A Teacher’s View: We Need the Reforms

Tuesday, November 12, 2013 - 04:00 AM

(Hiten Samtani)

As a teacher, I know attendance is important – but I wasn’t at my school, East Bronx Academy for the Future, one day a few weeks ago.

I wasn't sick and I didn’t spend the afternoon at the movies: I testified in front of the New York State Senate Standing Committee on Education, bringing the often-ignored voice of teachers to the education policy table.

The public hearings are meant to “assess” the progress of New York State’s education reforms. Assess is the right word to use. After all, we are increasingly assessing our students, teachers, schools, and principals, so it only seems fair to evaluate the system itself.

From where I stand in front of my classroom, the reforms – specifically, the new teacher evaluation system and Common Core learning standards – have advanced both teaching and learning in New York public schools.

This year, many teachers in New York will, for the first time ever, have a candid conversation with their principals about what effective pedagogy looks like, about what their strengths and weaknesses as instructors are, and about how they develop areas of improvements.

Another first: the system will, attempt to recognize the diversity in our teaching force. We’ll receive one of four ratings, as well as tailored feedback and ways to improve if we are struggling. The phrase “common-sense” is thrown around a lot in public policy debates, but the notion of evaluating professionals based on their work and supporting them in improving is as genuinely commonsensical as it comes.

The evaluations of ‘how’ we teach come as we implement the new Common Core State Standards. One would think from the tone of the debate that a few greedy for-profit textbook companies are the only entities on earth that support the new standards. But I have some news for the professional Common Core–haters: it’s just not true. A recent poll conducted by the National Education Association – the country’s largest teachers’ union – found that about 75 percent of teachers favor the new standards.

I am one of those teachers.

It turns out that much of the rhetoric about Common Core is just that: rhetoric. Their claims have been repeatedly debunked, but they continue to crop up, reminding us that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting its shoes on.

What are some of these falsehoods? Teachers were not involved in writing the standards – false. Common Core was designed and forced on states by the federal government – false. Common Core is designed to be a federal government take-over of locally run school districts – false. Common Core is a curriculum – false. Common Core will inevitably lead to an erosion of students’ data privacy – false.

Of course, they have also come with real challenges, but they are no reason to delay or avoid fully implementing policies that will help New York schools. If anything, these challenges prove the need to go full speed ahead, with a willingness to adjust course when necessary.

I also would follow President Obama’s simple advice that came while he was visiting a Brooklyn school: “We should stay at it.” After all, I think our president knows something about pushing forward with reform even when a vocal minority purports to speak for everyone, and even in the face of implementation glitches.

During my testimony, I offered a different voice from the politicians and experts. It was an on-the-ground perspective from the one of the people living and breathing the state’s reforms. I hope my voice is heard because I know that what I have to say is important: the progress in New York’s schools is real and it needs to continue.


Patricia Willens


Nick Lawrence


Comments [5]

Jan Strauss from Endicott

This is scary! It has just been announced that Mr. Lawrence is going to be on the governor's hand-picked education committee. This article is misleading - at best! Teachers were NOT on the work committee that wrote the CC; their input was only invited after the original work was completed. The federal government's RTTT money most certainly played a large arm-twisting role in getting states to adopt these standards written in large part with Gates Foundation money. And now that modules are attached to this "reform", we most certainly have a curriculum with which to contend. His comments are all misleading. He should fit right in with the politicians in Albany!

Feb. 07 2014 05:33 PM

Wait, Rocco, you mean he's not a "real" teacher? How does that work again? Are you the arbiter of who is and who is not a "real" teacher?

Nov. 15 2013 12:06 PM
Michael Rosenthal from Oakland Gardens

The Common Core comes from the misguided notion that it was the schools, teachers and their curriculum that were holding students back. This notion that the reasons certain schools fail and students are reading below grade level is because the students were being denied access to serious rigorous work. No one ever seems to note that these schools are almost always schools in poor districts where poverty and the problems associated with it are rampant. These criticisms ignore the hard word dedicated teachers do to reach their students at the level that is appropriate for them and instead mandates using curriculum and materials far out of reach of their students. Instead, the principle behind these "reform movements" focus on blaming schools and teachers of poor students usually of color for the problems of poverty the teachers are working on helping these students overcome. They attempt to hold teachers "accountable" for underlying conditions that they simply can't account for. I am all for meaningful discussions of my growth as a teacher. I, as most teachers, want to be the best we can at our jobs. This can't happen when my nuanced role as a teacher is reduced to a simple rubric 40% of which is based on the test scores of students and subjects I don't teach.

Nov. 12 2013 11:01 PM
Mary Conway-Spiegel

What are some of these falsehoods? Teachers were not involved in writing the standards – false. I'm do you explain Anthony Cody's recent "Living In Dialogue" piece? "...the two 'Working Groups' that actually wrote the first drafts of the standards do NOT include a single classroom teacher. You can see for yourself here on this list provided by the National Governors Association. The two "Feedback Groups" include only one classroom teacher.

Nov. 12 2013 02:37 PM
Rocco P. Hill

The author is no ordinary teacher, he is affiliated with Educators 4 Excellence, an organization that supports top-down education reform. It completely undermines the premise of the article as an honest opinion of a real teacher, and the affiliation should have been disclosed at the top of the article in an editor's note.

Nov. 12 2013 12:25 PM

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