NORTH SHORE PARENT ACTION COMMITTEE TESTIFIES AT COMMON CORE AND TESTING FORUM SPONSORED BY LOCAL ASSEMBLYMEN
October 25 -- Local State Assemblymen Edward Ra (R - Franklin Square) and Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head), along with five of their colleagues in the Republican caucus were at SUNY Old Westbury on Thursday evening to host a forum "to hear from educators, parents and other stakeholders regarding the implementation of the new curriculum based on Common Core standards."
North Shore Parents Action Committee (NSPAC) members Eileen Stanton, Karen O'Mara Sweat, and Noah Blumenthal were on hand to offer to the panel of legislators both a written statement, and oral testimony.
Mr. Roger Tilles, Long Island's representative on the State Board of Regents, was first to address the panel. He said that the federal Race to the Top initiative has imposed a "one size fits all" approach to education on individual districts. Mr. Tilles offered some background on Race to the Top which requires states to administer tests in English/Language Arts and Math yearly in grades 3-8, and local districts to tie teacher evaluations to student performance on these assessments. The requirements, Mr. Tilles pointed out, were imposed on all New York State schools despite the fact that the federal program is intended to lift performance in traditionally low performing districts, and that a greatly disproportionate share of the RTT funding goes to New York City. Mr. Tilles said that he had voted "no" on both accepting Race To the Top funding, and the regulations that came along with it tying teacher evaluations to state test scores.
With regard to the Common Core learning standards that 46 states have agreed to, Mr. Tilles stated that he believes that "this is the direction we should be going in." "We need these standards to become ready to compete in the world," he said. He did however express that he was greatly "distressed" with how the Common Core has been "rolled out."
"We are going to be tweeking this," Mr. Tilles said. "And that is why these hearings are so important." The State Education Department, he said, is requesting a waiver from the federal government for testing special education students and English Language Learners (ELL's). He added that the Student Learning Objectives (SLO's) teachers must develop early in the school year in order to provide a base with which to compare end of the year performance "are a joke" and need to be looked at.
Assemblyman Al Graf of Holbrook expressed concerns about the developmental appropriateness of the Common Core. He said he "cannot figure out why a six year-old has to be able to point out ancient Mesopotamia on a map." He then questioned the assertion that "we need to compete world-wide." "Who are our competitors?" he asked. "Most of the other countries we are talking about are the size of a state. We lead the world in engineers - I'm trying to understand what country we're competing with." He questioned the validity of international measures that compare the performance of all American students to hand-picked high performing students in a country like China
The Assemblyman expressed concern about the educational publisher Pearson's role in the development of curricula that has been posted on the State Ed Department's website and questioned Mr. Tilles on the cost of implementing Common Core and whether it was passed on to local districts. Mr. Tilles said "yes" - that the state legislature had not provided any appropriation for the reforms. Including the assessments and Common Core, Mr. Tilles said the cost was high. Assemblymen Graf said he believed the cost for rolling out the reforms was $1.2 Billion in the first year. Mr. Tilles replied that he did not think that was the figure, but he was unsure.
Over the course of the next four hours, educators, school board presidents, and organizers of anti-testing groups addressed the panel to express their concerns regarding the Common Core and standardized testing. Speakers included Gary Bennett, the Massapequa School Board President; Dana Friedman of the Early Years Institute; David Feller, the North Merrick Superintendent and President of the Nassau County School Superintendent's Council; and, Jeanette Brunell Deuterman of Long Island Opt Out Info.
About two hours into the forum, Noah Blumenthal of the North Shore Parent Action Committee was given the opportunity testify before the panel.
Mr. Blumenthal opened by observing that "we have confused what is developmentally possible with what is developmentally appropriate. We have to give children the freedom to learn in the way that is best for them now and for their future. What they are being asked to do is not good for their future. We must eliminate the pursuit of the highest possible standard at the lowest possible age. And instead look at what breeds a well-rounded developmentally strong child."
