New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement Thursday reiterating what he described as his longtime belief that the implementation of the controversial Common Core education reform by the State Education Department “has been deeply flawed,” announcing it “must be fixed,” and calling for the creation of a “comprehensive review” of the program.
His remarks kicked off a fresh firestorm of criticism from longtime anti-Common Core activists and opposition groups, who deem the governor’s recent comments little more than politically motivated backpedaling and an ill-fated attempt at appeasement.
“A growing chorus of experts have questioned the intelligence of SED’s Common Core program and objective educators across the state have found the implementation problematic, to say the least,” Gov. Cuomo declared in his Sept. 3 statement. “The new Commissioner of Education has inherited this problem and I understand has been meeting with parents, educators and students, and has heard the same concerns. Recently, SED has made comments about organized efforts to have parents choose to opt out of standardized tests. While I understand the issue and SED’s valid concern, I sympathize with the frustration of the parents.
“The fact is that the current Common Core program in New York is not working, and must be fixed,” the governor continues. “To that end, the time has come for a comprehensive review of the implementation of the Common Core Standards, curriculum, guidance and tests in order to address local concerns. I am taking this action not because I don’t believe in standards, but because I do.”
Officially adopted in New York State in 2010, Common Core—the Obama administration’s education reform policy—has been a lightning rod of complaints from scores of parents, teachers and students alike. These critics have been extremely vocal about their concerns, too, flooding public forums across the state to discuss ways to both cope with its practices and mobilize political opposition to fight back and eventually have it repealed. Their loudest protest culminated in the Opt-Out Movement, in which record-breaking numbers of parents throughout the state refused to have their children even take the exams. Last spring, 225,000 students “opted out” of state mandated tests, with that number expected to grow next year.
Created by the National Governors Association and the Council of State School Officers, Common Core aims to make American students globally competitive, with skills that promise college and career readiness, accomplished through standardized testing in English Language Arts and Math beginning at grade three. Its dual purpose is to hold teachers accountable for students’ achievement, using high-stakes test scores to determine teachers’ effectiveness.
Some local education advocates, who have been on the frontlines in the battle for quality education in New York State and against what they perceive as a punitive and punishing Common Core-based new teacher evaluation law Cuomo passed as part of the 2015-16 state budget, are questioning the sincerity of the governor’s latest positioning on the effects of Common Core.
“The blame game continues in NY,” blasts Jeanette Deutermann, a Long Island mother who co-founded New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE)—a coalition of 50 parent and teacher organizations who oppose the standardized tests—and created the popular “Long Island Opt-Out” Facebook page. “Governor Cuomo, the mastermind behind the evaluation system tied to Common Core assessments that is ripping our schools apart, now claims to want to play the role of hero.
“What Governor Cuomo doesn’t understand is that that role has already been filled: by the hundreds of thousands of parents that have taken a stand against the high-stakes testing machine built upon Cuomo’s corporate reform agenda,” she slams. “As more talk of commissions and committees continue, our children, who have already slogged through four years of a reform nightmare, are facing yet another year of test prep, countless hours of assessments, and this failed CC experiment.
“If the Governor was truly intent on saving our children, he would reverse his own laws immediately, and put the brakes on before another class of students is subjected to this insanity,” adds Deutermann.
As for a commission review of the current system, Carol Burris, former principal of Southside High School in Rockville Centre and current executive director of the Network for Public Education Fund, is not convinced.
“It is laughable,” she tells the Press via email. “Does the governor not remember that he had a Common Core Commission in 2014? It issued a preliminary report in March after meeting twice. His commission never issued a final report; and after those two meetings, the governor shut it down.
“This is political posturing to try to curry favor with parents who are fed up with his education reforms,” continues Burris. “It is shameful. He is as responsible as any member of SED for the mess we are in today.”
Mark Naison, professor of history and chair of African and African-American Studies at Fordham University and co-founder of the anti-Common Core coalition Badass Teachers Association, aka BAT, views Cuomo’s latest stance as a testament to the strength of the parent-led Opt-Out Movement.
“The Cuomo statement reflects a sober recognition that the parent-led Opt-Out Movement is not only too strong to suppress, but that it is response to serious inequities, inequities and injustices surrounding testing in New York State,” he explains. “While the governor recognizes that some of these issues arise from the content of the Common Core standards, it is deeply troubling that he never mentions the toxic influence of using testing for the purposes of teacher evaluation.
“The statement is therefore both incomplete and designed to drive a wedge between parents and teachers,” adds Naison. “Nevertheless, it is a testimony to the power of the Opt-Out Movement. It is a response to serious inequities, inconsistencies and injustices.”
The battle for an efficient and effective education system in New York is far from over, the anti-Common Core activists warn.
“On to the great Opt-Out 2016,” Deutermann proclaimed to “Long Island Opt-Out” members on the group’s Facebook page.