroom/learning time) for prepping for tests that
are developmentally unsound and unjust.
I never want my daughter, or other children who struggle to
learn the 'normal' way and speed, to believe that they are 'not-good-enough' or
that there isn't enough room at the school tables for them.
I beg you to reconsider your position and your push for
Common Core, standardized testing and draconian teacher evaluations. Our
children need us to be the village that can help them through their school
years with support and research based methods for teaching and education.