Monday, May 6, 2013

NYS Tests and Related Effects Drive Principal to Announce Early Retirement

The current test regimen and the effects that they are having on teaching and learning are driving teachers from the field that they used to love. Teachers are driven to be in a round the clock, year-round prep for test-prep mode, driven by fear. In some cases, such as the principal in the accompanying letter, principals are feeling that they can no longer work in the system.
The principal is from Lancaster, New York, a suburb of Buffalo in western New York. This is a principal of high principle: her critique also singles out New York State's new evaluation systems that it has been imposing across the state. Essentially all my days were spent typing at the computer writing up teacher observations and evaluations. Note that this comes right after the conclusion of the latest round of state tests this April. Implicitly, as the tests stem from the Common Core State Standards, this is an indictment of the Common Core as well. As these tests and evaluation systems are unequivocably pushed by President Barack Obama, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Governor Andrew Cuomo, N.Y.S. Education Commissioner John King, this statement is implicitly an indictment on their policies as well. We should also note that too many union leaders, such as the New York City United Federation of Teachers' Michael Mulgrew are complicit with these changes, only making complaints about the manner of implementation of these changes, not the changes themselves. Unions and their representatives should be the voice of conscience.
(Reposted from Chris Cerrone: AtTheChalkFace, April 30, 2013)
April 26, 2013

Dear Parents,
With much sadness, I will be taking an early retirement effective June 28, 2013. There are two main reasons. My philosophy of education and what I deem to be important for children are in conflict with the educational reforms implemented this year. Please allow me to explain the two reasons why, although they are actually interconnected.
During this school year, as your child’s elementary principal, there was little time to interact with your children, problem-solve, assist teachers and visit classrooms (authentic observations of teaching and learning). Essentially all my days were spent typing at the computer writing up teacher observations and evaluations. This was the first year for a complex new system. I knew it would be difficult for me, yet I still wanted to give it a try. I tried. I watched. I typed. We have always evaluated teachers in the Lancaster Central School District. I did not expect that this new system would impose such a drastic change in the job description, and did not expect that it would be so all consuming.
New York State is directing us to test and test your children, now starting in Kindergarten and continuing every year after. It is excessive. Along with the more frequent testing, the rigors of the New York State assessments have also increased making me quite concerned for our children with special needs and/or high anxiety. In addition, some of the students who typically perform well academically are quite upset because they were not able to finish many of the sections of the tests in the allotted time. The State Education Department is telling us to expect fewer higher end scores on the tests, even with all of the teacher focus on the test and the extensive test prep.
The students’ scores are used to measure teacher growth and effectiveness and to help plan instruction. The State claims that we need these tests to determine if students are on the path to college and careers. The students get a number that impacts the teacher’s number and impacts the principal’s number. This is not the purpose of public education and I believe this practice is destructive in many ways to the children and to the teachers, and to education as a whole.
I have been so proud of the Lancaster Central School District and the community for the past ten years. The new teacher evaluation system and the increased student testing were not created by the Lancaster Central School District but imposed at the national and state levels. Lancaster has had an effective and thorough evaluation system for years.
The greatest blessing for the children and me has been the fabulous teachers at Hillview and throughout the district. It is my hope that they remain grounded and centered knowing the difference they make each day. Teachers are so much more than a number and so are the children.
I have truly enjoyed serving as the principal of Hillview Elementary School. My goals for parents were to be visible and easily approachable. Another goal was to resolve any and all concerns you had in a timely and effective manner. I hope I met your expectations.
Thank you for sending me children who are simply adorable, mannerly, and ready to learn. I will miss their hugs and their humor. I will especially miss their pure innocence. Whenever I needed a lift, there was a fix right outside my door. It was as simple as looking into the eyes of a child. The past years have been filled with great memories and many laughs. This Dr. Seuss quote will guide me the next few weeks, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Thank you for all of your support and the opportunity to be the principal of such a great school!

With warm regards,
Kathleen Carroll Knauth
The response to Principal Knauth's early retirement announcement has received some sympathetic attention in the western New York media. From Your News Now-Buffalo, N.Y. edition, May 3, 2013, by Katie Cummings, "Principal's symbolic stand applauded by some who say there's too much testing":
LANCASTER, N.Y. — "To see them tested over and over again, and the level of the rigor of the assessments is disturbing," said Kathleen Knauth. Knauth spent ten of her 36 years in education as principal of Hillview Elementary in Lancaster.

However, she submitted her notice to retire last Friday after getting fed up with all the paperwork she had to do as part of teacher evaluations and student testing. Knauth says it kept her away from checking in on classrooms.

"I felt like I was focusing on typing and data instead of focusing on what's truly important," Knauth said. "The social worker came in and asked what she should work on with children and with parents and families. I couldn’t tell her."

Western New Yorkers for Public Education is against some of the standardized testing required by the state and commended her decision. Member Eric Mihelbergel says the tests are designed for a narrow segment of students.

"If we focus our curriculum teaching to just math, teaching to just English language arts, we’re missing a whole other set of skills," Mihelbergel said.
. . . .
Knauth’s time in education is not completely over, as she plans to work on education reform and getting the word out about the testing.

"I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any testing. There should be, but leave it to the teachers. I think my message the most is let the children learn and play, let the teachers teach," Knauth said.