Common Core vs. Common Sense: Which will win?
By JOHN METALLO
For The Recorder
The Common Core controversy in New York state's public schools hit a crescendo at a Poughkeepsie event recently during which state Education Commissioner John Kink was essentially booed off the stage by angry parents and teachers who felt their students were being set up for failure by the state Education Department. In the aftermath, King canceled a series of public events at which he was supposed to explain Common Core to parents, including one scheduled for Wednesday night in Clifton Park, and blamed his decision on the "special interests" that disrupted the downstate meeting. If the commissioner was referring to the parents and teachers as special interest groups, he is right on, in that all of them have one thing in common -- they all love their kids and care about their education with a passion. Short of that, I have not been privy to any other special interest that was represented at that meeting.
It is time to admit that the Common Core is more about politics and money than it is about improving education. While it is not being imposed by Washington, the Obama administration has dangled a lot of money, more than $4.3 billion, in front of states to implement the new standards, and 45 states, including New York (with a share of more than $700 million) as well as the District of Columbia have opted to do so. In the past, states had a widely varying set of expectations about what students should learn. According to the president, the goal of the Common Core expansion was to set the bar at the same level for all of them and to better prepare the nation's students for college and career.
While I have no problem with raising the bar for our students, it flies in the face of sanity to pit students against a standard they have no reasonable chance of attaining. I coached track for a long time, and raising the bar for a 6 foot high jumper would entail moving it to say 6 feet, 1inch. The Common Core bar raising done in New York was tantamount to setting the bar at 7 feet for all high school high jumpers then scratching our heads in surprise when most of them failed. As a matter of fact, roughly seven out of 10 students across New York state failed to attain proficiency on the tests linked to the Common Core which were administered last spring. Common sense would indicate that something is amiss here.
How did this happen? The answer is simple: Common Core won out over common sense.
* The Common Core standards were adopted without any field test. They were imposed on students all around the nation with no concept of how they would affect students, teachers or schools. This is just one more example of politicos trying to mess with something they do not understand -- the education system. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time. If that is not a recipe for disaster, what is?
* The tests which were administered to the students were not linked to the curriculum they were taught. Thus, any expectation of success if sheer folly.
* Once the disastrous results were released, New York State Education Department officials attempted to defend the testing as "setting a new standard or new benchmarks." If that was the goal, the tests should have administered as field tests or pre-tests only with no individual results being released for any student. In that manner, the benchmark could be set; the tests could be aligned to the curriculum and the students could take a fair test of their ability next spring after studying the curriculum during the school year.
* President Obama and Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan often say that the Common Core standards were developed by the states and voluntarily adopted by them. This is not true. They were developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association, both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation. There was minimal public engagement in the development of the Common Core. Their creation was neither grassroots nor did it emanate from the states. Teachers should have been engaged in this effort along with students, parents, school administrators and other stakeholders. That did not happen. As often happens, this was not shared decision making as we would hope it would be. It was another example of we will make the decision and then share it with you.
* Federal law prohibits the U.S. Department of Education from prescribing any curriculum, but in this case the department figured out a clever way to evade the letter of the law. The states and the District of Columbia signed on, not because the Common Core standards were better than their own, but because they wanted a share of the federal cash. In some cases, the Common Core standards really were better than the state standards, but in Massachusetts, for example, the state standards were superior and well tested but were ditched anyway and replaced with the Common Core. The former Texas state commissioner of education, Robert Scott, has stated for the record that he was urged to adopt the Common Core standards before they were written.
* New York and Kentucky are the first two states to connect their standardized tests to the Common Core. It is becoming more evident every day that we should have passed on being first in this race.
* This is even more complex in New York because the teacher evaluation system that was literally imposed by Gov. Cuomo last year directly links teacher evaluation to the standardized tests which are obviously flawed. The tests made little sense to the students, and using them to rate the effectiveness of teachers is just as flawed as the administration of the tests was to the students.
How do we straighten out this mess? Pure and simple, it is time to take a step back and to admit that a mistake has been made. If the commissioner and state Education Department want to use the test results to establish a standard, or in this case, floor for student performance so be it. Beyond that the tests should be officially declared null and void. The students should be given a fair chance at passing them -- after they have been taught the material to be tested. Finally, teacher evaluation should not be linked to the test results until a fair test is administered. By the passion evident at the meeting in Poughkeepsie last week the battle against Common Core is not going to blow over any time soon. Perhaps a little common sense will prevail.
JOHN METALLO is an Amsterdam native
who currently resides in Slingerlands. He taught
in Gloversville for 14 years, was principal
at Mayfield High School and superintendent of schools in Fort Plain. He is a retired teacher who was also principal of Albany High School and an adjunct instructor
at the University at Albany and SUNY Plattsburgh.