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Smoke, Mirrors, and the Common Core

Politicians cannot make the Common Core problem disappear with smoke and mirrors. Sooner or later, most people will admit that the Common Core experiment has failed. Why wait?
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All across the country, politicians are looking for ways to get parents to stop protesting the Common Core. One strategy, in states such as Arizona, Florida, and Pennsylvania, is to rebrand the controversial educational standards. Another strategy is to pass legislation that gives the appearance of change but ensures that the Common Core has time to cement its place in schools. Thus, on March 5, the New York State Assembly passed billed A8929.

The bill relates to the use of Common Core assessments, teacher and principal training, and the release of student data. The bill does not permit school districts to stop using a curriculum based on the Common Core standards.

The bill postpones for one year the use of Common Core tests to evaluate teachers. In the meantime, students will take Common Core tests and teachers will practice teaching to the tests that will, soon enough, determine if they are fired or not.

The bill requires the Education Commisioner to develop a Common Core training program for teachers and principals. In related news, the state now requires aspiring teachers to pass a certification test on whether they can plan lessons aligned to the Common Core.

The New York educational system will soon be permeated by the Common Core pedagogy.

The bill grants parents a right to prevent the disclosure of personal data or biometric records to third-parties, including commercial vendors. And yet the bill also authorizes the Education Commissioner to determine from whom parents may withhold data. In other words, the data-sharing provision of the bill tells the fox to guard the henhouse.

As a parent, I am troubled by developments in the New York Assembly. My kindergartner comes home exhausted after a day of school with almost no time for unstructured play. As the child psychologist Megan Koschnick explains, the Common Core standards are developmentally inappropriate, virtually insured to give many children math and reading anxiety.

There is no good way to implement bad standards.

Fortunately, some New York politicians listen to parents on the issue of the Common Core. There is a bill (A8844 & S6604), with bipartisan support, that calls for a Blue Ribbon Commision to hold hearings, do research, and make recommendations to the governor and legislature regarding curriculum and testing before moving forward, if at all, with the Common Core. The bill requires New York's education leaders to think before they act: a sensible proposal.

The Assembly, however, voted to defeat this bill as an amendment to A8929. Why? One reason may be that in 2010, the U.S. Department of Education gave New York $700 million in Race to the Top (RTTT) funds on condition that the state adopt common standards, participate in a testing consortium, evaluate teachers based on student test scores, and collect data on students.

Still, the New York legislature should fight back against overreaching federal education policy.

First, the RTTT places financial burdens on the state and school districts. New York parents and teachers have recently filed a lawsuit against the governor and Education Department for failing its constitutional obligation to ensure that every student has access to a meaningful education opportunity. As a result of the RTTT, schools are spending finite resources on corporate education consultants, a new teacher evaluation system (APPR), and technology so that all students may take the Common Core tests (PARCC) at the same time. In turn, schools are eliminating classes in art, music, science, social studies, and foreign languages.

Second, there are legal grounds that states can use to fight back against federal education policies. The RTTT application does not contain a repayment penalty for withdrawing from a commitment, and no state has bound itself forever to the RTTT provisions. The federal government has other weapons at its disposal, including withholding Title I money, but this does not mean that the New York should just accept flawed education standards.

Let's be honest. New Yorkers did not in any meaningful sense choose the Common Core. Governor David A. Patterson submitted a Race to the Top application at the height of the financial crisis. The Common Core standards were not field tested anywhere. We are only just now discovering what the Common Core means in practice, and many parents are doing everything in their power to stop it.

Politicians cannot make the Common Core problem disappear with smoke and mirrors. Sooner or later, most people will admit that the Common Core experiment has failed. Why wait?

For New Yorkers who would like more information about the Common Core and the effort to stop it, there will be an iRefuse rally on Saturday, March 29 at Comsewogue High School in Port Jefferson Station from noon to 4 pm. Speakers include Dr. Joe Rella, Dr. Mercedes Schneider, NYS Assemblyman Al Graf, and Co-Founder of Stop Common Core in New York State Yvonne Gasperino.

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