On Being Politically Motivated

I was compelled to speak at the final Board of Education Meeting for my School District. The Board was present, as well as our Union President and Superintendent. The room was filled with parents, teachers, students and community members. It was sweltering and a number of security officers were present.

I chose to speak after the BOE rejected our union’s class action grievance concerning unfair testing practices in the district on the basis that the grievance was “politically motivated”. When the teachers follow proper contractual procedure it is unethical and negligent to dismiss those grievances under the guise of being “politically motivated’. We need to hear each other and work together to fix the very real problem of our “failing” urban schools.


“My name is Kelly and I am an ESL  teacher at East High school in the Rochester City School District

I am here to ask for your help.

I am one of the people who started grievances concerning the unfair evaluation practices, including the local, state, and APPR  evaluations. I followed all proper building and union procedures and was very hopeful when my union filed their recent unfair testing class action grievance. For the Board of Education to come back and say that the grievance was politically motivated is demeaning. It undermines all of my hard work.

Politically motivated!

What does that even mean? I’m pretty sure teachers, students, and parents aren’t appointed or voted in.

My motivation is simple, it is doing what’s best for my students to learn.

We don’t have a teaching issue, or a learning issue, or a union issue-  that’s  Albany’s sleight of hand to take the focus off of our real problems.

Our failing schools are a civil rights issue caused by de facto segregation and the unwillingness of key players, such as yourselves to stand up and say so.

I am speaking to you today as a teacher who has decided that I am no longer afraid of anyone. I am urging all of you to act in the interest of our children and officially say that the testing mandates for students and APPR evaluations for teachers were grossly unfair to Rochester’s teachers and students.

That we won’t use such measures to define the very real work that needs to be done in our schools. To work together by standing up for our children who cannot speak for themselves. I am asking you to put your belief in me if you can’t believe each other. I am saying no to APPR and unfair testing mandates on all levels. Please join me, we need you”.

I left the podium to a deafening wave of applause and shouts.

“My motivation is simple, it’s doing what’s best for my students to learn.”

The solution is a simple one: If a student, no matter which grade level, doesn’t know the alphabet- teach it to him. If he can’t read, teach him to read. If he doesn’t know addition, don’t stick him in an algebra class. This is not a hard concept. This is how school is supposed to work, but doesn’t for our impoverished and racially segregated districts.

It doesn’t because No Child Left Behind said that we needed to be more rigorous in our instruction and that somehow got interpreted as teachers were lazy and not teaching enough information.

It doesn’t because rich people (Bill Gates) with no experience in education or developmental psychology gave a lot of money to testing companies (Person) to further their personal ideas on education. Person provides teaching and learning materials as well as the New York State exams that test these materials. Sounds like a conflict of interest to me.

Testing companies exist to make money, not to make sure students learn. These companies have a lot of people in their high rise offices making sure that they keep their own paychecks in the private sector, while seriously harming the public sector.

I say we stop testing students (and therefore evaluating their teachers) on the ability to do chemistry when they can’t read the letters and numbers of the periodic table.

I am saying no to unfair testing mandates on all levels.

Please join me, we need you.


For further reading please check out this awesome article in the Washington Post:



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