Cahill prep team

Common Sense Education Lobby Day Report – June 17, 2014

Four Kingston parents, including representatives from Kingston Action for Education, traveled to Albany for Common Sense Education Lobby Day on Tuesday June 17, 2014.

Kingston parents in Albany

We met up with eight parents from the Onteora school district intending to meet with our legislators after attending the rally.

We did not attend the press conference before the rally and had to leave before the rally concluded to meet with Assemblyman Kevin Cahill but full videos of the press conference and rally are available here.

Mary Calamia opened the rally with the following (video here):

We are all here today because we are trying to fix something that is very, very broken.  We have joined in a battle to fix a broken educational system that has created a hostile learning environment for our children and a hostile working environment for those who teach them.

Mary then encouraged the attendees that we are not just parents but advocates and even lobbyists.  And I was very proud to wear those titles with approximately 200 other people standing for New York’s children in Albany yesterday.

Mary quoted Governor Cuomo as saying “too often government responds to the whispers of lobbies before the cries of the people”.  Her response:

This from a man who is completely deaf to the cries of the people!  So Governor Governor, I say this – we are the people, we are the lobbyists.  We are not crying and we are so NOT whispering!  Today as lobbyists, you are going to meet with legislators and do what any other lobbyist does, try to influence legislation on behalf of the special interest and what more special interest can we have than the children of New York State?

We, the people will go into more than 50 legislative meetings and tell them what we know, what we have experienced and what we need from them and we will follow up this summer and talk with them again and again until we can restore Common Sense in Albany and Common Sense to our schools.

Dr. Sandra Stotsky, who was a member of the original Common Core Validation Committee charged with reviewing and approving the Common Core standards but refused to endorse the standards, spoke about the havoc that Common Core is wreaking on our education system and what parents, students and school board members can do about it. (video here)

  • (mark 5:10) Dr. Stotsky pointed out that the four most important stakeholder groups in the education of our children – parents, teachers, state legislators and school board members – were generally left out in the draft stages/early development of the Common Core Standards.
  • Students were also left out of the development of Common Core.  Go to mark 6:10 in the video segment for how high students got involved in Massachusetts and how Kingston students might want to get involved if they, particularly our current 7th and 8th graders, want to make sure they have adequate math course availability when they get to grades 11 and 12.
  • (mark 8:45) Common Core is wreaking havoc in our high schools particularly in the area of the math standards.  The Common Core Standards do not require courses above a weak Algebra 2 which will not get students to needed STEM fields – will the courses be there when budgets continue to be cut?  We have already lost accelerated math for our KCSD middle school students.  7th graders did not have it this year and we have been told that it will not be offered for next year’s 7th graders either.  ‘unless there  if they are in grade 8 or 9 now, your children are going to be the victims of Common Core’  Recruit your children who are old enough to understand the academic issues.
  • What can parents do?  (mark 12:50)  Parents have the right to do what they feel is best for their children.  Parents can send in a note stating that their student will only take ‘teacher-made’ tests.  Parents do not need to ask for permission – they have always had these rights.  Parents can send a note and indicate that they want instruction, not testing, on the days of state sponsored tests.  Also parents can say that they want to see their student’s scores from the ‘teacher-made’ tests within a week so that they can see what those tests look like and what scores/grades their kids are getting.
  • “What the law does not explicitly forbid or explicitly require in a free country, you can do.”
  • (mark 17:55) importance of local self-government – Legally elected school board members still have almost all of the legal authority they have had for 100s of years in this country.  Board members have rights and responsibilities as locally elected officials. All states, save one, have the right for local school boards to set/adopt their own standards.  They might still be responsible to take the tests but they can reject Common Core Standards explicity, adopt a superior set of standards, ask their local superintendent/teaching staff to create superior standards.  Teachers and administrators are not in an enviable state.  They are doing what they think they have been ordered to do by a state board of education.  People need to start straightening out who is the master and who is the public servant?
  • (mark 24:00)The State Board of Regents did not ask the questions they should have asked before accepting Common Core.  No state board of educations asked for a cost benefit analysis.  No state boards of ed asked their higher education teaching faculty (people teaching at the college level in mathematics, science and engineering) to look at the Common Core college-readiness standards in high school to see if they were adequate (were they really college-level standards?) or at least no boards are on record as having asked these questions.  Dr. Stotsky recommends that parents ask teachers from our STEM colleges to look at standards and see if they are indeed adequately preparing students for entry into those college.

