mixed messaging

At weekend rally, a mix of opposition to Gov. Cuomo and state tests

In signs and speeches, hundreds of protesters took on publishing giant Pearson, New York’s political leaders, teacher evaluations, and the Common Core standards at a rally near City Hall on Saturday.

“Cuomo you’re FIRED!!” one sign read. Another, accompanied by the image of a worm sticking out of an apple, read “ROTTEN TO THE COMMON CORE.”

But organizers and speakers said they all agreed on one thing: state and federal leaders’ efforts to improve education haven’t actually been good for public schools. Their messages included opposition to the rollout of the Common Core standards, New York’s teacher evaluation law, and state testing policies—an array that organizers said was a byproduct of the inclusion of dozens of local and regional education groups.

“People see a lot of things going on in education as an attack on public education,” said Brian Jones, a former New York City teacher who is running for lieutenant governor in this year’s gubernatorial election on the Green Party line.

The protest, held on a sidewalk next to City Hall Park, drew between 300 and 500 people, according to a police officer at the event. 

The event had some clear political overtones, starting with Jones’ presence. Many people at the rally said they were registered Democrats, but sought an alternative to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in November. They cited Cuomo’s recent embrace of privately-managed charter schools as one example of the threats facing public education.

“There’s a lot of anger out there about Governor Cuomo,” said Carol Burris, a Long Island principal who has been an outspoken opponent of the teacher evaluation law. “I think many Democrats, including myself, feel betrayed by his policies toward schools an I think that’s going to be a factor in the election.”

A speaker's view of Saturday's rally. On the  dais is parent Dao Tran and holding a sign for her is Brian Jones.
A speaker’s view of Saturday’s rally. On the dais is parent Dao Tran, and holding a sign for her is Brian Jones.

The protest was an outgrowth of Save Our Schools, which organized a 2011 march in Washington, D.C. and grew into a national organization. At that march, the protesters focused on federal education policy, especially the No Child Left Behind law and Race to the Top grants that have driven most of the changes to education nationwide over the past decade. 

Saturday’s rally lost some steam when the event’s headliner, Diane Ravitch, backed out due to medical reasons. (Class Size Matters’ Leonie Haimson read a message from Ravitch.) But the event included 20 other speakers, including Jose Vilson, a New York City teacher and author, and Dao Tran, a parent who organized other parents to opt out of new bubble tests for young students that had been required for teacher evaluations.  

“The purpose is to show the powers that be that there is unity in this movement,” said former social studies teacher David Greene, who chaired the event’s organizing committee.


Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.