The New York State School Boards Association is supposed to be the voice of the state’s local school boards, but some of those school boards believe that their association has become a voice for the New York State Education Department.
School boards in the Lower Hudson Valley are leading the charge, claiming that the NYSSBA is not representing them when it advocates for Common Core or for test-based evaluations of teachers and principals.
The NYSSBA is holding its annual conference right now in New York City, and a number of resolutions will be voted up or down.
Most people think of Long Island as the center of the resistance to Common Core because it has a large contingent of parent activists and a large number of students who opted out of state testing. But the “Lohud” (Lower Hudson Valley) school boards and parents are equally resistant to the state and federal mandates coming from Race to the Top. One even stopped paying dues to the state school boards association.
Gary Stern writes:
“Critics in the Lower Hudson Valley are calling out the School Boards Association for embracing the Common Core, the new teacher-evaluation system and other state-mandated reforms. Some say the group has become too cozy with the state Education Department at a time when many school board members and educators in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties are resistant to the state’s agenda.
“They don’t seem to be representing us or our region,” Pleasantville Board of Education President Shane McGaffey said. “It feels like they’ve become a mouthpiece for the state as opposed to their members.”
The Pleasantville school board took the unusual action this month of halting its dues payments to NYSSBA. Board members from other districts are watching to see how the School Boards Association responds.
NYSSBA is set to hold its 95th annual convention from Sunday to Tuesday at the Sheraton in Times Square. Delegates will vote on several resolutions that Timothy Kremer, NYSSBA’s executive director, said are “surprisingly controversial because, I think, the words ‘Common Core’ are in the resolutions.”
One resolution, in particular, that has galvanized critics supports the controversial teacher-evaluation system, including the use of student test scores to grade teachers. The Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents has called for the system to be killed, saying it is irreparably flawed, but NYSSBA’s official “rationale” for the resolution chides opponets who have “fought relentlessly to roll back” the system.
A school board member from the New Paltz School District, Steve Greenfield, has written several tough criticisms of NYSSBA that have been widely shared through social media. He has tried to focus attention on NYSSBA’s acceptance of a $250,000 grant from the state Education Department to provide training to school board members on implementing the current reforms.
“NYSSBA is supposed to be our lobby before government bodies,” Greenfield said. “It’s an incredibly important organization. But they are accepting money and curriculum from the very agency they are supposed to be lobbying.”
The School Boards Association, based in Latham, outside Albany, represents 658 school boards or 93 percent of those in the state. It has a budget of about $9 million, 60 percent of which comes from school board dues, and a paid staff of 56 people.
Even critics say that it is a steep challenge for NYSSBA to represent urban, suburban and rural districts that often have different priorities. And it’s well known that criticism of the state’s reform agenda is more concentrated in the Lower Hudson Valley and Long Island than elsewhere in New York.
Kremer, the group’s executive director since 1998, acknowledged that the Westchester/Rockland area is “ground zero” for opposition to programs tied to the Common Core. He said he is in regular touch with local school board members and educators about their concerns. In fact, he plans to visit the Pleasantville school board on Nov. 18.
“We’re trying to say ‘Look guys, we want to hear from you and we want to be open,’ ” Kremer said. “To some extent, they want to work with us.”
Kremer emphasized that NYSSBA’s resolutions are not fixed positions but starting points based on surveys of members and months of reviews. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the resolution on teacher evaluations gets rejected by delegates.
“If it gets voted down, our official position will be that we no longer support the use of student performance data in (evaluations),” he said. “People somehow think a resolution is our position. It is not.”
But some board members in the Lower Hudson Valley want NYSSBA to take a more critical initial stance.
“They’ve glossed over our fears and trepidations,” said Lawrence Boes, another Pleasantville board member. “There is a general feeling that we’re whining, that we’re these wealthy school districts that should acquiesce to the desires of the state Education Department.”
Frank Hariton, president of the Ardsley Board of Education, said he expects his board to review NYSSBA’s performance after the convention.
“We think the state is diluting the great stuff we did before,” he said. “I think that the state Education Department has become almost a subsidiary of Pearson (Inc.) and that NYSSBA is becoming an apologist for SED. I find it to be terrible.”
Members of other local school boards had similar concerns but said they would wait for the outcome of the convention before criticizing NYSSBA.
Of the general tenor in the region, Susan Elion Wollin, president of the Westchester Putnam School Boards Association, which is independent of NYSSBA, said: “It would be fair to say that Westchester Putnam members would enjoy the opportunity to have a deeper conversation with NYSSBA about issues we feel are important to us.”
Kremer said that the state’s school reforms are written into state law, and that NYSSBA’s role is to help school boards implement policies effectively.
“Whatever one thinks of the Common Core, as we sit here today, it is the law in New York state,” he said. “Our job is to make sure that school boards we represent have the information they need to make smart local decisions.”
One resolution on tap for the convention calls for more state funding for professional development tied to the Common Core. Another supports new teacher certification exams aligned with the Common Core.
Kremer said NYSSBA accepted a state grant to provide training because “Everyone has been trained in the reforms except for board members.” NYSSBA is using the grant to hold seven workshops around the state featuring speakers who support the Common Core.