Monday, May 11, 2020

An Open Letter to Governor Cuomo on Education Policy from Fordham Alum Carrie Anne Tocci

May 10, 2020

Dear Honorable Governor Cuomo:

I have respect for the Cuomo family.

My first full-time teaching job was at La Scuola D'Italia in Manhattan. Your mom visited once, and I found her to be eloquent when she spoke about the importance of education, and a one-on-one mentoring program in place in our state.  Your dad sat next to my mom when she was a member of a coalition of concerned moms who sought to raise the drinking age in our state in the '80s, following several tragic accidents.

I am an adoptee and in February, due to the amendment of  section 4138 of public health law you signed off on January 15, 2020, I received my original adoption papers--a landmark moment in my life. Personally, I appreciate your support with this issue, and leadership during this difficult time in our nation’s history, while we part ways on your recent comments in support of the Gates Foundation, and your wonderings about why the “old model” of education persists. 

As an educator, I do have some -- I hope -- useful feedback for you.

I've seen/heard other government representatives preach on education, following this up with the assignment of education leaders who have zero education experience/credibility. This suggests that anyone can teach or lead teachers who guide students.

I agree with you that we have been teaching 21st-Century learners with 20th-Century methods but we need to merge, not replace one for another but this must be done thoughtfully.  Educators are coming off the failed 2010 implementation  of the Common Core Standards which were implemented across many states in the United States, intending to fill in learning gaps with more rigorous curricula.  The CCSS, however, have not closed all performance gaps.

If we implement more platforms, interventions, curricula, will they be tested before implementation?  Will educators and students be consulted?

Training and experience with children, matters. Educators matter--our human touch in concert with education platforms, whether in person or virtual, is essential.  To better understand my learners with learning challenges, I need to be present to assess not just school work but social emotional well-being which may not be fully transparent through a screen.

 Maybe a hybrid model is next, but that would mean more companies and businesses need to have child care--more schools, too, for the teachers who have kids they can’t leave unattended at home.

I urge you to consult a random sample of New York State students especially adolescents asking them what does and doesn’t work for them with both environments: actual and virtual. Studies exist that explore student reading preferences. Though digital natives, some students today choose their reading platform, digital or print, based on the genre -- say, digital for news and print for fiction.

During this virtual learning time, I’ve had a few students ping me on Google hangouts, to speak one-on-one, and I've witnessed a few tears mixed with trying to keep up a brave face. Back at school, my students pop into my office throughout the day for a smile, encouragement, sometimes for a safe place to share and even cry when they are frustrated or overwhelmed. 

Technology has expanded my teaching options, but still I go back to your mom's visit to my first teaching post. Her presence, the fact she cared enough to drop by to our small school, made a big impression on me, more so than if she had greeted us from a screen. I am confident of that. Let’s not lose sight of the importance of seeing our students in person.

Thank you for listening.

Yours, sincerely,

Carrie Anne Tocci

Carrie Anne Tocci is a doctoral candidate in Fordham University’s Contemporary Learning and Interdisciplinary Research (CLAIR) program and has over 20 years of experience teaching adolescents and adults in public and private schools in urban, suburban, and international settin

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