A Common Problem: Common Core Complaints Not Unique to New York

A Common Problem: Common Core Complaints Not Unique to New York

States United On Common Core Issues, But Taking Different Approaches
March 8, 2014

In January, a bill to kill the Common Core and force the state to rewrite its education standards was introduced in the state Legislature. Less than a month later, roughly 400 demonstrators gathered inside the Capitol to denounce the Common Core and urge lawmakers to take legislative action. 

Neither of those scenes happened in New York. 

In fact, the former happened more than 750 miles from Albany, and the latter played out 2,000 miles away. 

Battles over the Common Core standards are far from unique to the Empire State. They are unfolding in many of the states that adopted the standards beginning in 2010. 

The aforementioned bill to rewrite state standards is making its way through the legislative process in Indiana, where it has passed both the Senate and the House and is pending tweaks before it is finalized. That legislation would keep Indiana from following Common Core as it was originally adopted. 

The bill’s author, state Sen. Scott Schneider, was unavailable for comment. 

The mid-February demonstration noted above took place in Utah, where Utahns Against Common Core supporters filled the Capitol’s Hall of Governors, according to a news report. 

Of course, concerns about the Common Core have sparked rallies and legislation in New York too. The Assembly passed a bill to overhaul the implementation of the Common Core, which includes a provision to delay the program’s high stakes testing element. And last month the Board of Regents voted to hold off on making students pass Common Core requirements to graduate until 2022. 

While it is sometimes misconstrued as a set of national standards, the Common Core is designed for adoption by individual states. So far only five states have opted out, with one of them—Minnesota— electing to accept just the Core’s English Language Arts standards. 

While nearly the entire country is now following the standards, some states stand out for their struggles in implementing the Common Core, according to American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. 

“New York is one of the worst,” she said. “It is similar in some other states, but in the spectrum, with Massachusetts having the fewest amount of problems, New York has a lot of problems. I’m seeing problems in New Jersey, I’m seeing problems in Connecticut, I’m seeing deep problems in Louisiana, problems in lots of other states, but New York is the worst.” 

New York and Indiana are not alone in considering legislative action to solve those problems. National Common Core critic Sandra Stotsky, a University of Arkansas professor emerita, said she is not sure how many of the 20 to 25 states debating legislation to modify the Common Core will ultimately take action, but she emphasized that regardless of the individual outcomes the volume of challenges evidences the magnitude of the opposition to the standards across America. 

“State legislators are hearing from their constituents,” Stotsky said. “There are all different kinds of bills. … There are a few states where there are huge battles taking place.” 

 Still, many state education departments have dug in and continue to press forward with the Common Core. In New York, Education Commissioner John King has repeatedly weathered intense criticism not only of the standards and their implementation but of his effectiveness as a leader as well. King has withstood calls for him to step down and continued to assert his commitment to the Common Core, even while admitting that the initial rollout of the standards could have been handled better. 

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch echoed that sentiment to City & State in a recent interview, insisting that if New York backs off Common Core, it will fall behind not only other countries but other states too. 

The difficulties surrounding New York’s rollout have not been universal. Weingarten highlighted California as one of the states that has best introduced the standards. There, the state Legislature passed a slowdown of implementation while throwing caution to the wind by ignoring a federal requirement that it receive a No Child Left Behind waiver to do so. 

So why haven’t other states followed California’s model? 

“The chest-thumpers thought they would look better than the people who rolled up their sleeves to make it work,” Weingarten said. “In this instance what you saw was the chest-thumpers winning the day over the people who roll up their sleeves and say, ‘Let’s get it right for kids,’ as opposed to, ‘Let’s do it fast.’ But I think that that’s changing now.” 

New York may be working its way through some of the same challenges other states are encountering, but at the same time there are states that could potentially benefit from studying New York’s approach, Tisch maintained. 

“New York did a couple of things that other states didn’t do. And even though we had a few speed bumps along the way, I think they will be beneficial to us,” Tisch said. New York also has reviewed what other states have done, she noted. “For example, New York State did not wait for the new federal test aligned with these standards to come on board. We built our own state tests. There are now several states around the country that have come to us to ask us if we would be interested in letting them use our state tests.” 

As election season once again heats up, the debate over Common Core is moving beyond legislative chambers to the political arena, where it has become a focal point of early campaigns in some parts of the country. In New York, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, in announcing his run for governor earlier this month, said he would do away with the Common Core if elected and develop a new set of standards. At the same time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is defending the standards in a new television ad.

In Florida, one of the many states where Common Core could have an impact at the ballot box, Gov. Rick Scott unveiled in January changes he wants to see made to the standards, and political observers say his stance will have a bearing on his support as he vies for re-election. 

On the federal level, potential candidates for president in 2016 are already staking out ground on the issue, with former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush continuing to be one of the most outspoken advocates in favor of the Common Core. 

Michael Cohen, president of Achieve—a group that helped develop the Common Core standards— said he sees the standards being politicized, especially within the Republican Party. While he said most of the disagreements pertaining to the Core have less to do with the quality of the standards and more to do with components like testing, Republican incumbents, in particular, wary of facing primary challenges, have reduced the Core to a political football they can run with to score points with voters. 

Regardless of which side of the field politicians across the country ultimately set up on in the months and years ahead, it is parents who continue to beat the drum the loudest for the standards to be reevaluated. 

“This is not going to stop, because what is at stake for parents is their kids’ education,” Stotsky said. “Having been a mother of five kids in the local public schools, I can tell you, you don’t give up. It’s your kids’ education. These parents are getting frantic, because if their kids lose a year or two of their education, it can’t be made up easily.” 

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Matthew Hamilton