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Parents, UFT: Drop excessive testing

Surrounded by other activists, including UFT President Michael Mulgrew (back, ri Cara Metz

Surrounded by other activists, including UFT President Michael Mulgrew (back, right), parent Zakiyah Ansari of New Yorkers for Great Public Schools addresses the press.

Typically, at this time of year the recipe for my final column would contain the usual ingredients: a large measure of looking back on the school year seasoned with a few tablespoons on how to keep one’s pedagogical skills from wilting during the summer months. But the items on the menu for the end of this school year are so varied and full of promise (and challenge) that I am reluctant to even declare this school year will close. More likely, to continue with my culinary metaphor, it will have a next course.

 

Here are just a few of the “menu items” that will carry us all into September 2013. In no particular order of importance for they all have significant educational and political ramifications for our city’s schools, they are: the mayoral campaign; fact-finding for a new contract; the new evaluation system for teachers; implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards; and, in many classrooms, a new curriculum.

While all of these critical issues are interrelated, I want to discuss one that I feel falls most within my realm as vice president for education and director of the UFT Teacher Center: the need to support members in implementing the Common Core standards and to advocate for the tools and resources that teachers need to accomplish this.

Ever since the adoption of these standards, our president, Michael Mulgrew, has emphasized the need for every classroom to have a curriculum aligned to the Common Core. Some schools will in September finally have new curriculums aligned to these standards. But, unfortunately, some schools will struggle because the Department of Education under Mayor Bloomberg refused to mandate that schools have a standards-aligned curriculum and had no plans to provide one until this union pressed the issue publicly.

The DOE just doesn’t get it. They need to learn the principles of Education 101: that the DOE needs to provide every teacher with a Common Core-aligned curriculum with scope and sequence in order for teachers to create lesson plans from that curriculum. Only in that way can we help students learn the subject matter on which they will be assessed.

As educators, we understand the interrelationship between curriculum, instructional planning, student learning and assessment. It is baffling that those running the school system have such a hard time comprehending this and taking action to fulfill their responsibilities. This is one reason why the work that we as union members do together in the political arena this summer and fall is so important for our profession.

As teachers learn about the Common Core standards, they have begun to understand that the very nature of the standards requires changes in teaching practice. The standards emphasize process skills — analysis, forming opinions based on evidence, mathematical reasoning and demonstrations of understanding. Teachers are also learning about different strategies, approaches, and scaffolding activities to help students strengthen these skills.

The UFT Teacher Center, now in its 35th year, has supported educators in this professional learning. Through school-based coaching, citywide conferences and boroughwide study groups, the Teacher Center has brought together thousands of educators across all levels to create learning communities.

This peer-to-peer work will continue this summer as the Teacher Center once again invites educators to its summer institute focusing on the New York State P-12 Common Core standards. A link to the schedule is on the Teacher Center website at www.ufttc.org.

As part of the institute, one three-day conference will focus on developing mathematicians. Participants will learn about the instructional strategies that help students solve problems, reason mathematically and gain a deeper understanding of numerical and algebraic concepts. Another interactive conference series will focus on writing and helping teachers to aid students in developing written materials that use text-based evidence to bolster opinions and arguments.

I am sure you’ll agree that students who are proficient in these math and English language arts skills will be on the path to college and career readiness.

A third conference at the institute will introduce teachers to digital learning so that both they and their students can explore the rich resources available on the Library of Congress’ Teaching with Primary Sources website by using collaborative software and note-taking apps.

We will finish with a two-day conference that will provide both general and special education teachers with tools to develop successful co-teaching practices.

All participants will receive a variety of resources to take back to their classrooms as well as certificates of participation for professional hours.

While there may be other summer offerings, I can comment only on the quality and content of the Teacher Center’s summer institute. I know the institute will really help in supporting teachers in their classrooms, something teachers can never get enough of.

To return to my culinary metaphor, the Teacher Center in all of its professional development offerings creates the right mix of ingredients: active engagement of the learner; instructional strategies that are research-based with direct links to classroom application; peer-to-peer coaching; innovative ways to use instructional technology; and varied opportunities for dialogue and problem-solving.

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