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Opinion

Common Core Mistakes Worth Not Repeating


maryellen elia school visit

State Education Commissioner Elia visits a school (photo: @NYSEDNews)


Political expediency is terrible policy.

This idiom is crystal clear when it comes to the criticisms of the Common Core. To hear the cynics tell it, repealing the Common Core learning standards is as easy as 1, 2, 3; repeal them, increase scores, then everything is fine.

But it is not nearly that simple.

As policymakers consider the next steps in strengthening New York's education system, and legislators enter yet another session fraught with politically motivated self-interests in Albany, it is important they learn from the mistakes other states have made.

There are real costs associated with replacing Common Core, and perhaps even more importantly, the process of doing so results in chaos in our classrooms. The warnings are clearly spelled out in a new report from High Achievement New York – and our state's leaders would be foolish to ignore them.

Despite the heated debate and rhetoric about Common Core around the country, including among presidential candidates, only two states, Indiana and Oklahoma, have actually repealed the standards and tried to replace them with something new and different.

What perhaps sounded like a quick fix designed to appease political agitators turned into a costly waste of taxpayer dollars and left confused teachers in both states.

Indiana spent $170 million to repeal the Common Core. The change came at a time when educators in that state were indicating they were just getting comfortable with the standards. Learning and preparing to teach new education standards is a difficult process; and one that teachers are usually given a year or more to adapt to. In Indiana, they only had three months. The haphazard change resulted in frustrated and flustered educators which hurt the education of every child in that state.

It was complaints about overtesting that, in part, drove Indiana to make this rushed change. The state's plan truly backfired and parents and students bore the brunt of the change. Indiana rolled out a new exam in 2015, which included 12 hours of testing time, double that of the previous year. That number is now at nine hours of testing time, again more than when the Common Core standards were in place.

In Oklahoma, the cost of repealing Common Core totaled $125 million. The state reverted back to old standards – which had failed to adequately prepare students for college and careers. In fact, 40 percent of Oklahoma's high school graduates under those standards needed remedial courses as college freshmen.

Elsewhere around the country, there are countless states that reviewed the Common Core looking to solve their political problems yet ended up leaving the standards themselves largely intact.
South Carolina's new standards are 90 percent aligned to Common Core and it is much the same for West Virginia's new standards.

In New Jersey, a review resulted in the recommendation to keep 85 percent of standards and to continue administering the PARCC exam developed by a consortium of states and aligned with the Common Core.

The story is much the same in Florida, Arizona, and Iowa where the standards were simply rebranded with new names.

Experience elsewhere clearly indicates that forcing the repeal of Common Core is the wrong move for our children and would be a colossal waste of time and money.

Instead of putting politics first, our policymakers, from the Governor to the Regents and Education Commissioner, should work towards customized standards that meet the unique needs of our students, while remaining closely aligned to the Common Core.

So what should we take away from all these efforts to help us make the right decisions here in New York right now?

First, and most importantly, trying to repeal or substantially replace the Common Core standards would be a waste. It would be a waste of time, a waste of money, and worse it would plunge classrooms into confusion, setting yet another generation of children back.

Second, new "New York" standards must be as or more rigorous than the Common Core. We cannot forget why these rigorous standards were implemented in the first place – to actually prepare children for college and 21st century careers. Standards that promote critical thinking and reasoning are essential so that our children have the tools to succeed in an increasingly global economy.

Rigorous standards based on the Common Core and assessments aligned with those standards give us the baseline to ensure that all children are advancing together. We cannot go backwards on this.

Third, when politicians become too involved in the mechanics of what happens in the classroom, nothing good happens. That is why any review process should be driven by the professionals at the State Education Department – the people who know education policies the best.

Fourth, and similarly, classroom teachers must be the driving voices in any revisions. Teachers are on the front lines and understanding what is working in our classrooms and what is not.

And finally, a new name actually matters. Renaming the standards, yet keeping them based on the Common Core, removes from the debate what has been a name easily demonized for political purposes. Instead, New Yorkers would be able to turn their attention to the standards themselves. When that happens, as shown in a recent Center for American Progress poll and in countless states, rigorous standards are overwhelmingly popular.

Students, teachers, and parents in other states learned the pitfalls of replacing Common Core the hard way. In New York we don't have to.

***
Stephen Sigmund is the Executive Director of High Achievement New York and Denise Toscano is an Elementary Principal in Suffolk County. She is a member of High Achievement New York and an America Achieves' New York Educator Voice Fellow.

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