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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

N.Y. Chancellor Tisch Sends Conflicting Message to School Leaders

By Peter DeWitt — May 17, 2013 4 min read
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“We have always expected that scores will drop initially. But that’s not a sign that our education community is doing something wrong. It’s a sign that we’re doing something right.” Meryll Tisch

During these times of increased accountability, school leaders are looking to state leaders for guidance on what they can do to make sense of all of the changes. Whether it is teacher and administrator evaluation or implementing the Common Core State Standards, educators want to know that they are doing the right thing. By nature of who they are, educators are rule followers.

As with any monumental change, educators need to understand how all of this accountability is helping schools become better because the trust is gone between public schools and many state education departments. We read blogs, articles and look at state resources. New York State, where I am an elementary principal has Engage NY, which is their only guidance on all things Common Core.

Recently, I read No Time to Slow Down on Common Core (On Board, NYSSBA) by Merryl Tisch, the N.Y. Chancellor of the Board of Regents. I feel that the title says it all. Why slow down and reflect on what has been going on? We should just plow through another mandate, much like the New York State Education Department always asks of their teachers and school leaders. After all, time is of the essence because all of these changes are created by a political cycle.

Where the new state assessments tied to the Common Core are concerned, Ms. Tisch wrote, “The goal of these exams is not to teach to a new test - in fact, Common Core is a move away from teaching to any test - teachers should be encouraged to focus on new ways of teaching to higher expectations.” I agree with Meryll Tisch! We should move away from the over-testing of students.

The only issue with Tisch’s statement is that all of our 3rd - 8th grade students, much like most states across the country, had to take six days of tests over a two week period. These tests lasted from 70 to 90 minutes a day for general education students and up to 3 hours a day for special education students. For someone who is directly related to such intense testing, it seems odd that Tisch would advise educators to get away from tests.

In addition, her statement is contradictory to the fact that the NY State Education Department has a five-year 32 million dollar contract with Pearson Education. It is also contradictory to the fact that part of the new evaluation system in New York State requires schools to give pre and post assessments to students in kindergarten, which means five year-olds get to take assessments. That is a great deal of testing to get away from in kindergarten through 8th grade.

Conflicting Message
What worries me most about some leaders leading from the 30,000 foot level is that they seem to send conflicting messages as if they really do not understand what is going on. They feel that all schools are failing, and that one-size-fits-all is good for all students, but then they change their mind and say that not all schools are failing. Do they not see the contradictions?

For example, in the article Tisch wrote, “In classrooms around the state, exciting conversations are taking place. For the first time, students are exploring longer and more challenging texts, debating economic issues, applying math to engineering concepts, and working in teams to solve real-world problems. These are not curriculum mandates, but examples of good teaching, the kind that many educators have practiced for years.”

Now, which is it? Are they doing it for the first time or have they been doing it for years? To be perfectly honest, I find her position to be offensive. Many, many educators have been using those instructional practices for a long time. This is not the first time students have been exposed to this, and it’s not because of the Common Core and accountability that it is being done.

Considering that the students were ill-prepared for this year’s state assessments, Ms. Tisch wrote, “We have always expected that scores will drop initially. But that’s not a sign that our education community is doing something wrong. It’s a sign that we’re doing something right.” If the education community isn’t doing something wrong why are there so many changes? And the whole idea of “doing something wrong...we’re doing something right” does not make a great deal of sense.

Crash Landing
There’s also no question that the introduction of the Common Core is going to cause a bit of in-flight turbulence - especially with respect to these first rounds of test-taking.” In-flight turbulence? Perhaps that happens when schools feel as though the rules are changing as we are going along.

Just recently, the New York State Board of Regents said they were discussing the option of changing the weight of the State Provided Growth Measure in APPR to 25% (Read StateProvidedGrowthMeasureInAPPR.pdf) of a teacher and administrator’s evaluation instead of 20%. Yes, the 2012-2013 school year...which is ending in over a month. This seems odd considering that Tisch said they are trying to get away from testing.

Perhaps this is not in-flight turbulence. Perhaps this is just another case of state leaders building a plane while they are flying it and acting as though it is a good idea. My advice to Merryl Tisch and the New York State Education Department, and all other state education departments moving at a break-necking speed, is to slow down on the Common Core, because we all feel like we are heading to a crash landing.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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