Curran: NYS Ed Department & Governor Cuomo finally listening on Common Core

Assemblyman Brian Curran
Assemblyman Brian Curran

by Assemblyman Brian Curran 

New York State and its Department of Education are finally listening to parents.  And they’re now saying the very same things my Republican colleagues and I have been saying for months about the Common Core Curriculum.

Common Core is an educational initiative which seeks to establish consistent and uniform educational standards across the country – taking curriculum choices out of the hands of parents and communities - with the intent of preparing all students to enter college programs or the workforce.  However, it does nothing other than teach towards a test.  

Common Core sets standards for mathematics and English language arts.  The federal government, who has no constitutional authority to set educational standards for the states, offered monetary incentives to states to adopt the Common Core curriculum under the Race to the Top, which is President Barak Obama’s signature educational reform legislation.  Put simply, participating states would relinquish its sole control over education with the adoption of the national Common Core standards in exchange for an infusion of federal cash.

A little over a year ago, parents across this state – from Freeport to Fredonia, from Baldwin to Buffalo and from Oceanside to Oneonta and everywhere in between – began raising concerns over the decision by the State Department of Education to implement the Common Core Curriculum in every school in New York.  Making the situation worse, the Education Department largely ignored these valid concerns as well as their calls to delay the mandatory testing associated with the new curriculum.

Parents who raised questions over this new Common Core curriculum were arrogantly dismissed by some in their government as “overprotective” and “helicopter parents.”  Such a belief by educational officials was confirmed by the shocking public statement of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who said that opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from “white suburban moms who, all of a sudden, realized their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their schools isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

This statement allowed passions over the Common Core proposal to spill-over.  Now one year later, parental concerns over Common Core – even louder and more unrelenting than before – are no longer being ignored or dismissed.   In his State of the State address in January, Governor Cuomo called the implementation of Common Core “flawed” and is seeking changes and “corrective action.”

Changes are essential if Common Core is ever to succeed in the State of New York.  The State Education Department’s “rapid introduction of new curricula and tougher tests tied to Common Core” as Newsday wrote adds to the Board of Regents’ mismanagement of issue, creating “too much uncertainty, confusion and anxiety” as Governor Cuomo has said.   Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch and State Education Department Commissioner John King jointly agreed that “of course, implementation has not been perfect.”  Even New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi has praised the governor for acknowledging there are problems with Common Core that need fixing.  Iannuzzi added, however, that “[w]e have to stop the implementation [of Common Core] that’s flawed while we’re trying to decide how to do it right.”

In addition to these critics, Common Core has come under constant attack from parents and educators alike.  Despite supporting the implementation of more rigorous educational standards, parents and teachers allege that Common Core standards are having an adverse effect on children and reducing the quality of education being offered in New York; the curriculum was created by non-teachers who have no classroom experience and standards lack local input.  What’s worse, they claim that the material contained in the new standards forces educators to teach to tests as opposed to the material.

To further complicate the issue, recently passed legislation in New York require professional reviews of teachers which are partially based upon the student’s grades from Common Core tests; tests which purposely include questions on material that the student was never taught by a teacher.

Common Core test results from 2013 proves that parents and educators’ concerns were justified.  On Long Island, 37.5% of students in Grades 3-8 passed the new math test, compared with 75.4% who passed in 2012.  In English, the percentage of students in Grades 3-8 who passed the new 2013 exam fell 39.6% from the previous year – to a rate of 27.6%.  Statewide, the tests results were even worse with only 31 percent of students passing the 2013 math tests compared with 64.8 percent in 2012 and only 32 percent of students passing the English test down from 55 percent in 2012.

Here in the 21st Assembly District, the scores did not make any sense whatsoever.  No one can convince me that our local schools – which contain numerous national, Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence – were providing students with educations that were a third of the quality demanded by federal standards.  I also do not believe that these schools or our educators were providing our children with only a 30% proficiency in both English and math.

My colleague and I in the Assembly Minority have conducted eleven educational forums throughout the State from October to December 2013 on the issue of Common Core, high stakes testing and educational funding.  Based on those forums, the Assembly Republican Conference has put forth a reform plan…called the ApplePlan which offers two options.  The first:

1) Immediately review Common Core Standards and, after review, phase in the new standards grade by grade beginning with first grade;

2) Create an independent teacher panel to develop, review and approve age/developmentally appropriate curriculum and assessments;

3) Amend Common Core requirements to reflect different instruction and testing for special education students;

4) Allow the Governor to appoint the Commissioner of Education, as opposed to the current process of being appointed by the non-elected Board of Regents;

5) Eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment formula that deprives need educational funds to Nassau County schools; and

6) Restrict the use of student data without parental consent.

Or Option Two is the full repeal of Common Core.  However, the fiscal ramifications of Option Two may result in the federal government demanding reimbursement of the $700 million dollars it gave New York State through its participation in Race to the Top Program.  Repaying the previously accepted federal funds will certainly drain needed funds from our school districts and ultimately our children’s education. Because of this, I am in favor of Option One.

The grassroots movement of parents has already led to changes to Common Core.  Specifically, the Department of Education has already agreed to reduce the testing time for each exam; New York has applied for and been granted a waiver by the federal government to avoid duplicate and repetitive testing of kids of the same subject; and State Education Commissioner King has promised to convene a panel to review the contents and implementation of Common Core

.However, parents must not neither stop nor be satisfied with these minor corrections to Common Core.  Why?  Because Secretary Arnie Duncan was wrong.  Parents aren’t upset with Common Core because they suddenly “realized their child isn’t brilliant.”  Rather, parents are upset with Common Core because it sets up their children for failure regardless of how brilliant they really are.

I ask parents to support the Apple Plan.  Learn about it.  Read the plan online at bit.ly/educationalcrossroads.  Communicate with me via e-mail at curranb@assembly.state.ny.us with your thoughts on these reform proposals.  Working together, we can ensure our children’s educational future and promise fulfils our state motto: Excelsior.  Ever upwards.

Assemblyman Brian Curran represents New York’s 21st Assembly District in Albany, which includes the communities of Baldwin, Baldwin Harbor, East Rockaway, Lynbrook, Malverne, Rockville Centre, South Hempstead and portions of Franklin Square, Oceanside, Valley Stream and West Hempstead.  Neighbors can reach him directly in his office at 516-561-8216 or via e-mail at curranb@assembly.state.ny.us.


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