A New York State Senate panel, led by Senator John Flanagan (R-L.I.), recently issued a landmark report that could change the playing field in this state regarding standardized testing linked to Common Core State Standards. Not only does the report indicate that “standardized testing should be reduced,” but also that student data must be better protected and standardized testing in grades Pre-K-2 should be completely eliminated. The report, which used significant input from parents and educators, should rattle the guys up in Albany and in other state education departments across the country.
In a galaxy far away and a time not so long ago, teachers were actually able to teach; however, we have entered into a prolonged period of conflict, which I like to call Common Core Wars. At this point there have been those who have tried to remove the yolk of oppression caused by standardized testing that has weighed us down for so long now; however, the evil empire (testing companies, state education departments, and their political lackeys) have long ruled with an iron fist. The “emperor” in this case turns out to be the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the driving force behind Common Core. Is it any wonder that this thing has become the equivalent of an educational hydra that is nearly impossible to fight against?
No matter how impossible the odds seem, teachers, parents, and students have been putting up the good fight for change for the last two years. When the Common Core State standards were dumped upon us, as some sort of edict from on high, we were thrust into an uncomfortable place where teachers were given a new way to teach without being prepared to do so, testing was linked to the standards, and test grades were made part of end of year evaluations that would determine whether or not teachers would keep their jobs and if students could move on to the next level.
Here in New York, the “rebel alliance” of teachers, parents, students, and some political leaders fought the good fight, even if it seemed that their weapons of persuasion were no match for the imperial might; however, some cracks started showing in the empire’s armor. Parents demonstrated with their children; teachers did the same, and highly respected and experienced people (Diane Ravitch, Catholic scholars, and writers such as Robert Shepherd and Anthony Cody) came out against the CCSS.
Recently, New York State Commissioner of Education John B. King was almost run out of town on a rail by Long Island parents (two towns actually – Mineola and Melville) after he tried to defend the CCSS and the standardized testing connected to it. They shouted him down and led to him canceling a similar event in Garden City. As chief spokesperson for the evil empire, he found that the people are mad as hell and aren’t about to take it anymore.
In the grand scheme of things, nothing changes as of this moment, but the imperial powers that be are starting to realize the rebels are advancing. With the looming exit of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the key advocates of the CCSS (and teacher evaluations associated with them) is gone. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has indicated that he will undo many of the nefarious machinations of Darth Bloomberg, including the rush to close schools and open charters, ignore parental concerns, and minimize the importance of teachers in the educational equation. In short the “rebels” seem to have a friend in Gracie Mansion after twelve years of Bloomberg’s insidious plans.
Slowly it is becoming apparent that there was a misfire with the CCSS. The initial concepts that led to their creation and implementation – that children should learn more deeply and rigorously and be prepared for college – were actually a positive thing. But like all great ideas, there is always some way to warp their trajectory, and this is what has happened here.
In New York State, the CCSS were utilized as a means to an end. Why not set up impossible new standards, ill-prepare teachers to use them in the classroom, require that they be linked to standardized tests, and then use those test scores as part of teacher evaluations? It seems like a pernicious plot from a bad B-movie, but it is the case. It boggles the mind that the evil empire got as far as it did, but there are those in the alliance who refused to back down.
We still have a long way to go, but the state senate report is a good sign that things are going to change in Albany. How long will it take for that to reach the classroom? It is hard to say right now, but teachers, parents, and students in New York and all around the nation deserve better, but we all cannot relax our efforts until we can be certain that the Common Core Wars saga is over once and for all.