Palumbo: We must act now to stop Common Core damage

03/18/2014 6:00 AM |

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Since the moment I was sworn in as your assemblyman, the one topic that seems to come up in just about every conversation is the implementation of Common Core. I have listened to parents, educators, students and taxpayers about the myriad Common Core issues and problems that plague our children and schools. The Common Core mandate provides for a series of new national education standards administered at the state level through a series of federal mandates and grants. Though well-intentioned, the rollout and implementation of Common Core has been acutely fl awed, raising the ire of most parents and stakeholders in the education system.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that some improved standards are important. They represent something for us to strive toward and they provide us with meaningful methods to track performance. The spirit of Common Core (as I’ve been told) is to provide a level playing field for students throughout the country and to better prepare them for both higher education and the workplace. It is no secret that other countries have been making great strides in education, while here in the United States we continue to see our competitive edge decline. I believe, as do many others, that it is time to take action to improve our education system.

Notwithstanding the above, the current implementation of Common Core Standards in New York State has been nothing short of horrendous. We need to hit the pause button. I don’t need to recount the horror stories we have heard from parents, teachers and administrators. The one-size-fits-all approach and the destruction of students’ self-esteem that has resulted from the high-stakes testing may be irreversible. A moratorium must take place now.

In the Assembly, I have co-sponsored legislation called the Achieving Pupil Preparedness & Launching Excellence (APPLE) Plan, which will address many concerns. The plan will provide a three-year moratorium on Common Core implementation. During this time, education policy makers and stakeholders will have an opportunity to address the standards’ shortcomings as they are currently implemented. We created this comprehensive plan based on the results of 11 forums held across New York State with educators, parents and administrators during a five-month period. We also have a Senate sponsor for the APPLE Plan, which could become law in New York State in just a few weeks.

This legislation was created from information we obtained from those mentioned above who are in the trenches every day.

More important, it would also give individual school districts local control over the implementation. This is necessary because some districts (although a limited few) have been able to implement the Common Core Standards and don’t necessarily want to opt out of the program.

In short the APPLE Plan allows each district to proceed at its own pace, without the federal government’s Race to the Top mandates.

This is clear, common sense.

Yet, common sense is sometimes in short supply in the Capitol District. Last week, we were confronted with a bill presented by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s conference that would essentially provide for a two-year moratorium on the APPR (teacher evaluations) while establishing some restrictions regarding use of a student’s personal data. Sadly, it contains no changes to the current over-testing of our children and doesn’t address the Gap Elimination Adjustment (state funds owed to our schools), nor does it address the fact that special needs children are being tested at their grade level rather than their developmental level. In my opinion, it would do almost nothing to protect our children from the disaster that has wreaked such havoc, causing some children to self-mutilate with pencils and others to develop negative feelings about both themselves and school.

In response, my conference brought the APPLE Plan as a hostile amendment to the bill, suggesting it be added to their non-comprehensive and limited bill. After hours of debate, we eventually voted. Unfortunately, our amendment was voted down by Assembly Democrats while every Assembly Republican voted for it.

After the vote on the amendment, a vote was taken on the bill-in-chief, which passed. I should note that their bill does not have a Senate sponsor, so it probably will not become law. During the debate, the sponsor said on several occasions she would be receptive to our comments and suggested changes as we move forward with a restructuring/rethinking of the Common Core. I hope so.

At a forum I attended on the Common Core rollout, many students, parents, teachers and administrators told us of their displeasure and made heartfelt statements about their individual experiences. The most profound of these came from a high school student who said to the education commissioner, John King: “Failure is not a teaching tool.” Simple, explicit, to the heart of the matter.

We need a diligent and prudent approach to improve the educational outcomes of future generations of students. It is never too late for those who rushed this through to swallow their pride and work toward a better solution. We can fi x this mess, but in order to do so we all need to be part of the conversation.

On behalf of my children and the rest of the children of the State of New York, I hope the change is coming soon.

Anthony Palumbo is a Republican state assemblyman. He is a resident of New Suffolk.