The seeds for the more than 80 protests that will break out at schools across the city Thursday were planted in January.
That’s when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would link a potential boost in state education funding to a series of controversial policy changes, including tying teacher evaluations more closely to student test results, raising the charter-school cap, and placing consistently low-performing schools in the hands of outside groups. Before and after school Thursday, a number of advocacy groups — led largely by anti-testing advocates and later joined by the city teachers union — plan to join hands and form human chains around school buildings in what organizers say is a symbol of their displeasure with those ideas.
“That was the moment,” Danielle Boudet, an upstate education advocate and one of the organizers of the rallies, said of Cuomo’s announcement. “People were fighting from their own individual circles, but his agenda has galvanized all those groups.”
For the union, the rallies serves as another skirmish in the public-facing battle with Cuomo over evaluations, teacher tenure rules, and overall funding levels. City teachers union president Michael Mulgrew and his predecessor, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, will speak at the morning rally at Park Slope’s P.S. 10, which is known for its presence in the movement to opt out of state tests. The pair will also attend P.S. 200’s afternoon rally in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
While the nearly 100 participating schools are largely concentrated in Brooklyn’s District 15, rallies will also be held at schools across the rest of that borough, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island, according to organizers.
Similar to recent forums focused on opting out of state testing, participating schools are concentrated in higher-performing districts, with some exceptions. More than half of the participating schools are in the city’s 10 highest performing districts on the state’s math or English exams.
Slightly less than one-third of the schools are either in the city’s lowest performing districts on state tests. Two of the participating schools are in the city’s Renewal program, and only one of the participating schools is in the Bronx.
The idea for the small, widespread protests featuring the camera-ready formations of parents and teachers “protecting” their schools started with smaller groups of parents.
Boudet serves on the steering committee of the New York State Allies for Public Education, a group whose members push back against the rising frequency of testing in schools. Shortly after Cuomo’s remarks in January, the group began to brainstorm ways to oppose the governor’s focus on standardized testing and pull in support from those concerned with other portions of his agenda. Class Size Matters Executive Director Leonie Haimson, who serves on the Allies steering committee with Boudet, brought the idea of the human chains to the United Federation of Teachers at a planning meeting in February.
The rallies are being organized before and after school hours, in a knock to the charter school sector’s rally last week for which schools bused hundreds of students to Albany, Haimson said.
“We can’t ask public schools to close,” Haimson said. “I thought the idea of protecting our schools would be a very good contrast to the charter schools.”
Cuomo’s proposal to increase the influence of student test scores in teacher evaluations has also angered some of the same parents who rallied against testing last year. The governor’s plan will invariably lead to teaching to the test, they said.
“A year ago or so things looked like they were moving in the opposite direction on testing,” said Dan Janzen, PTA president at P.S. 295 in Brooklyn. “Suddenly the plan comes out and things look like they are getting worse and they are going to continue getting worse.”
But even teachers who are mostly able to avoid state tests are planning to participate in Thursday’s events.
Hundreds of educators, advocates, and students are expected to participate in a Manhattan rally organized by City-As-School, which is one of more than two dozen city high schools that have state permission to tie graduation to a student’s portfolio of work instead of Regents exam scores.
Principal Alan Cheng said the planned march to Washington Square Park Thursday afternoon was organized by the school’s teachers as they became more aware of Gov. Cuomo’s proposed education overhaul, especially the changes that would make it more difficult for teachers to earn tenure.
“Teachers should be able to demonstrate their growth over time,” he said.
The rally is also meant to highlight the school’s membership in the New York Performance Standards Consortium, which allows students to complete in-depth projects to graduate instead of passing most of the required Regents exams.
“Our students, their experiences are truly shaped by being able to do that kind of work,” Cheng said. “But many students have not had the opportunity, and the state is making it even harder for other schools to consider these ideas.”