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At weekend rally, a mix of opposition to Gov. Cuomo and state tests

In signs and speeches, hundreds of protesters took on publishing giant Pearson, New York’s political leaders, teacher evaluations, and the Common Core standards at a rally near City Hall on Saturday.

“Cuomo you’re FIRED!!” one sign read. Another, accompanied by the image of a worm sticking out of an apple, read “ROTTEN TO THE COMMON CORE.”

But organizers and speakers said they all agreed on one thing: state and federal leaders’ efforts to improve education haven’t actually been good for public schools. Their messages included opposition to the rollout of the Common Core standards, New York’s teacher evaluation law, and state testing policies—an array that organizers said was a byproduct of the inclusion of dozens of local and regional education groups.

“People see a lot of things going on in education as an attack on public education,” said Brian Jones, a former New York City teacher who is running for lieutenant governor in this year’s gubernatorial election on the Green Party line.

The protest, held on a sidewalk next to City Hall Park, drew between 300 and 500 people, according to a police officer at the event. 

The event had some clear political overtones, starting with Jones’ presence. Many people at the rally said they were registered Democrats, but sought an alternative to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in November. They cited Cuomo’s recent embrace of privately-managed charter schools as one example of the threats facing public education.

“There’s a lot of anger out there about Governor Cuomo,” said Carol Burris, a Long Island principal who has been an outspoken opponent of the teacher evaluation law. “I think many Democrats, including myself, feel betrayed by his policies toward schools an I think that’s going to be a factor in the election.”

A speaker’s view of Saturday’s rally. On the dais is parent Dao Tran, and holding a sign for her is Brian Jones.

A speaker’s view of Saturday’s rally. On the dais is parent Dao Tran, and holding a sign for her is Brian Jones.

The protest was an outgrowth of Save Our Schools, which organized a 2011 march in Washington, D.C. and grew into a national organization. At that march, the protesters focused on federal education policy, especially the No Child Left Behind law and Race to the Top grants that have driven most of the changes to education nationwide over the past decade. 

Saturday’s rally lost some steam when the event’s headliner, Diane Ravitch, backed out due to medical reasons. (Class Size Matters’ Leonie Haimson read a message from Ravitch.) But the event included 20 other speakers, including Jose Vilson, a New York City teacher and author, and Dao Tran, a parent who organized other parents to opt out of new bubble tests for young students that had been required for teacher evaluations.  

“The purpose is to show the powers that be that there is unity in this movement,” said former social studies teacher David Greene, who chaired the event’s organizing committee.