Agreeing with Assemblyman Graf's sentiment concerning competition with other countries, Mr Blumenthal asserted that the United States produces the largest number of Nobel Prize winners, issues the most patents, and is the most entrepreneurial country in the world. "They are not beating us in terms of the creativity and entrepreprenurial spirit - not yet," he said. "But if we continue down this path [of the recent reforms], they will." Mr. Blumenthal cited a study published by the University of Oregon that showed pushing high stakes standardized testing is "inversely correlated with the entrepreneurialism, business success, professional success that those students achieve later in life." "Why are we chasing the standards and approaches of countries that have consistently demoralized and destroyed their children's creativity?" he asked.
Mr. Blumenthal also expressed concern on how the teaching profession has been affected by the implementation of the Common Core and testing. "The purpose of school," he asserted, "is to create a love of learning and beyond that one of the purposes of school should be to create a love of teaching." The top-down, uniform, standardized methodology of the reforms limits a teacher's creativity and will destroy the desire of creative people to enter the profession, he said.
Mr. Blumenthal continued that he has "yet to meet a group of teachers, educators and administrators who want what we are doing to our schools." He said with such uniformity of agreement, we should listen to that agreement. "Whenever the progressives and the Tea Party agree on something," he added, "we should just make it law."
Mr. Blumenthal, who stated that he would be opting his children out of this year's tests, asked the panel to consider the costs not only in financial terms but with regard to amount of time that is lost. Beginning in January, he maintained, test prep begins and there is tremendous loss of valuable instruction. But even after the tests, he continued, "the teachers and students are exhausted - they are spent," and as a result instruction and learning suffers.
In conclusion, he declared "I'm against the tests, I'm against the Common Core, I'm against one-size fits all," and urged the legislators to "please fight to the bitter end on this."
In addition to Mr. Blumenthal's testimony, NSPAC submitted a written statement to the panel. It identified and explained three main concerns regarding implementation of the Common Core and the new New York State assessments.
First, the statement declared, "tying test results to the APPR and school evaluation is detrimental to learning and student well being;" second - a "one size fits all approach creates unnecessary costs for districts that are already strapped for both time and money;" and third, "Common Core is crowding out important school experiences in the name of uniformity."
The statement then addressed each in great detail.
With regard to the Annual Professional Performance Review - "the test pushes kids at an unfairly early age to feel the pressure of performance. At a time when their experience should be focused on love of learning, they are instead being taught that they must pass; they must perform; they must not disappoint."
In addressing the amount of time devoting to testing and test preparation - "teachers, parents, and kids can all attest that the entire week of the exams is a lost week to instruction . . . . We are losing weeks of instruction during the tests plus additional weeks as the teachers are pulled out for grading tests."
And in addressing the uniformity of the Common Core approach, the NSPAC statement asserts that "the United States has always prided itself on freedom and rugged individualism. Yet we are creating an education system that applies a cookie cutter approach to developing our children. Not every child will grow up to be an an engineer. Yet we are treating them as though that is our goal. Music, art, social studies, and science are all being de-emphasized. Teachers are also being pushed into the the cookie cutter . . . Because of the Common Core these strong teachers have no time for the creative projects that make love of learning come alive."
The statement concludes, "our children should not be pawns in a global race for education supremacy. In fact, research show that high-pressure early education leads to lower entrepreneurialism, creativity, and business success later in life. We can do better than this for our children." The state test, the statement continues, "ideally would be eliminated entirely. A next best solution would be to decouple it from APPR and enable districts with high pass rates to opt out for a period of time. Give us back our local control, and allow us to get back to making a educuation what it should be - an experience that excites and thrills our children to learn about where their passions lie."
Assemblyman Ra, the Ranking Minority Member on the Education Committee, recently co-sponsored legislation, introduced in the Senate by Senator Carl Marcellino (R-Oyster Bay), that would direct the Commissioner of Education to develop a system by which districts that have consistently shown high achievement levels can be granted waivers from having to give the state assessments yearly (click here).
Assemblyman Graf recently introduced a that bill would withdraw New York State from Race to the Top and Common Core (click here).
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