Lawmakers try to put brakes on school changes

ALBANY – Some state lawmakers are trying to force a re-examination of Common Core.

A dozen state senators urged New York’s education commissioner on Thursday to delay the further rollout of the new Common Core learning standards, citing frustration and complaints by parents, teachers and administrators. They also threatened to force changes by law if there’s no relief.

Meanwhile, the Assembly’s Republican minority is pushing a bill called the Achieving Pupil Preparedness & Launching Excellence (APPLE) plan, which would review state tests and curricula, phase in new standards and place a higher priority on instruction of the Common Core curriculum.

Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, a Republican from Peru, has been involved in outlining the APPLE plan. In November she spoke at an education forum, airing her grievances with Common Core.

“We cannot allow standardized testing which forces teachers to teach to the tests, to treat our children as robots or educational experiments.” Duprey said. “Instead, we must provide the opportunity for our students to appreciate the value of creative learning as they develop into our future visionary leaders.”

At Thursday’s Senate Education Committee hearing, Commissioner John King Jr. said some complaints are conflating the curriculum itself adopted by 45 states with other issues including testing, teacher evaluations and data collection security.

“The rollout was bad, and children are being hurt,” said Sen. Ken LaValle, describing the upshot of the complaints. The Suffolk County Republican said he attended a local meeting about the education changes attended by 800 people that got “quite raucous” and that there have been similar turnouts across the state.

King responded to the requests for delays by saying the need for the academic improvement the standards offer is still “urgent.” He acknowledged “uneven” implementation by the state’s 700 school districts and 4,500 schools in the “massive undertaking.” He promised more adjustments in state guidance, and noted they have already made some and are seeking federal waivers of assessment requirements for students with disabilities and for whom English is a second language.

There’s little disagreement among stakeholders over the curriculum’s main components of more writing, more challenging reading, and math that has real-world applications, King said. It’s meant to prepare them better for college and careers.

“Good things are happening in classrooms in terms of Common Core instruction,” he said.

Most of the standardized tests given statewide are required by federal law, King said. He added that there are no standardized state tests given to students from kindergarten through second grade, though some districts may do it. Delaying teacher evaluations would be a mistake, and changing that statutory requirement would be up to the Legislature and governor, he said.

Sen. Carl Marcellino, another Long Island Republican, said the Education Department needs to give teachers time to catch up and learn the new requirements and curriculum before having to teach it. Changing questions on the required state regents exams to follow the new curriculum is “a disaster waiting to happen,” one with implications for students’ grades and college admissions, he said.

The first time students will be required to pass the Common Core Regents exams will be in 2017, or seven years after the state adopted the curriculum, King said. Last year, a majority of the students entering New York’s community colleges had to take remedial courses, showing the need for the changes, he said.

Other senators recited complaints about parents now unable to help their children with homework, worries about the security of student data held by a private contractor and to leave alone high-performing schools that graduate nearly all of their students who mostly go on to graduate from four-year colleges.

King said districts that are succeeding can keep doing that and simply incorporate some of the new material. He supports increasing funding for teachers’ professional development, which is also up to the Legislature and governor, he said.