The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

February 8, 2014

Area schools welcome Common Core review

By Mark Boshnack Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Local opinions about Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s appointment Friday of a Common Core Implementation Panel were largely favorable.

The group was charged with undertaking an immediate and comprehensive review of the rollout of the state education standards. More than 40 states have implemented the Common Core curriculum as an effort to ensure nationwide that students were being taught similar material.

“The Common Core standards are a critical part of transforming New York’s schools, and the failure to effectively implement them has led to confusion and frustration among students and their families,” Cuomo said. “I urge the members of this panel to work speedily in bringing forward a set of actionable recommendations to improve the implementation of the Common Core.”

The panel, which includes national experts as well as state legislators, parents, educators, and business and community leaders, will deliver a set of recommendations before the end of the legislative session to improve the new curriculum’s implementation.

Since this year’s full rollout of standards in New York, there has been significant dialogue on the subject from parents, teachers, school administrators, and community leaders that has raised the issue of problems with the program’s implementation, according to a media release from Cuomo. While it is necessary in transforming the state’s education system, like any set of standards it must be properly administered in order to truly improve New York’s schools, he said.

“I welcome the governor’s involvement in this issue and the appointment of the implementation panel,” State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford said. “It underscores what I think is the general consensus that the implementation of the Common Core has been a disaster in most cases.”

Recently, leaders of branches of both houses of the state Legislature called for a two-year delay in testing and other aspects, which Seward echoed.

“We need to hit the pause button to take the time to get it right,” he said. “The Board of Regents and Education Commissioner John King seem to be tonedeaf.”

On Jan. 25, the New York State United Teachers’ Board of Directors approved a resolution declaring among other things, the withdrawal of its support from the Common Core standards

Unatego Central School Superintendent Charles Molloy said: “I think it is good for us to take a deep breath and look at how it has been done.”

The Common Core, a set of standards about what students should accomplish at each grade level, is focused on developing thinking skills and understanding, Molloy said, and is required to do by the state Department of Education.

The local BOCES has provided training to help with the rollout, but “there was an awful lot in it, and it was delivered too fast,” he said. In addition, tying the results to teacher evaluations — another state mandate — was asking a little too much, he said.

Molloy said he’s seen frustration from some teachers in the overall process. The district has given them leeway in how to use the modules, he said, which are prepared lesson plans on how to teach the material. Some have been apprehensive about deviating from them, he said, because they provide the basis for the standardized tests that come later in the year. Some have embraced them, he said, while others would like to see a more traditional curriculum.

Delaware Academy Central School Superintendent Jason Thomson said he applauds Cuomo for wanting a panel to look at the issues. But he was concerned it does not include any representative from this area of the state. There is a large group of professionals that could be of service if Cuomo were looking for “fair and equal representation,” Thomson said.

“There is always room for improvement in raising standards,” Thomson said. “Nobody wants to go back.”

But there hasn’t been proper funding for the Common Core rollout, he said, adding that it wouldn’t require additional revenue, only a relief from unfunded mandates.

One person concerned about the panel was Franklin High School English teacher Andria Finch, who said she was concerned it could lead a halt to the new standards. From what she has seen in other states, she said, this has led to some teachers using one system while others use the other.

“It is confusing for the kids,” she said. Students need the more-rigorous, skill-based standards that make up the Common Core, she said. The focus on critical analysis and communication skills, she said, is something that is important in pursuing college or career.

A big part of the problem with the curriculum has been the failure in some districts to communicate with parents, she said. That has not been the case at Franklin, she said. She has been in the field for 14 years. While good skills are still essential, she said, the Common Core has changed her way of teaching and made students better able to do higher level work.

Unatego fifth grade teacher Maureen Pawlikowski said “I think it’s great that Cuomo is acknowledging the problems with the Common Core.” She said those problems include the poor quality of the modules, a shift from quality literature to informational material in reading, and inappropriateness of material for the grade level.

Pawlikowski said she would like to see it repealed and the return of “award-winning literature.”

Teachers should be able to use their professional judgement in meeting the needs of the students in the classroom, with materials that are appropriate, she said. If that is not possible, she said, the process should be slowed down and the number of high-stakes tests reduced.