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Testimony  before  the  New  NY  Education  Reform  Commission   Tara  Brancato,  July  26,  2012   Members  of  the  commission,  on  behalf  of  the  several  thousand  teachers  who  are   members  of  Educators  4  Excellence,  thank  you  for  inviting  me  to  speak  with  you   today  about  reforming  our  current  education  system  “through  the  lens  of  what  is  in   the  best  interest  of  students.”    As  a  current  teacher,  I  am  honored  to  share  my   opinion  with  you  today.  However,  I  am  also  disappointed  that  you  do  not  have  any   current  teachers  on  the  commission.   My  name  is  Tara  Brancato,  and  I  have  taught  for  five  years  at  KAPPA  International,   an  unscreened  International  Baccalaureate  high  school  in  the  Bronx.  I  currently   teach  IB  Music  and  Human  Rights  to  approximately  300  scholars,  and  I  serve  as  my   school’s  UFT  chapter  leader.    I  am  also  a  Teacher  Fellow  with  the  National  Holocaust   Memorial  Museum  in  Washington  DC.     As  a  teacher  in  New  York  City,  my  classroom  is  a  miniature  portrait  of  our  district:     more  girls  than  boys,  reading  levels  that  range  from  2nd  grade  to  11th  grade,  and  a   population  that  is  97%  Black  and  Hispanic.    KAPPA  is  growing,  changing,  and   thriving  –  our  first  graduating  class  had  a  number  of  full  IB  Diplomas  and   scholarships  to  some  of  the  finest  Universities  in  the  country.    We  are  happily   integrating  CCLS  with  the  lofty  IB  standards  that  we  have  always  held.       When  KAPPA  opened,  we  were  ‘hot  housed’  in  four  tiny  classrooms  in  a  hallway  that   belonged  to  another  school.    Like  many  of  our  scholars,  I  see  KAPPA  as  my  home.     Like  any  real  home,  it  is  always  busy  and  always  noisy,  filled  with  children  asking   questions  and  lessons  being  learned.  Teaching  here  is  not  an  easy  job.    But  even  in   the  face  of  challenge,  the  beauty  of  KAPPA  is  in  the  message  of  our  colorful  hallway:   This  is  your  home.  You  are  always  welcome  here.     There  is  much  to  say  that  is  positive  in  New  York.    Our  district,  like  the  state  and  the   nation,  is  focused  as  never  before  on  providing  highly  qualified,  passionate  and   effective  teachers  for  our  students.         But  however  positive  our  outlook  may  be,  the  fact  remains  that  an  immense  amount   of  work  and  change  must  happen,  and  soon.    New  York  is  a  city  and    state  divided  by   the  lengthy  and  emotional  debate  over  teacher  quality  and  evaluations.  The  debate   has  yielded  few  results.    We  have  missed  multiple  deadlines  and  in  doing  so  we  have   failed  to  address  the  needs  of  our  students,  and  provide  meaningful  and  targeted   support  to  our  teachers.  Even  more  unsettling,  over  180  school  districts  in  New  

York  State  have  submitted  action  plans  for  teacher  evaluations  while  New  York  City,   educating  over  a  million  citizens,  has  remained  silent.     A  major  factor  in  the  stagnation  is  the  fact  that  teachers  have  been  left  out  of  the   conversation.    Teachers’  voices  are  clamoring  for  an  effective  evaluation  system  that   will  identify  strengths  and  provide  guidance  and  support  to  correct  our  weaknesses.     We  know  that  quality  teaching  helps  our  students  grow.    To  best  serve  our  students   as  professionals  we  must  strive  for  constant  improvement.       The  crux  of  our  desire  to  improve  is  the  desperate  need  of  our  students.    They  need     effective  teachers  –  and  they  need  them  to  stay  in  the  classroom.    Currently,   unsupported  teachers  struggle  in  an  isolated  environment,  overwhelmed  and   without  helpful  feedback.    They  leave  district  school  classrooms  they  love,  for  better   pay  in  charter  schools  or  entirely  different  careers  where  they  will  be  evaluated  as   professionals.    We  teach  in  a  house  with  no  foundation,  not  only  divided  against   itself,  but  fundamentally  lacking  the  stability  to  build  anything.    The  only  constant  is   the  influx  of  students:  young  people  who  want  to  learn,  grow,  be  inspired,  and   succeed.    They  feel  the  lack  of  stability  and  security,  but  are  powerless  to  do   anything  about  it.    It  is  we,  the  educators,  who  must  fix  what  is  broken.     There  is  no  shortage  of  research  showing  how  effective  education  systems  succeed.     E4E  teachers  have  volunteered  their  time  to  study  existing  research,  survey   hundreds  of  teachers,  and  draft  policy  recommendations  on  various  issues,  such  as   teacher  and  principal  evaluation,  compensation  structure,  and  layoffs,  that  we   would  be  honored  to  present  in  more  detail  to  the  Commission.    Teaching  must  be  a   career  that  attracts  top  college  graduates,  through  competitive  compensation,   meaningful  feedback,  and  incentives  for  teachers  who  excel  in  under-­‐served   populations.    Successful  students  require  career  teachers  who  are  as  inspired  as   they  are  inspiring,  respected  as  they  are  respectful  of  the  needs  students,  and   growing  as  they  create  new  growth.     As  teachers,  our  duty  is  to  raise  our  voices  to  advocate  for  our  students’  needs.    We   must  make  teacher  evaluation  the  first  priority  on  the  state’s  agenda.    We  need   feedback  to  be  our  best.    As  an  Arts  teacher,  I  want  to  strive  for  excellence  -­‐  and  that   means  I  need  evaluation  to  know  what  I  am  doing  right,  and  what  I  must  improve.   We  need  a  comprehensive  evaluation  system  before  we  can  honestly  address   subsequent  reform  issues.    Since  there  has  been  little  progress  thus  far,  we   recommend  the  state  should  create  a  default  evaluation  system.  This  default  system   should  be  implemented  in  any  district  that  has  not  bargained  a  local  agreement   before  January  2013  until  a  locally  bargained  agreement  is  reached.     We  are  already  seeing  the  consequences  of  a  system  in  stasis  and  turmoil.  We  have   everything  to  gain  from  making  these  changes,  and  everything  to  lose  if  we  continue   to  ignore  the  needs  of  our  teachers  and  consequently  our  students.    

Brancato  -­‐  2  

I  want  to  end  where  I  began  and  thank  you  for  having  me  here  today,  but  again  ask   that  teachers’  voices  aren’t  just  heard  testifying  before  you  today,  but  that  they  are   included  in  debate  and  decision  making  process.    The  commission  needs  to  include   teachers  or,  at  the  very  least,  create  a  task  force  composed  of  teachers  to  make   recommendations  to  the  commission  and  to  our  Governor.     Thank  you  again  for  having  me  here  today.    I  look  forward  to  your  questions.  

Brancato  -­‐  3