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Time to reboot Common Core

September 17, 2015
Editorial , Lake Placid News

We thank Gov. Andrew Cuomo for coming around and saying recently that New York needs to revisit its implementation of the Common Core State Standards. We basically agree with what he said: It's good to have consistent, high standards, but the way New York ushered them in did lasting damage to the cause it was supposed to help. It's time to reboot the program.

New York had rammed the standards through too fast, in one year when it could have phased them in over two or three. The state was apparently too eager to win the federal Race to the Top, and the money that went with it along with a presidential pat on the back.

Parents showed their distrust of the system this April by opting their children out of state tests: an average of 20 percent of students statewide, and as high as 80 or 90 percent in a few school districts. These parents used these tests as a vote of no confidence in the state Education Department, and while it was an awkward way to stage civil disobedience - having your children do it for you - it worked better than we and many others ever would have guessed. Gov. Cuomo, as a politician beholden to the will of the people, couldn't help but take it seriously.

Gov. Cuomo says he has felt for a long time what he publicly stated Thursday. It's worth mentioning that he cheered the state on in the Race to the Top as he campaigned for governor in 2010, but he also expressed second thoughts when parents started lambasting former state Education Commissioner John King at public forums in 2013. Yet in May 2014, in a video address to a private "Camp Philos" conference of national education reformers in Lake Placid, the governor expressed strong support for their "comprehensive education reform agenda" (his words), ticking off tough teacher evaluations "based on whether their students are actually learning," master teachers, longer school days and years, full-day universal pre-K, more technology and the Common Core. He talked about being proud of the bold steps New York had taken.

Now he's not so proud, at least not of things done by the Education Department, a state agency that's not under his direct control.

This summer, the state switched testing companies. It had originally farmed out its Common Core-aligned tests to Pearson, the world's largest education company, but the tests it developed for New York earned the state a black eye. One problem was that a few questions either made no sense or were wildly beyond grade level - asking fourth-graders to write about the architectural design of roller coasters, for instance. Pearson also recently lost contracts for tests in Texas and Florida - not good. A good test should be hard, yes, but understandably so to all but a handful of people. People should feel confident about it.

This summer New York gave a $44 million, five-year contract to Questar Assessment Inc., a smaller company based in Minneapolis. Hopefully that goes better.

Good education reform doesn't need to radically change what goes on in classrooms. It should instead uphold high standards - do what most people expect, and do it better. We've heard from many teachers and school administrators that most of the Common Core curriculum does that, although it has occasionally veered into bizarre territory - for instance, in expecting first-graders to identify Mesopotamia on a map and explain the significance of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

While state officials re-evaluate Common Core implementation, we suggest they remove the part of teachers' evaluations that ties student tests to teacher pay. One of the problems with New York's Common Core rollout is that Gov. Cuomo took the opportunity to publicly take on teachers, who must be on board in order to effectively implement something this huge. Alienating or blaming them won't raise student performance. The governor shouldn't get involved with their pay; leave that to local school boards.

Hopefully, this is an opportunity for New Yorkers, from the Capitol to the classroom, to work together on education, which must be one of the state's top priorities.



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