It seems like everywhere you look, the Common Core education reform is coming under attack.
Last week, both Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos, with the backing of the powerful New York United Teachers union, called for a moratorium of at least two years on student testing based on the federal Common Core education standards.
On Monday, a six-member New York State Board of Regents-appointed panel of education policy makers concluded that, at least for now, teachers should be able to argue against being fired on the basis of their students' poor performance on state tests using the new standards. The panel also recommended the high school class of 2022 be the first class required to pass Regents exams based on the more difficult standards in order to graduate, instead of the class of 2017.
Common Core has become a catch-all phrase for all of the gripes parents and students have with their school districts and the public education system. Lost in all of the rancor of changing standards has been the original purpose of Common Core: to establish a higher national standard for educating children in the United States.
We agree with the critics of Common Core who say the reform was poorly implemented. By rolling out the new math and science standards all at once, across different grade levels, the state was ensuring many students would do poorly on the first exams based on these standards. It's hardly fair or reasonable to expect students who weren't held to these higher standards when they were in lower grades to have all the knowledge they need to progress forward through the difficult curriculum of whatever grade they are in now, particularly high school students. This put many teachers in the unenviable position of trying to fill in gaps in their students' past education, even as they try to raise the bar on their learning in the current school year. It would have been wiser to start the reform at kindergarten and phase it in year by year.
But, in our view, that is all water under the bridge now. To halt or slow the implementation of this reform would be illogical at this juncture.
NYSUT objects to the "high stakes testing" associated with Common Core because teachers are potentially the ones for whom the stakes are the highest. NYSUT doesn't want tenure and teacher-firing decisions to be influenced by the scores from Common Core standards. The teacher evaluation formula is weighted with 60 percent based on classroom observation or surveys, and 20 percent based on student achievement. The formula provides more than enough cushion for any truly competent teacher.
We suspect state officials will tweak the Common Core to address concerns, as they should. Some of the regents panel's recommendations may make sense, but we would oppose a suspension of basic reforms now that they've been put into place.