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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

The NYSED Meetings: Leading to Change or More of the Same?

By Peter DeWitt — May 21, 2015 4 min read
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When it comes to the New York State Education Department (NYSED) many educators and leaders worry about their every move. From the implementation of the Common Core to the absurdity known as high stakes testing, they don’t have a reputation for listening to stakeholders in the state. They are better known for showing up (if at all...) and then moving forward with a decision that they had in mind in the first place.

So, it is interesting that NYSED is presently in the process of meeting with superintendents, principals and teachers around the state. In some cases educators and leaders have no idea who they are meeting with in the coming days. The meetings were set up through the Board of Cooperative Extension Services (BOCES) but the names of the NYSED representatives were not provided.

The meetings are most likely an effort to get a sense of the aftermath from the close to 200,000 opt outs (Rick Hess has an excellent article about it) of high stakes testing that recently took place. State education officials are either trying to appease the masses by setting up meetings or they understand that they have to make changes to prevent another year of massive opt outs.

...and if there isn’t a change more opt outs will definitely happen.

Sometimes our interactions with SED are like our interactions with students who always get into “trouble.” A student with a great reputation can get away with things that a frequent flyer to the main office cannot. Their bad behavior makes them stick out, even when they are trying to behave. Sometimes when the student with the behavior issue does the same thing as a more well-behaved student, their behavior, even if an accident, still gets them into trouble.

The difficulty for NYSED is the same issue that students with behavior issues have in schools. Teachers and other peers have been on the receiving end of the “bad” behavior so often that when the child tries to do the right thing, it is met with uncertainty because everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop.

That is definitely not fair, but it does happen. Of course, we know that students with discipline issues have much more going on in the background, and realize that they are children who are trying to find their way...and don’t always make the best choices. We also understand that with children, it may be the lack of engagement in the classroom that is one of the catalysts for their bad behavior.

But in this case we are talking about adults....professionals even.

Unfortunately for NYSED, even if they are trying to do the right thing many who sit in those closed-door meetings do not trust that NYSED will change for the better, especially if Governor Cuomo is calling so many of the shots, and Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) is a law and not a choice.

  • So...what is the point of the meetings?
  • What will they ask?
  • What will they do with the information?

Is this a real meeting...or one of those shared decision-making meetings...where they share the decision that they are making and the stakeholders get very little input?

Paying for the Sins of Others

For the last few years educators have felt that all of the great and well-meaning educators are paying for the sins of a few who were not doing their jobs. I’m not going to put out the false notion that every teacher and every school is excellent. Many teachers or those schools in need of improvement may have obstacles that others schools do not have. And yes, I understand that there are teachers and schools that do well despite the obstacles. I just don’t think one-size-fits-all mandates and high stakes testing will change all schools for the better.

Unfortunately, I do believe that there were teachers and school leaders who were running schools that didn’t much care about student engagement or parental involvement. Just like people that work in other professions like law offices, food service and state agencies, there have been educators who shouldn’t be in the profession.

Good educators do not want to be in the same category with those teachers and leaders who were not doing their job at all, and yet they are being treated the same way.

There are many more educators who are working hard to engage their students and parents. Why do they have to deal with the same absurd mandates that those who haven’t been doing their job have to deal with? Why doesn’t NYSED work directly with those schools in need of improvement rather than make all schools do the same?

Shared Decision Making

As for the meetings taking place, what does NYSED hope to learn? Are they walking into these meetings with an open mind and understanding that they may not hear what they want to? What will they do with the information that they acquire after the meetings are all done? How will they prove...or be held accountable for the information they receive and what they do with it?

Educators are really tired of paying for the sins of the few because so many of the great ones work hard to improve their practice. However, they are equally as frustrated with being asked by NYSED for input and never seeing any of their input used.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.