View from the Assembly, by Will Barclay

Common Core — the new academic standards adopted by 46 states intended to make students ready for college and careers—was put into motion for grades K-12 this school year.

The State Board of Regents adopted Common Core in 2010 in part to secure more federal aid for education. State assessments are now aligned with Common Core.

Beginning this September, teachers in most public school districts across New York were required to teach this brand new curriculum known as the Common Core.

According to the mission statement of CommonCore.org, its aim is to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.

The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”

The mission is well intended but, as with many federal mandates tied to federal dollars, there are troubling aspects of Common Core.

Some critics are calling it ObamaCore — a one-size-fits-all model for education. Others are in support of Common Core and want to see it work.

Whether for or against, the consensus is the State of New York could have done a better job implementing these sweeping curriculum changes that affect all grade levels and build on the previous year’s knowledge.

Last week, I hosted a forum in Baldwinsville with some of my Assembly colleagues from throughout the state. We wanted to give the public a chance to submit testimony and provide us with their thoughts on this program. I attended not only as a Legislator, but also as a parent of a fifth- and eighth-grader.

For me, the forum was an opportunity to learn of the concerns of  other parents, teachers, administrators and even a young student. I appreciate all who attended and took time from their schedules to speak and/or submit testimony.

There was a variety of testimony. I’d be hard-pressed to summarize all sentiments in this space but there were many concerns. One thing is clear though: The State Education Department has put the burden on localities to make this work this year, with no phase-in period.

Though New York adopted Common Core in 2010, it wasn’t until late this summer that curriculum became available for teachers through the form of teaching modules. Many at the forum said they received the modules too late to adequately prepare lessons from them. Administrators said they had little time for staff development on the curriculum overhaul.  Also, staff development is expensive and districts say they are strapped for cash and not getting the federal or state aid to cover expenses associated with all of the mandates and teacher evaluations. The public can view the curriculum at http://www.engageny.org/

Parents who testified said their children are struggling and suffering with low grades and low self-esteem. Other teachers and parents are concerned with having scripted lessons and measuring a student’s ability based on tests. Some worry about students falling behind and the overall graduation rates.

There seemed to be variations too at the district level. Some districts are adhering strictly to the teaching modules while other teachers and school districts are more loosely following the teaching modules or, in some cases, are preparing their own teaching modules.

Regardless of teaching methods, students will be tested on the same material with the same exams, and their understanding of Common Core.  And teachers are being evaluated based on their ability to teach the brand new curriculum and student test scores.

As you can see, this is complicated. Further dialogue is needed so that either the Legislature or the State Education Department can respond with helpful solutions. Most people agree with having higher standards, however, I too am concerned about the way in which these standards are being implemented. Clearly, we need to slow down. Perhaps we need to delay testing, to give all grades a better chance of learning the material until 2015. Maybe we need to reduce the amount of testing or at least the stakes involved for the students and teachers—so that exam scores are not the sole judge of students’ knowledge and teachers’ ability. As we know, and science has supported with multiple studies, not all students learn the same way.

I invite you to watch some of the testimony recorded at the forum. There are videos from five different panels available to view.

Here are the links. I would invite you to also participate in this dialogue and encourage you to submit letters or emails to my office on this so I can share them with leaders in Albany and the State Education Department.

** Opening Remarks and Superintendents –http://youtu.be/MJUH0xUaoW0

** Administrators/SUNY/Chamber – http://youtu.be/Mu9QCP4TDs8

** Teachers (Part 1) – http://youtu.be/T79OyasE-9k

** Teachers (Part 2) – http://youtu.be/DLJgGQwznr4

** Parents and Student – http://youtu.be/GuMy254Za9U

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, contact my office by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, 13069, by e-mail at barclaw@assembly.state.ny.us or by calling 598-5185. You can also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.

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