Friday, December 11, 2015

New York's Common Core Task Force Advises Swift Brake Application to Reform

 On Thursday morning President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which greatly reduces the federal role in public education and hands much of the responsibility for accountability back to individual states.

On Thursday afternoon, one of those states, New York, released its Final Report from the Common Core Task Force which recommends that standards and accountability be pulled back because “educators were inundated with confusing information and new material” and “associated curricula and tests…were  improperly implemented.”

There’s been much written about the painful compromises involved in getting ESSA to President Obama’s desk. How to reconcile the strong push by Republicans and teachers unions to undermine what they perceived as federal overreach, particularly mandates on student outcome-driven teacher evaluations, with the urgent arguments by civil rights and disability groups to maintain accountability for historically disenfranchised student?

Ultimately, these goals were irreconcilable.  ESSA says to states, “we trust you to do the right thing” and that wishful thinking is bundled with only the most ragtag forms of verification.

And that’s why it’s so distressing to read New York’s Common Core Task Force report, which illustrates exactly what happens when we trust states to insure that “every student succeeds.”

Just last February Governor Andrew Cuomo eloquently called for statewide school reform because New York was “condemning our children to failing schools.” In a report called "The State of N.Y's Failing Schools," his administration pointed to 109,000 children, 90% of them minority or poor, currently enrolled in 178 longtime failure factories  “while New York State government has done nothing.”  Two-thirds of third- and eighth-graders  flunk math and reading tests. The graduation rate is the 33d worst in the country despite the highest cost per pupil.

“The time is now,” Cuomo pledged, “for the State Legislature to act and do something about this problem,” and it did, creating a student outcomes-based teacher evaluation system and reaffirming fidelity to higher academic standards.

This new Task Force report doesn’t argue with Gov. Cuomo’s description of “a public education system badly in need of change.” In fact, it notes that “each year about 50 percent of first-year students at two-year colleges and 20 percent of those entering four-year universities require basic developmental courses before they can begin credit-bearing coursework.” But the Common Core implementation – adopted five years ago in 2010 – was  “rushed” and has caused “upheaval.”

  • "Until the start of the 2019-2020 school year, the Task Force recommends that results from assessments aligned to the current Common Core Standards, as well as the updated standards, be used to guide the process of further reform and to give us a notional indication that we are moving in the right direction, but that these results not be used to evaluate the performance of specific teachers or students until the new system is complete and implemented/"
  • The Task Force recommends “a comprehensive review of the more than 1,500 standards in Common Core in an open and transparent manner with significant input by educators, parents, local districts and other education stakeholders, with careful consideration of the appropriateness of these standards in early childhood, and for Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners. 
  • "Given the amount of work needed to get the new system right, the Task Force recommends that until the transition to a new system is complete, i.e. New York State-specific standards are fully developed along with corresponding curriculum and tests, State-administered standardized ELA and Mathematics assessments for grades three through eight aligned to the Common Core or updated standards shall not have consequences for individual students or teachers. Further, any growth model based on these Common Core tests or other state assessments shall not have consequences and shall only be used on an advisory basis for teachers. The transition phase shall last until the start of the 2019-2020 school year."
Translation: Let’s stick with a teacher evaluation system that Gov. Cuomo once called “bologna” (99% of teacher were rated “effective”) because “there’s not clear consensus.” Let’s fiddle with the Common Core (standards, not curricula, right?)  because “educators were inundated with confusing information."  Let’s put off for a minimum of five years the infusion of teacher evaluations with longitudinal student growth because, in a wink to NYSUT, teachers “must be heavily involved in the creation of test questions, not private corporations.”

Now, not every state will, as Bill Hammond put it in his great analysis of the convoluted internal politics of New York, “hit the brakes” in a “whiplash-inducing” about-face on educational improvement. For example, Wisconsin Superintendent Tony Evers insisted that “there will be no back-pedaling” on standards and accountability under the new ESSA. But if N.Y. adopts its Task Force’s recommendations, there’s nothing in federal law to slow the downward spiral of New York once-fervently education reform-minded governor and the academic plight of those 109,000 students.

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