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Common Core Wars – The Empire State Strikes Back

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There has been so much said about the Common Core State Standards that one could assume at this point that everyone knows about them. For those who do not know, these standards were meant to strengthen education across the U.S.A. by ostensibly building on what individual states had in place as standards.

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Standardized tests are linked to the CCSS in New York State.

Unfortunately, here in New York State the initiation of the CCSS for most parents, teachers, and students was mishandled; thus, what the standards meant to accomplish (according to the CCSS web site) – It should be clear to every student, parent, and teacher what the standards of success are in every school – was never realized. The salient reason for this here in New York was to utilize the CCSS for purposes other than educating our children. The goal was to jump on the standards, implement them quickly, and then use results of standardized test scores based on those standards to achieve the nefarious goals of tying the scores to teacher evaluations and student achievement.

The plan seemed to be something right out of Star Wars villain Darth Vader’s playbook. After the “rebel alliance” of teachers, principals, and parents dared to challenge the empire, the media picked up on the situation and started reporting the details of this debacle. How could any state test its children based on standards that they had not been properly taught because the state had not made certain its teachers were properly prepared to teach them?

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Commissioner King speaks to the Board of Regents

As this story became the 800-pound gorilla that the New York State Education Department did not want to see in the room, there were growing calls for the CCSS to be stopped and for State Commissioner of Education John B. King to be removed from office. At several town halls on Long Island, Dr. King was nearly run out of town on a rail by enraged parents who refused to accept his policies about the CCSS.

Now we get word that State Board of Regents voted to give the schools five years to put the standards “fully into place.” They also indicated that teachers would be given the next two years as a “grace period,” meaning that during this time teachers wouldn’t have poor results on their students’ standardized tests affect the all important teacher evaluations.

This may seem like a sufficient compromise to some, but the reality is that this decision does not face the necessary and compelling reason why parents, teachers, and principals were complaining – the problem still exists as long as the CCSS are not examined more closely. This issue affects all the states that have implemented CCSS, but New York can be the battleground where people take a stand and strike back at what seems to be a classic case of putting the cart before the horse, only to find that said cart is filled with damaged goods.

All along I have said that the intention of the CCSS was a good one – to improve instruction; however, that does not mean that there is not something inherently wrong with the new standards. The truth is that the standards were never truly explained and investigated, with parents, teachers, and principals getting an opportunity for input, for there to be possible revisions, and perhaps some reworking appropriate for individual states. It seems incomprehensible that in 2014 that a one-size fits all education model would be proper for these very diverse United States.

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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

Happily, here in New York, things are looking brighter thanks to politicians in Albany (I don’t think I would have ever believed I could have written that sentence). In a rare bipartisan effort, New York State’s Senate and Assembly are making a concerted effort to delay CCSS in New York. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has helped lead the way to get this done. He noted, “You can’t propose an entirely new curriculum, an entirely new set of standards and say: ‘Here it is, teach to it.’” Unfortunately, that is exactly what has happened in New York State.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is reticent about immediate action and wants to create a panel to examine the CCSS and their implementation, but legislators noted that the yet to be created panel would not convene until after standardized tests are administered in April 2014. Unfortunately, this sounds like more of the same from Mr. Cuomo (who along with former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg once lauded the teacher evaluation component as a way to rid themselves of tenured, higher paid teachers) and fails to recognize the valid concerns of his constituents.

For now it seems that the coalition of parents, teachers, principals, and politicians are moving in the right direction. Hopefully, the CCSS will become something that they should have been in the first place – an education initiative that is up for review, examination, and revision. This would be much more acceptable than what has thus far been rammed down everyone’s throats.

Now we must await to see what happens in the legislature, but all signs are that something soon will be placed on Governor Cuomo’s desk for his signature, and then it will be up to him to make a decision that is best for our students and teachers. Will he hear the reasoning of the “rebel alliance” or continue to advance the cause of the evil empire? The answer will not only determine the future for all the states’ teachers and students but also perhaps his ability to remain in office.

Photo credits: Silver-nydaily news; king – AP; a bubble test.com

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.