Around the UFT

Panel agrees: Test-prep hurting children

First Symposium of the Deborah Meier Institute

UFT President Michael Mulgrew, flanked by New York University Professor of Teaching and Learning Pedro Noguera (left) and Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, makes a point during the opening plenary on “Schools in the Age of Mayoral Control.”

More than 500 teachers, academics and education advocates turned out on April 17 at Manhattan’s Julia Richman Education Complex for the First Symposium of the Deborah Meier Institute on the theme “Remapping Progressive Education.”

UFT President Michael Mulgrew joined New York University Professor of Teaching and Learning Pedro Noguera and Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez for the symposium’s opening plenary on “Schools in the Age of Mayoral Control.”

Asked if public education has improved under mayoral control, Mulgrew said that shutting the community out has been a step backward. Schools are stronger with community input, he said.

Mulgrew also criticized the DOE’s “excessive focus” on standardized testing which, he said, “will hurt kids in the long run.”

“We are training children to pass standardized tests,” Mulgrew said.

Gonzalez agreed, decrying what he described as a “tremendous assault on the democratic nature of public education” both inside and outside of the classroom.

“Our children are doing better in terms of test scores, but not critical thinking,” Gonzalez said. “They are being taught to be obedient thinkers.”

“We’ve allowed test preparation to take the place of a well-rounded education for our kids,” added Noguera, a specialist on urban education.

The panelists also addressed the sensitive question of charter schools.

Mulgrew drew a sharp distinction between those in the charter movement who want to privatize public education and those committed to strengthening it through experimentation.

“We must make a distinction between them,” the labor leader said. “We can’t paint them with a broad brush.”

Noguera — who sits on the SUNY Board of Trustees, a charter-granting body — was more circumspect, but did stress the importance of community accountability which, he said, is often lacking.

Gonzalez offered the harshest criticism.

“I have a problem with a chancellor who promotes charter schools when he is in charge of the public schools,” he said. “Public spaces, not just public schools, are being closed.”

Leo Casey, the UFT’s vice president for academic high schools, also offered an afternoon workshop on “Charter Schools’ Role in Progressive Education.”

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