Public Insight Network's Army of Parents, Educators Evaluate the Current School System

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Lately, there has been one event after the next in the education world that could have a big impact on students, parents and educators. WNYC Radio wanted to capture the consequences of such events, understand the current state of New York City schools, and discover new aspects of the story we may have overlooked.

While I feel bad taking advantage of the challenges in education, it was the perfect way to begin engaging people in the Public Insight Network and to convince new people to join. Education affects everyone one way or another.

So I began by asking people in the Public Insight Network to: "Describe the biggest school-related challenge you face now and how it has changed your view of the education system."

We also shared the link on Twitter and Facebook. Over 70 people replied to our query as of today.

From reading through the responses, there was a general feeling that teachers are being attacked for not meeting expectations that are too high for a decent professional to meet. They are the scapegoats of the political battle around standardized testing (such as the ELA and Regents), graduation rates and teacher evaluations.

But perhaps, that battle points to a larger and an unfortunate political issue. One of the Public Insight Network respondents, Brett Murphy, a global history teacher at Sunset Park High School, best summarizes the sentiments teachers have in regards to being pressured to guarantee passing test scores among their students:

"The move to a business model in education and its reliance on test scores for data has changed education for the worse. Schools have become places where we have to teach kids how to pass a test and not how to think critically about the world around them."

And this new evolving model changing the way schools are run have had many by-products

Here are a few more quotes highlighting those by-products:

"I am writing to express my extreme dismay over the impending plan to move a charter school, Brooklyn Prospect Charter School, into the school building of PS 32 Samuel Mills Sprole School in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. PS 32 houses a very unique and highly specialized program for children with autism, the Nest program… So, as a charter school with 300 middle school students is pushed into PS 32, children with autism and other special needs will no longer have adequate facilities for speech, occupational, and physical therapy, in addition to losing other enrichment opportunities." - Christina Santangelo, a speech-language pathologist in the Autism Spectrum Disorders Nest Program at PS 32

"Right now I work with very gifted and highly motivated children. The biggest challenge is to give these students the opportunity to work to their potential without overburdening them. They are very much part of the achievement orientation of this generation, pushed by themselves and their parents (and the school they attend) to do it all. I try to give them opportunities to do great work, without pushing their stress levels or pushing them to far beyond their academic levels." - John Loonam, teacher at Hunter College High School

"As a parent, I am appalled by the idea that the 4th grade math and ELA tests may negatively impact the choice of higher education that my daughter may have in the future. I am worried that the almost exclusive focus on these basic competencies overshadows others like critical thinking and people skills which are just as important, if not more so in the real world." - Monique Ngozi Nri, mother of three children and PTA president.

"The State and City will close our school in two and a half years unless we raise our 4-year graduation rate to over 60%. Since a large proportion of our students are English Language Learners, it is difficult for them to master both English and the high school curriculum in 4 years." - Marian Swerdlow, social studies teacher at FDR High School.

"My biggest challenge that for the past 2 and a half years I have not been able to secure a regular position in a school. This has been going on since I was excessed from P.S. 153 in 2008. I have never received an Unsatisfactory rating. I have three NYS teaching certificates." - Jonathan Joseph, member of the Absent Teacher Reserve in Brooklyn

"Merit pay is a big challenge. I feel it is a very corporate view of a very non-corporate industry." - Shweta Ratra, teacher at Flushing International High School

"One of my most challenging students continually struggled in math throughout the year and displayed his frustration with poor behavior in class. When we worked one-on-one however, he blossomed. Concepts that gave him trouble for weeks were suddenly clear. Yet he still had trouble with exams and quizzes and ultimately, he did horribly on the state assessment at the end of the year. This experience underscored the need for real reform in the way that we teach and assess students. Standardized, bubble tests simply don't work for every student and thus, yield unreliable results on what students actually understand." - Jemal Graham, math teacher at Ronald Edmonds Learning Center.