Between new teacher evaluation systems and a new cyberbullying law, New York has passed big education laws this year, and the candidates vying for the Republican line in New York's new 115th Assembly District have some equally big concerns as to how those measures will affect North Country school districts.
Voters will pick their candidate for the Republican line on Thursday. The candidates are incumbent Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, Plattsburgh educator Karen Bisso and Cadyville businessman David Kimmel.
The new anti-cyberbullying law, which is an amendment to 2010's Dignity for All Students Act, requires school teachers and administrators to take steps to prevent Internet bullying and be more aware of it. Under the law, school districts are required to set up protocols that make reporting online bullying and harassment easier.
Republican Assembly candidates (from left) David Kimmel, Karen Bisso and Janet Duprey
A new system for evaluating New York's public school teachers was also implemented this year. The system grades teachers based on national performance measures and student achievement. The agreement between the state and New York State United Teachers on the evaluation system allowed New York to qualify for $700 million in federal Race to the Top funds.
Bisso has 27 years of experience as a special education teacher with the Plattsburgh City School District. She said new state education laws like DASA and teacher evaluations are "nothing more than an unfunded mandate being pushed on us by the state, coming from a soon-to-be-unfunded mandate by the federal government in an attempt to nationalize our education system."
Bisso said in a previous interview that she opposes making school districts compete for school aid that's tied to federal funding. She said that jeopardizes the 10th Amendment, which lets individual states develop their own education systems.
"We're pulling the funds at the local level, encouraging our school districts to have to compete for money and then making a portion of that competition (be) us signing off on participating in a nationalized education system," Bisso said. "It's almost coercion.
"Let's go back to parents being parents, teachers being teachers and the local school districts attending to the learning needs of the children in their community," she added.
Duprey said she's concerned about how much time and money will be spent on implementing the evaluations.
"I'm also worried about reliance on test scores as a template for teacher evaluations, as exemptions should be in place for special needs students and for those students who simply don't test well," she said. "I opposed efforts to make teacher evaluations available to the public through the media and online. I feel that evaluations should be done to benefit the employee and employers and should be maintained in confidential files, as all other employee evaluations are."
Duprey was a co-sponsor of DASA and said she believes it's the responsibility of school administrators, teachers and parents to protect children from bullying, both on and off school grounds.
"In today's world of 24-hour electronic communications, we must all be vigilant to protect our youth," she said.
Duprey said she also wants to change the state's aid formula to better serve rural school districts.
Kimmel called the new evaluation system "smoke and mirrors."
"There was already a system in place," he said. "Most teachers are fine professionals and are not the problem."
Kimmel said DASA "doesn't actually dignify all students.
"The one thing it does that is new is that it codifies the indoctrination of students who for religious reasons may not agree with LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender) dogma," he said. "Further, it creates a new unfunded mandate as each school district predictably scrambles to implement the requirements - requirements which are not fully clear.
"New York state needs to do a few things to fix education," Kimmel added. "First, we need to reform the state Department of Education. Second, we need to constitutionally ban unfunded mandates. Third, we need to begin funding the unfunded mandates on the books. Fourth, parents need greater say in their children's education."
Kimmel said the state should promote more charter schools or approve a voucher system to let parents decide where to send their kids to school. He added that local schools should have a greater say over curriculum and that a greater emphasis should be placed on educating students to "create a ready work force."
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.