Tim Farley, a school administrator in New York, has become an education activist. He feels that he must, for the sake of his own children and for the sake of the children in his school. He is a leader in the group of parents and educators from across the state called NYSAPE (New York State Allies for Public Education).
As a school administrator, I receive NYSSBA’s (New York State School Boards Association) monthly publication “On Board”. Over the past year, On Board has included articles of mixed support for/skepticism toward the implementation of the Common Core Standards, or the standards themselves. However, I must say that when I opened to page four of the September 22 issue (http://www.nyssba.org/news/2014/09/18/on-board-online-september-22-2014/the-reform- agenda-stay-the-course/), I was taken aback as there was a full page written by former Regent James Jackson, titled, “The Reform Agenda: Stay the Course”.
Mr. Jackson begins his OpEd by quoting Machiavelli: “…There is nothing more difficult to manage, or more doubtful of success, or more dangerous to handle…” and he ends the quote with “…to take the lead in introducing a new order of things.” I find it highly ironic that Jackson chose to quote Machiavelli, as the term Machiavellian is defined by Merriam Webster as “using clever lies and tricks in order to get or achieve something; clever and dishonest”.
He then shares his empathy and respect for Commissioner John King and the Board of Regents “who have led our state’s program of reform”. He continues: “I believe that students will succeed because I believe that teachers, being professionals, will keep them first in their thinking. The mechanisms that we have developed to enhance teacher effectiveness will soon evolve into a dynamic engine that delivers unprecedented levels of education and support services. All stakeholders just need to remain positive, supportive, patient and committed to the Reform Agenda.”
Wow! So, all we need for success is to remain positive and committed to an agenda that the majority of New Yorkers do not agree with. Moreover, there are parts of Jackson’s OpEd that seem a bit patronizing, such as: “Teachers and administrators are dealing with a lot of change, fast, and it’s natural to feel disoriented.”
Frankly, Mr. Jackson, I have never been so focused and clear-headed in my life. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Jackson for over two hours last November. I shared my experiences of the Regents Reform Agenda first-hand with him, both as a parent of four school-aged children, and as an educator for over twenty-two years. I shared with him specific examples of how some of the standards were developmentally inappropriate. I shared with him how onerous and abusive the testing had become under John King’s watch. I shared with him how demoralized the teachers had become. I shared with him how our students’ sensitive data was being given away and not protected. However, he didn’t seem to understand, or maybe he simply didn’t care.
You see, the problem isn’t “change” itself, but rather the prescribed change being offered, i.e. – the Regents Reform Agenda. And if Mr. Jackson and the others on the Board of Regents (Regents Kathy Cashin and Betty Rosa excluded) had listened to the voices of those in the field of education instead of dictating, he may still be on the Board of Regents. (Mr. Jackson was not re-appointed to his position representing the third Judicial District of New York State, and one can only speculate as to the reasons why.)
NYS Senator John Flanagan is the Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Education. He held five hearings all across the state last year. I testified at one of those hearings and the voices of dissent far outnumbered the voices of support. You can read his executive summary here (http://www.hufsd.edu/assets/pdfs/central/2014/ NYS%20Senate%20Report%20-%20Regents%20Reform%20Agenda.pdf).
As a part of the report, Flanagan wrote the following: “Overall, there were several consistent themes. Without question one theme was genuine frustration. Given a chance to vent, witnesses did so because they have deeply held concerns about the Regents Reform Agenda. Who is in charge? Is anyone truly listening? More importantly, is anyone really doing anything even if they are listening? Why are things so rushed? How come there is such a desire to amass and share data? Why are there so many tests? Why are they so long? Why do my kids no longer like school? How come teachers are so frustrated? Do we even know whether any of this will work? Why is corporate America involved? How are my children actually going to be better off? These questions are rhetorical for purposes of this report, but the teachers, parents and districts we heard from are actually asking them. They want and are entitled to real answers, especially from the State Education Department and the Board of Regents.”
Mr. Jackson concludes his OpEd with: “…we must effectively challenge Machiavelli’s conclusion about the uncertainty of practitioners successfully implementing innovations. If you, like me, support the Common Core Standards and the Reform Agenda, don’t be lukewarm about it.” Unfortunately for you Mr. Jackson, the people have spoken and they do not like the Regents Reform Agenda. The voices of dissent will continue to get louder until those in charge start listening to those being affected by the change.
Here is a quote from General Colin Powell: “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems, is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”