It was thoughtful of the Buffalo Teachers Federation and its friends to create some sympathy for Robert M. Bennett on Monday. It’s hard to see what else they might have accomplished by protesting state education policies in front of Bennett’s home.
Yes, Bennett is a member of the Board of Regents, which sets education policy. And, yes, the BTF abhors teacher testing, and teachers and parents are concerned over what they see as a destructive emphasis on high-stakes testing. Fair enough.
But they could have protested in any number of other places and gotten the same headline. And, as Bennett wryly observed about Philip Rumore, president of the BTF, “If Phil wanted to talk to me or yell at me, he could have just picked up the phone.”
No chance. The BTF, which isn’t universally known for its good judgment, crossed a line and vented its anger over a public policy at Bennett’s private home. The “Day of Action” protests took place across the state. Only the Buffalo protest targeted someone’s home. The people who were involved should have considered how they and their families would respond if protesters descended on their homes.
Rumore insisted that the BTF was concerned about more than teacher evaluations. It is also worried about how testing is affecting students, he said.
Not likely. Teachers worry about students, but the union doesn’t. It worries about itself, and it is adamantly opposed – one could say terrified – of any system meant to assess the performance of teachers. That’s what this was about.
That ship has sailed. The course can be adjusted, and the State Education Department should be open to that, but there is no defense for failing to assess the performance of employees in an enormously expensive and consequential public program.
The state should also be open to reviewing policies on testing, especially when they create excessive and broad-based pressures on students. What should not be up for discussion, though, is the state’s commitment to the Common Core standards and its not just necessary, but urgent, focus on raising standards for students in New York and the other states that have adopted these standards.
Bennett and Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. are committed to those standards, and for that, New Yorkers who understand what is at risk can be grateful. These men deserve praise, not excoriation and certainly not a cheesy 35-minute protest in front of a private home.
King is continuing his tour of the state (he’s in Buffalo today for a forum that will be broadcast on WNED-TV) to listen to New Yorkers. He’s gotten an earful, some of it offensive. Those who have concerns have an opportunity to express themselves there. That’s potentially useful and certainly appropriate – and a far cry from protesting at a public official’s home.