Director of Organizing Tenicka Boyd's Testimony Before the NY State Senate Committee on Education

Tenicka Boyd // October 29, 2013

Thank you Chairman Flanagan and thank you to the Committee for giving me an opportunity to speak today. My name is Tenicka Boyd and I am a New York City public school parent and the Director of Organizing, for StudentsFirstNY.

StudentsFirstNY is New York's leading voice for students. As part of our community organizing efforts, we have talked to over 300,000 New Yorkers in predominately low-income communities and communities of color who are deeply concerned with the lack of quality schools available to their children.

I understand that over the past couple of weeks Common Core, and the stakes attached to the new standards, has drawn some concerns and criticism. I appreciate the chance to clear up some confusion.

Informed both by my organizing work and personal experience as a New York City public school parent, I whole-heartedly support the heroic efforts of Commissioner King and the NY Board of Regents to reduce the educational equity gap, raise the academic standards, and increase the quality of teaching by following President Obama’s charge and adopting the Common Core standards.

For decades, students in different states have been taught different material at different rates and were held to a multitude of standards. How can I expect my child to compete for a seat in an academically rigorous college, if the students in Beverly Hills are learning more than the students in Brooklyn?

There is a small choir of people saying they support Common Core, but that we just need to slow down the process and take away the stakes for teachers for three years. Slow down the process? Parents in the communities I serve believe we need to speed up the process. The three-year moratorium on attaching stakes for teachers is a tactic to eliminate Common Core altogether. And those representing the status quo are constantly putting out reports that parents are upset about Common Core, but those parents don’t speak for me at all. Not only do I welcome these higher standards, I am excited that finally we are starting to expect more from our students.

The critics of Common Core don’t have the urgency that we have, about the children in our communities. Our schools are failing in Brownsville and East New York. There are those who believe that all students just can’t learn. There are those who believe that when they see students from the South Bronx, from Bed Stuy, and from Jamaica, Queens, that those students are so impaired by their surroundings that they can’t possibly hit a higher bar. But those students deserve high standards so that they can have a chance to go to college and are career ready!

We need higher standards to make sure all children – not just the lucky ones, from the affluent parts of town – get a quality education.

Teachers should be held accountable for helping children to meet the Common Core standards. Parents deserve to know whether our teachers are preparing our children for college and careers.

In a City with so many failing schools, we need our leaders to focus on how Common Core can be implemented seamlessly, not on fighting all that comes with it. We need what Commissioner King is trying to do to help decrease the education equity gap; and frankly we need everyone – politicians, the unions, educators -- to share our sense of urgency. We can’t wait another minute to take action; delay is not an option.

I am a parent. I send my child to school everyday with the expectation that she is sitting in front of a qualified, skilled teacher and that she is being challenged each and everyday by a core set of standards that will teach her what she needs to succeed in life. I also have that expectation for every New York City school child whether they are from Brooklyn, and Harlem, and the Bronx, or Queens.

The new benchmarks in Common Core are not about teaching to the test. Common Core is not about telling teachers what they can and cannot teach. It is not about mapping out a rigid curriculum for them, or certain text books, or certain word problems. It is about spelling out, for the first time in this country’s history, the skills that all students will need to master at each grade level. I have to admit that as a parent, this was something I thought was already happening in our nation, regardless of where we lived. I thought 8th graders were all expected to be able to have the same level of conceptual understanding and mathematical problem solving ability. That was not the case.

As parents, we all, regardless of our zip code, skin color, or earning potential, want to ensure that our children possess 21st century skills. For far too long we have accepted and even sanctioned academic failure out of fear of stepping on people’s toes. Our children deserve better.

Just last week Friday, I stood on the corner of Nostrand and Atlantic in Bedford Stuyvesant to see President’s Obama’s motorcade trail through the heart of Brooklyn. I was reminded as he waved to the school children waving signs, of his eloquent words at P-Tech regarding Common Core: Keep at It!

I encourage you all to Keep at It.

Thank you.