It seems that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has heard the complaints of many superintendents and principals: Common Core, in its current form, has some problems, and it’s time to make some changes.
“The fact is that the current Common Core program in New York is not working, and must be fixed,” he wrote in a statement earlier this month. “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.”
And for some North Fork educators, that admission is long overdue, even if they feel the standards of Common Core were a good idea.
“A number of us have been indicating for quite some time that the plan that was fashioned to address education issues in New York State is flawed,” said David Gamberg, the superintendent of the Greenport and Southold school districts and an outspoken critic of Common Core. “If parents are opting children out of state tests by the thousands, something is fundamentally wrong.”
In his statement, Gov. Cuomo said he will select a “representative group” from his Education Commission to make recommendations before his State of the State address in January. The group will comprise “education experts, teachers, parents, the commissioner of education and legislative representatives.”
The group might not sufficiently represent educators’ beliefs, Mr. Gamberg cautioned, if Gov. Cuomo hand picks the members.
“We need a completely independent commission, not one that is constructed by the governor who has no right nor position to do so,” he said. “When we look to bring expertise into the equation, we should be the ones developing and finding those individuals.”
Anne Smith, superintendent of the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, said Common Core’s standards, while potentially beneficial, were rolled out too quickly for students to keep up.
“While [the New York State Department of Education] provided curriculum models and resources, the timing of the release of the resources with the urgency to understand and do well on new assessments did not work,” she wrote in an email. “If there is a review and adjustment in the New York State Learning Standards, I hope it is at the lower grade levels where we know students need more time to develop and grow as learners.”
Riverhead Charter School principal Ray Ankrum echoed that sentiment, despite noting his teachers and parents have mostly “embraced” Common Core.
“Common Core should have started in 2012-13 with kindergarten students, and the standards should have followed that cohort of students,” Mr. Ankrum wrote in an email. “There’s no way you can expect an eighth-grader to make that sort of adjustment after only a year of being exposed to the curriculum. At least with kindergarten students, the students and teachers could grow with the curriculum.”
Several area superintendents feel one of the biggest problems with Common Core is the emphasis on standardized testing. Under the existing system, student performance on such tests is tied to teacher evaluations — in other words, teachers are judged substantially based on what scores their students receive on state tests.
“You have standards that should be used to assist the development of quality curriculum, and you have a separate component that says how we assess staff effectively,” Mr. Gamberg said. “The joining of the two has created countless amounts of damage.”
Both Dr. Smith and Oysterponds Superintendent Richard Malone agreed: the No. 1 recommendation Gov. Cuomo’s commission should make is to “decouple” testing from evaluations.
“People are associating the Common Core with testing, accountability and evaluation of teacher performance,” Mr. Malone said. “Association of that with the Common Core has created a lot of confusion and apprehension and negative reaction to the whole program.”
Beyond testing, Mr. Gamberg sees several other problems with the existing Common Core system, including a lack of local input into decision-making on curriculum and attempts to use one school’s successful strategies to dictate what other schools should do.
“You have to look individually within each district and assess where the strengths are,” he said. “If you find areas where there might be some deficiencies, you work on it. But you can’t replicate that across the board in every district and assume every district is facing the same set of challenges.”
However, despite what they see as practical shortcomings, several of these educators agreed that the principles themselves are beneficial.
“Common Core standards are ambitious, and rigorous, and are the standards that we need to have students compete on the Global Market, with peers in other developed countries that have surpassed the U.S.,” Mr. Ankrum wrote.