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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

Siena Poll: Slow Down the Common Core

By Peter DeWitt — June 17, 2014 4 min read
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The Common Core implementation was horrific in New York State. With any new initiative there is an implementation dip, but the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in New York created more of a canyon than a dip.

It led to confusion and not to better learning for students. Is that the fault of the standards...or the implementation?

It began with the NY State Education Department making sure the 3rd -8th grade exams were aligned to the Common Core before they cared to check in with schools to make sure that they had the necessary resources to get students ready for the tests that were attached to teacher and administrator evaluation. NY State Education Commissioner John King “predicted” that the test scores would be much, much lower.

In her Answer Sheet guest blog, award winning high school principal Carol Burris wrote,

Their failure, of course, was preordained. This drop was predicted by Deputy Commissioner Ken Slentz in March before any bubble was filled and by Commissioner John King who declared that scores would "likely drop by 30 points" before the last test was sealed in its packet. If a teacher in my school told me that he designed a test that was so hard that the passing rate would drop by 30 points and the majority of his students would fail, I would walk him to the door."

Not a good way to get teachers, students and parents on board with new standards.

The New York State Education Department did create EngageNY, a website that offered resources to schools. Just like any large initiative the website was not perfect. It took time to work out the kinks, but as most states insisted that the Common Core was the “What” and not the “How” of teaching, NY created Common Core curriculum.

The curriculum was voluntary, although it was the curriculum that would end up on the NY State exams, which is tied to teacher and administrator evaluation. Schools that had super printers printed out the thousands of pages of curriculum found in the modules. Other schools scrambled to pay for the modules through Core Knowledge. Time was of the essence, and everyone was making decisions quickly. After all, a child’s education and test scores were at stake.

Even after a poor implementation, schools wanted, and still want, to believe that the new standards and curriculum will help. Others did it out of compliance.

As a former school principal, I lived it. Every day brought new changes. School districts scrambled to get the right information for teachers and students, and parents were not always kept in the loop. How could they be? Changes were happening so fast. Numerous educators asked that we slow down the Common Core implementation. A group of 8 principals (I was one of them) wrote publically why test scores should not be tied to teacher/administrator evaluation. You can read that here.

But N.Y. State Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said, “No.

Tisch actually wrote an article last year for the NY State School Boards Association titled No Time to Slow Down the Common Core, where she stated, “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.”

It caused more than turbulence.

New Siena Poll

And now, in a new Siena Poll Respondents by a nearly six-to-one margin believe rollout of the new standards, along with the tests that accompany them, has been rushed and led to widespread confusion.” According to the Albany Times Union, “Specifically, 82 percent of those polled agreed with the idea that the implementation has been rushed, while only 14 percent disagreed.

The TU went on to report that, “Almost three-quarters, 71 percent, said the biggest problem facing schools is lack of parental involvement in a child’s progress, followed by bullying and poor behavior, 69 percent each, and hiring and retaining effective teachers, 61 percent.”

One of the issues with a flawed implementation is the reactive work that teachers and school leaders have to do to get parents and community members on board. The TU article went on to say that, “Respondents were split over whether the standards will improve student success: 50 percent say they will, while 44 percent remain unconvinced.

A central concern was an over-emphasis on tests, and the way they’ve been introduced to classrooms.” And according to WNYT (Albany NBC affiliate) parents were concerned that tests were attached to teacher evaluation and not used to make more informed decisions about student learning. And now, even Bill Gates is urging states to take a break from attaching state testing to evaluation.

Shouldn’t we be focusing on student learning?

In the End

I do believe we need standards. If there is a balanced approach without the threat of high stakes tests being aligned to teacher and administrator evaluation, standards can provide a guide to learning. Those standards need to be agreed upon by leaders, parents, teachers, and students. Anything forced upon teachers will be dead in the water.

We should be allowed to debate, dissect and question what we are teaching, and our students should be provided with the same consideration. The Common Core implementation in New York State was a mess, and despite what state leaders say, they did become the “What” and the “How” of teaching.

And now, in New York State we have a valid and reliable polling institution stating that 82% of respondents are asking for the implementation to slow down. This is what happens when education is based on a political cycle instead of one based in good pedagogy. In the past, Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch have said they will not slow down the implementation. With this new information, will their decision change?

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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.