Dear New York Parents,
My name is Brandon Melendez. I have a Masters in Childhood Education and Childhood Special Education. I work in New York City Public Schools, servicing ground zero testing grades Third, Fourth, and Fifth in a school that is over crowded, impoverished, and full of English Language Learners and Special Education students along with General Education students. There are more students in the school I work in than in the Long Island district I live in, where my own children will attend. I’ve attended private religious school, affluent suburban and diverse New York City High Schools. I’ve gone to public university and private for profit. I’ve taught in private non-for profit schools, affluent schools, charter schools, and public schools. I’ve worked with every age group from pre-kindergarten to undergraduate college students. I’ve worked in non-union contexts and am very active in the largest single union chapter in the country, the United Federation of Teachers. Please understand when I tell you that your child’s education is in peril, I speak from the experience of multiple vantage points on the issue; I speak with an understanding of what education is supposed to be; and I speak in no hyperbolic terms.
Education is in peril. Your child’s future–professionally, academically, intellectually, socially, and emotionally–hangs in the balance of where New York goes from here.
Last week our children were betrayed by the majority of our state elected officials when they passed a budget with as many strings attached to it as the elected officials who voted for it–more maybe. While many a spin doctor is out there putting lipstick on this travesty, rest assured the State Senate, Assembly, and Executive in Albany have thrown our children in the path of a stampede of tests and a battery of bad decisions that will change indelibly how a generation of children view themselves, their own measures of success and what their worth is by scientifically disproven test-driven philosophies that are being walked away from in more progressive states where the Governors aren’t owned by test publishing companies and charter-backing Hedge Funds.
The quality of education and instruction that your children–and my students and my children–receive is about to tank. The salvo of anti-teacher, anti-school measures that have been lobbed at the State of New York will go down in history as one of the biggest farces of fuzzy numbers and double speak in a state where these corrupt approaches to public “service” may have well been invented in the first place, if not refined to a science and art. Public education is being dismantled before your eyes, and with it the levying force of our society. Tests that measure nothing but test taking abilities will be weighted so heavily that they may suddenly provide a 30-90 day expedition on termination of your child’s teacher no matter what other measures of effectiveness go in place. Your child’s teacher will be subject to the evaluation of an “outside observer” who may be in service to the nefarious publishing companies that prepare high stakes assessments that are disintegrating the mortar of our educational institutions. The turn over of teachers will increase, meaning the experience level of teachers imparting important skills and knowledge in competent ways is going to decrease. While the governor seems to assert that teachers are taken from the bottom of the barrel–perhaps his most egregious lie behind the accusation that teachers are a field of sex offenders and pedophiles–and his insistence on policy that will ensure no teacher can receive tenure or job security will not only drive away or terminate experienced and talented educators will eventually make that assertion a reality. Teachers will have no experience because they will be fired at an alarming rate. Teachers willcome from the bottom of the barrel because no intelligent person, regardless of mission or calling, will want to walk into a classroom. Cuomo’s accusation will be proven prophetic.
I do not want you, dear parents, to misconstrue this as a plea to save me and my colleagues. If this was only an attack on our profession with no butterfly effect of casualties to your children and their intellectual well-being there would be no impetus on you to act on our behalf. Just as we, teachers, walk into classrooms to foster growth and nurture minds and souls, you do the same for the very same children–your children. As the quality of instructor falls and fails by impossible measures–measures that have no basis in educational theory, best practices, or even business standards (let alone industry standards)–the move will be made to dispose of the public system and institute an entirely private charter system. This will cauterize a nigh unbreakable class glass ceiling and make a strong demarcation of two New Yorks, two Americas. How long before the private charter networks begin charging tuition to augment the millions they receive from private interests and the government?
Don’t assuage yourself with the denial. This is happening in our country. New Orleans has no public schools, Philadelphia is not far behind with Pennsylvania having made moves to cancel teacher’s collectively bargained contracts in order to mass fire the public force, Chicago closed over 50 schools due to budget problems and subsidized a sports stadium. New York can and will go private with an unfettered Cuomo at the helm of our state.
His anti-teacher agenda is anti-children; his high praise of charter schools, especially the so-called “Success Charter Academy” comes at a high price. The New York Times recently published a telling story that explains that while Success’s test scores are high they have a high teacher turn-over, students are encouraged to urinate in their pants rather than leave a testing scenario, and failing students are told to “feel misery” in order to grow. Students are bought for their supposed success with Nerf Guns and candy. They are not taught an intrinsic value to learning. They are forced to sit still and take the test all year long. They are humiliated with “red zones” and forced into the public school system where their individual needs can be addressed by differentiated practice, special education service, and can be treated as humans rather than square pegs to be fit into square holes. These red-zones are no different than real estate red-lines; barriers that keep some students from achieving based on measures that are not truly connected to any future achievement beyond April’s preposterous round of testing.
All of our children will experience this emotional and educational abuse. The Cuomo Agenda for Education is to make Stepford Children, assembly line learning, and no dynamic understanding or intrinsic growth. There is no value to this kind of “learning”, it is not education it is training. And the students are being trained for nothing.
Testing is the prime battlefield for this war. Governor Cuomo will not show up to public school classrooms–affluent or poor. He claims not to have met any parents who oppose his agenda–polls show 70% disagree with it. Governor Cuomo claims to be the Civil Rights champion of the children of this state? He is anything but. He is more like a Dick Dastardly, twirling his mustaches and tying children to the train tracks. The locomotive is shaped like a pencil, with a number 2 emblazoned on the front and “Pearson” written on the side. This is where you come in.
Opt your child out.
Do not fear retribution. Your child is under no legal requirement to take these tests. These tests are not tied to their promotional status. Your child does not have to be a pawn in their own abuse and neither do you. Some school teachers are scared to tell you this because they fear retribution, some districts are scared to tell you because they fear the loss of funding, some parents are scared to opt out because they think it sends a bad message. The only message you will send your child is one that you love them and have high hopes and respect for their future. Opt your child out and explain to them the test they will not be taking is abusive, useless, and worthless. Explain to your child that this is not an opt out from hard work, dedication, or learning. Explain to your child that they are more than a test score.
In so doing, you may just send a message to the thick- headed puppets in Albany that are waging war on your child’s future for their own gold-lined pockets. Don’t give them the useless data they need to destroy education. Don’t let them waste your tax dollars to feed the testing beast. Send them the message that your child is more than a point on a chart. The Unions have fought and will continue to, the teachers have taught and will continue to, but you are the last, best, greatest hope in ensuring that schools are about learning. Take their future into your hands and let them know you won’t let them be abused by the awful powers that be.
In trust, solidarity, and respect,
Brandon M. Melendez, M.A., Teacher and Parent