Recent adjustments by the New York State Education Department to the Obama administration’s controversial Common Core education reform are viewed as both concessions by proponents of the program and further causes for protest among opponents.
Among other alterations, the state education department announced Feb. 10 that full implementation of the Common Core program—which has been panned by parents, teachers and students across the country and on Long Island for being too tough, flawed and detrimental to students’ academic and physiological well-being, among other concerns—would be delayed until 2022 instead of its previously planned 2017 deadline. That means students and teachers will not be held to the stricter standards of Common Core, under which instructors face more stringent accountability and risk termination for under-performing pupils who do not reach specific academic benchmarks set by the program, for an additional five years later than originally expected.
The new measures were adopted, according to the education department, as a direct result of a state Board of Regents report from a work group recommending such changes, titled “Adjustment Options to Common Core Implementation,” detailing the flawed roll-out of Common Core and members’ reasoning for such a drastic shift.
“We have listened to the concerns of parents and teachers,” stated NYS Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch the day the adjustments were announced. “We’ve heard the concerns expressed at the hearings and forums, and we regret that the urgency of our work, and the unevenness of implementation, have caused frustration and anxiety for some of our educators, students, and their families.”
CLICK HERE TO READ THE PRESS COVER STORY ABOUT LONG ISLAND PARENTS AND TEACHERS’ OPPOSITION TO COMMON CORE AND HERE TO READ ABOUT STANDARDIZED, A NEW DOCUMENTARY WHICH TAKES THE BATTLE OVER THE PROGRAM TO THE BIG SCREEN
Besides a reduction in local testing used to rate teacher performance, the new plan also calls for the elimination of standardized tests for grades K through second that are tied to teacher evaluations, caps the instructional time that can be used for local assessments used to inform teacher evaluations at 1 percent, and creates an “expedited review process” for teachers to use.
Mainstream media has exploded with excited headlines proclaiming the news.
Yet, what’s not getting as much ink is that detractors are far from satisfied with the postponement, citing continued privacy concerns regarding the sharing of student records with inBloom—an Atlanta, Georgia-based technology nonprofit which stores and consolidates students’ information from school districts across the country—and a continuation of standardized testing tied to teacher evaluations for third grade and up. In summary, they contend, the new changes are inadequate—they do not go far enough.
Marla Kilfoyle, a social studies teacher at Oceanside High School, outspoken critic of Common Core and co-founder of the anti-Common Core coalition Badass Teachers Association, aka BAT, is just one educator who finds the recent adjustments lacking.
“The adjustments are a sham,” she tells the Long Island Press. “First off, they don’t address the absolute flaws in the Common Core, the amount of testing that goes on in the state, which is too high, and the sharing of children’s data. They should have cancelled their contract with InBloom but instead refuse to listen to parents’ concerns regarding the sharing of their children’s data.
“They insult both parents, children and teachers by phasing in standards that have flaws and inappropriate tests that are used to evaluate teachers, as well as hold high stakes consequences for kids,” she continues. “Parents, students, teachers, and communities have made their voices heard—they don’t want Common Core, they want the amount of testing reduced, and they don’t want their children’s data shared.”
Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre and 2013’s New York State Principal of the Year, took the argument even further in a Feb. 12 op-ed published on The Washington Post education blog “The Answer Sheet.”
“Like Lucy holding the football for poor Charlie Brown, the Regents and Commissioner King have repeatedly set up parents and educators,” blasted Burris, calling the recent adjustments “a set of recommendations that appear to address concerns, when they hardly make a dent at all.”
“As a parent, educator, and taxpayer none of the concerns I have were addressed: Data sharing, Common Core, over-testing, and rating teachers based on test scores,” she says. “I do not want my tax dollars wasted on this stuff because at the end of the day the money they spend on this will cause already strapped districts to cut out of school the things that kids love—art, music, gym, language.”
Almost immediately after the state education department announced the adjustments, state Sen. Lee M. Zeldin (R, C, I-Shirley), Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson), Assemblyman Al Graf (R,C,I-Holbrook) and Assemblyman Ed Ra (R-Franklin Square) proposed a legislative solution more in tune with the what Common Core protestors seek—in the form of a bill—while Gov. Andrew Cuomo eviscerated the Board of Regents.
“Today’s recommendations are another in a series of missteps by the Board of Regents that suggests the time has come to seriously reexamine its capacity and performance,” slammed Cuomo in a statement. “These recommendations are simply too little, too late for our parents and students.
“Common Core is the right goal and direction as it is vital that we have a real set of standards for our students and a meaningful teacher evaluation system,” he continued. “However, Common Core’s implementation in New York has been flawed and mismanaged from the start. As far as today’s recommendations are concerned, there is a difference between remedying the system for students and parents and using this situation as yet another excuse to stop the teacher evaluation process.”
The lawmakers’ bill, known as S. 6604, seeks a halt to the Common Core curriculum for three years.
Dr. Mark Naison, chair of African and African-American Studies at Fordham University and BAT co-founder with Kilfoyle, still isn’t satisfied.
“As long as APPR [Annual Professional Performance Review, teacher evaluations informed by student test scores] is preserved, teachers will teach to the test and the stress they feel will inevitably be felt by students and families,” he says. “However, Cuomo is committed to preserving APPR and those trying to end state alignment of tests with Common Core have decided not to challenge him on this. I think that all legislative actions that are in response to public pressure are a positive sign, but do not think that this bill will significantly ease pressure on teachers, students and families in New York State.
“Before anyone in NY State even heard of Common Core,” Naison continues, “schools in the Bronx had become a nightmare because the Bloomberg DOE had started to give letter grades to schools based on test scores and close those with allegedly failing grades, and then follow that up by rating teachers on the basis of student test scores and publishing those scores.
“You can get rid of Common Core and if policies like those are in place, the stress levels will remain enormous,” he adds. “There are several concurrent catastrophes in New York State: forced imposition of Common Core is one; rating teachers and schools on student test scores is another; excessive and intrusive testing in all grades and all subjects is a third.”
Naison maintains that the Zeldin-Graf bill marks “two steps forward when you need to go five,” yet admits it’s better than taking no steps at all.
Kilfoyle concurs, calling the continuation of tying teacher evaluations to test scores at all “absurd,” but that the legislators’ bill is “more palatable because it halts Common Core but it doesn’t address APPR.
“People have to realize that evaluating teachers based on test scores does not make effective teaching!” she says. “This has been proven by research since the 1970s. You now have a set of standards that are flawed, that come with tests that are flawed, that are used to evaluate people for their jobs!”
Burris, the South Side High School principal, views the Zeldin-Graf bill as step forward, praising it in a written statement as “the closest thing to a true moratorium that I have seen.” She cites several reasons to support it, including the reduction of test times and the cutting of scores back to 2010 levels, an amendment to make the tests public, and the banning of the use of state tests “for retention, placement, gifted programs.” She concludes that the legislation will offer protection for students, making it easier for them to opt-out of the state tests. Burris also scores it as a win for teachers, because the provisions give teachers more local control of their negotiation contracts. The bill also drops the scores whereby teachers could be rated “ineffective” and have their employment threatened.
“Would I love for [Common Core] to go away?” asks Burris. “You bet. [But the Zeldin-Graf bill] is a big improvement.”