The Common Core learning standards are not popular in the North Country. About 300 people attended a forum on the education program with state officials in Schroon Lake Nov. 20, delivering a clear message — they don’t like efforts to standardize learning across the country.
The Common Core learning standards are not popular in the North Country.
About 300 people attended a forum on the education program with state officials in Schroon Lake Nov. 20, delivering a clear message — they don’t like efforts to standardize learning across the country.
John King, state education commissioner, Merryl Tisch, state board of regents chancellor, state Sen. Betty Little and Assemblyman Dan Stec listened as 48 people criticized the Common Core, which was adopted by the state in 2010 and is now being implemented.
While everyone supported improved education, no one supported implementation of the Common Core.
The Common Core curriculum, which lays out what and how students should learn, has been adopted by 45 states at the urging of the federal government, which gives states “Race to the Top” money if they participate. It’s critics claim Common Core takes control away from local schools and teachers, while assuming all students learn the same way.
The Common Core, standardized testing and King’s presentations have created controversy. Parent groups across New York have been critical of the new standards and the New York State Assessments, which were revised to align with the Common Core. Low scores on the 2013 assessments raised concerns.
Unlike a forum in Poughkeepsie, where King was shouted off the stage, the Schroon Lake event was civil. Speakers were required to register in advance and were limited to two minutes. State officials did not directly address any speaker.
Kyle Lang, a Ticonderoga English teacher, said the Common Core curriculum discourages reading. He pointed to the seventh grade English plan that calls for students to spend 10 weeks reading a book on the second Sudanese civil war. Ten weeks is too long to hold student interest, he said, especially in a topic they don’t care about. Without Common Core, he said, students could read several books in 10 weeks on a variety of topics.
“I haven’t encountered anything in my 13 years (as a teacher) that’s a greater deterrent to reading,” Lang said. “We shouldn’t be making education decisions in corporate offices.”
Common Core provides teachers with specific, daily lesson plans for students. King said those plans are optional and local schools can make their own plans.
Several teachers and school administrators challenged that assertion. While the lesson plans may be optional, the mandatory standardized tests in Common Core are based on the lesson plans. Not following the lesson plans could lead to poor scores on tests, which are used to evaluate students, teachers and schools.
Sarah Fink, a Minerva teacher and parent, questioned the financial wisdom in following the Common Core. Minerva Central School, she said, got $8,000 in
“Race to the Top” money for Common Core, but lost $800,000 in state aid during the past four years.
“The state must decide to adopt a budget that fully funds the initiatives for which it advocates so strongly,” she said. “Schools need sufficient time and resources to build the capacity that it will take to uphold the promise at the root of the Common Core. There needs to be a moratorium on high-stakes testing and accountability until the state agrees to restore the funding lost to the Gap Elimination Adjustment and correct the inadequacies in the state aid formula that only further disadvantage our rural Adirondack schools.”
Many people objected to the “one size fits all” approach of Common Core.
Dan D’Agostino of Schroon Lake told state officials he may take his children out of public school because of the Common Core. He said it’s wrong to expect every student to meet the same standards.
“Success in life is determined by a person’s ability to better themselves,” he said, “not by a state mandate.”
Others criticized the Common Core for its emphasis on math and reading.
Jane Claus of Schroon Lake believes the Common Core is shortsighted in its treatment of art, music and other subject areas.
“The arts seem to be minimalized every time something new comes out,” she said. “It’s the arts that make us human.”
The Common Core applies to all New York students, including special education students, several speakers pointed out. That means special needs students are taking the same standardized tests as high-achieving performers.
A Queensbury mother of a special education students was in tears as she described her daughter pulling out her own hair because of “test stress.”
“These tests aren’t showing us what our kids know,” she said. “They’re telling us what they don’t know. They (students) feel like failures.”
King later admitted changes need to be made to Common Core to accommodate special ed students.
“We’ve made some adjustments,” he said. “We’ll continue to make adjustments.”
King said the Common Core is needed because New York students aren’t well prepared for college and careers following high school. He pointed to statistics showing New York in the middle of states in educational performance.
“The Common Core reflects the knowledge and skills our students need,” King said. “It’s been developed with extensive research. There’s a lot of evidence to support the use of Common Core.”
Several people compared the Common Core to the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. While the intention may be good, its implementation fails, they said.
“The Common Core roll out has been dismissal,” Rick McClintock, a Ticonderoga math teacher, said. “Parents, teachers, school boards are questioning the Common Core. We need the state education department to restore our confidence in them.”
John Armstrong, Schroon Lake school board president, agreed.
“There are some good ideas in the Common Core,” he said, “but the process is poorly done.”
Paul Berry, Hadley-Luzerne school superintendent, suggested the Common Core implementation be delayed.
“As you can see from the revolt, the roll out has been unsuccessful,” he said. “Educators agree with the mission, but give us more time.”
A number of people asked why the public forums were being held three years after the state adopted the Common Core. Why wasn’t public input sought before making a decision, they wondered. Several charged the forums are simply attempts are improved public relations.
“I truly hope you are listening,” Shawn Baker of Schroon Lake told state officials. “From your body language I don’t believe you give two hoots.”
Each official promised they were listening and cared about the comments from speakers.
Teresa Cheetham-Palen, president of the Keene school board, told the panel the Common Core is unnecessary. North Country schools are successful and meet all state standards.
“We graduate 99 percent of our students. They go on to college and jobs. They lead happy and successful lives,” she said. “Now, all the sudden, we’re told we’re failing.”
Little expressed some reservations about the Common Core and said she supports North Country schools.
“I’m very proud of the schools I represent,” Little said. “I think they do a good job.”
Stec was cheered by the crowd when he acknowledged his concerns with the Common Core.
“It’s certainly captured the attention of New Yorkers,” Stec said. “I’m concerned about its affect on innovation, out-of-the-box thing and imagination in our schools. I know it’s very frustrating to our parents and teachers. The teachers in the North Country are first-rate.
“If I were king for a day,” he said, “I would take a step back and re-evaluate the Common Core.”