Conversation with Assemblyman Kevin Cahill

12 parents from Ulster County (from Kingston and Onteora school districts) met with Assemblyman Kevin Cahill outside the assembly floor at 1pm on June 17.

  • We told Assemblyman Cahill that we were very concerned about Common Core and asked for his support of bill A8844.  He asked if that was the Graf bill and when told ‘Yes’ responded that ‘the Graf bill politically can not pass’.  He went on to tell stories about his 8 year old granddaughter and her four and a half hours of homework and upset parents and how he understands that the Common Core implementation is not working but he believes that the Common Core Standards are good.  Cahill mentioned at one point that the Graf bill had “bad stuff” in it and I wanted to ask what that was but decided it wasn’t worth getting into an argument over at this time.
  • Parents brought up concerns with regards to special education and Common Core and Assemblyman Cahill affirmed that he understands that every child is unique.
  • Assemblyman Cahill stated dissatisfaction with Commissioner King.
  • He talked about the reappointment of Regents this year and how that he learned of a paper, from Regent Jackson himself, that Regent Jackson had written regarding high-stakes testing that stated the many problems with implementation.  In the interview process Cahill asked Jackson about the paper and why he hadn’t communicated the concerns to the other regents when and Jackson said that he hadn’t thought about it and probably should have (it sounds like Jackson forgot about the paper he had written during the discussion of Common Core) and Cahill decided he could not vote for Jackson for reappointment.  When I asked why he voted for someone (no one could remember Regent Josephine Finn’s name but I came home and looked it up) who did not know anything about Common Core instead, Cahill responded that the new regent was appointed because she was well respected and it was believed she would be someone who would ‘shake things up’.  Cahill stated that the Regents work in task forces and only the few Regents (5 he though) who are on the Common Core task force are actually responsible to know anything about Common Core.  He recommended, as had Assemblywoman Nolan on June 3, that we the parents speak to our regent who happens to be Regent Finn about our Common Core concerns.

Conversation with Senator Tkaczyk

We found out last minute that Senator Tkaczyk’s office had requested a maximum of six people to attend the meeting with her so 2 parents from Kingston and 2 parents from Onteora attended and I was not one of them as I have spoken with her previously.

Conversation with Senator Seward

Instead of speaking with Senator Tkaczyk, Madeline and I sat in on a meeting with Senator Seward who appeared to be very supportive of the educational concerns raised by the parents/teachers speaking with him.  The primary focus of the discussion was on the high school level and regarding students who tend to fall through the cracks both special education students and those who might not be special education but still struggle in school.  The 9th grade Common Core math test was shared with Senator Seward and the question raised about how was that test useful to be required for every student and would it really prove that every student was college ready?  The example was given of current college students in programs for television, to be a chef and something arts-related (can’t remember the specific field) where each student was excelling in college and the math test would have been no accurate indication of anything to do with their field of study yet if a student can not pass the test, they will not be able to graduate and go on to college.  Discussion of the RCT (Regent Competency Test) took place and in particular a student who had to take it 5 times and just managed to finally pass before aging out of high school.  Now students do not even have the RCT option and must pass 5 Regents tests in order to earn a diploma at all!

Note:  This report was written in June 2014 after Common Sense Education Lobby Day but never published.  I think there might have been more information that I wanted to include.  The information included is still relevant (and someone was just asking about Assemblyman Cahill’s stand on Common Core) so I am posting it on November 15, 2015.