Karen Magee: In It For The Long Haul

Apr 23, 2015

How many times have we heard that old cliché: It’s a marathon, not a sprint?

As we all know, a sprint is a quick, frenzied dash.

A marathon?  Well, its miles and miles away. It takes a lot of perseverance and hard work to get to the finish line.

In the aftermath of a bruising budget battle over Governor Cuomo’s education agenda, it’s easy to get the two confused.

The months February and March consisted of a “sprint” to beat back the worst of the governor’s education plan. Parents and teachers rallied to protect their public schools. They told legislators they valued local control and they trusted teachers and administrators to do what’s best for children.

Parents and educators spoke loudly at more than 60 education forums. They opposed an over-reliance on standardized testing and the way the governor’s emphasis on testing, testing and more testing was sucking the creativity out of the classroom and leading to too much test prep at the expense of what’s most important -- and that’s teaching and learning.

All across the state, educators argued for a fair and meaningful evaluation system that fostered professional dialogue and helped teachers to better serve students.

And they rallied for more transparency and accountability for the charter school industry, and against Education Tax Credits which -- let’s be honest about it -- are just another tax giveaway to billionaires.

When the budget was adopted in the early morning hours, I was in the gallery watching. I felt deep disappointment that the governor was able to impose an unworkable, convoluted and test-heavy evaluation system – one that will do nothing to help students, teachers or schools. The governor wanted a greater emphasis on standardized testing – and he got it.

But the Legislature put off – at least for now – an expansion of charter schools and said "no" to funneling more than $100 million in tax credits for the wealthy.

That’s why it’s important to remember we’re in this for the long haul. For educators  – for NYSUT – this is a fight to save public education.  

There are two months left in the legislative session. And, there will always be governors who don’t understand what parents want for their public schools, or who would rather engage in political retribution than do what’s right.

But, on the other hand, America is a democracy. When parents and educators across the state realized the governor was not listening to their concerns, they spoke truth to power. Parents opposed to the way the inappropriate use of state tests were stressing their children and harming teachers,  said ‘enough is enough’ and parents chose to opt out of state tests in record numbers.

While there were some setbacks in this year’s budget, the groundswell of fervent, grassroots opposition to ratcheting up test pressure on students… and an unfair and unworkable evaluation system… leaves me optimistic.

I’m optimistic that lawmakers will see that expanding unaccountable charter schools would only siphon more money from already underfunded public schools.

And I’m optimistic they will see that giving more tax dollars to the rich is not a sound idea.

And, mostly, I’m optimistic the State Education Department, Regents and legislators are finally hearing the anger of parents and teachers at how over-testing is harming students, teachers and New York’s high-quality public schools.

In the long haul, democracy wins.

And, that’s why we have no choice but to understand that saving public education – and fighting for what we believe in – has to be viewed, not as a quick dash, but as a long, steady marathon race to a finish line that means fairness, equality and a first-rate public school education for every child.

Karen Magee, a former elementary and special education teacher in Harrison, is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

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