Richard Iannuzzi: Well Done Or Well Said?

Oct 25, 2013

One of our nation’s founding fathers, Ben Franklin, wrote and published prolifically.   In his famed Poor Richard’s Almanac, Franklin observed the propensity for some to claim great empathy and to make exaggerated promises.  To that, Franklin sagely advised:    “Well done is better than well said.”

Now, there’s a lesson for Albany—both for our elected officials and Board of Regents.

For many years now, we’ve heard legislators from both political parties — as well as a succession of governors — loudly denounce inequality in public education.

They hail the importance of providing equal opportunity to all students — no matter where they live or their economic status.

This, as Franklin points out, is “Well said.” 

Yet, today, nearly three quarters of New York’s school districts are forced to operate with less state aid than five years ago.  This translates into billions of dollars in lost education funding over that period, with districts serving some of our poorest and most vulnerable students suffering the most devastating cuts, perpetuating unacceptable and intolerable educational inequality.

Likewise, many on the Board of Regents commiserate with parents and teachers as they listen to horror stories about children stressing over exhausting testing conditions.  They hear about lengthy standardized tests that often reflected material never taught because of the State Education Department’s poor implementation and rush to test.

And while individual regents have appeared in many forums and assured the public that they understand—all of this, as Franklin points out, is just, “Well said.” 

Despite warnings from teachers, administrators and parents, useless data continues to drive decisions . . . decisions with consequences.  School districts try desperately to determine which students are eligible for academic intervention services, while the state waffles — offering districts what they call “flexibility.”  At the same time, principals are being forced to rely on data they know to be meaningless to create improvement plans for teachers they know are often among the best.

All this came to a head as the commissioner cancelled forums where frustrated parents and educators tried to voice their concerns. Labeling those voices “special interests” and the call for a moratorium on high stakes consequences linked to bad data a “distraction”—added insult to injury. 

At the state Capitol and the state Education Department, the duplicity is becoming too much to bear.  Teachers and parents are losing patience.

They know students in our public schools have one chance — one opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

While parents and teachers are continuing to fight for schools that are fairly and equitably funded -- and for more time devoted to teaching and learning instead of high-stakes standardized tests -- lawmakers and Regents continue to say—but not do—the right thing.

“Well said” is no longer enough.

Time is running out on the futures of too many children.  Sanity must be brought to state testing.   The state must approve a moratorium on high-stakes consequences from ill-conceived testing until order is restored to the curriculum and until parents and teachers regain their confidence in how our public schools operate and are governed. At the same time, the legislature must provide adequate funding and a sensible formula that creates fairness and addresses inequality.

Now is the time to find out whether Albany’s leaders are prepared to move from “Well said” to “Well done.”

The people are watching.

Richard C. Iannuzzi is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

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