Over the weekend, the Board of Directors of the New York State United Teachers, a union with more than 600,000 members, passed a resolution  withdrawing support for the Common Core State Standards  “as implemented and interpreted” by the state Education Department and also declaring “no confidence” in the policies of State Education Commissioner John King. Why is support for the Core sinking rapidly? Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in New York, explains in the following post. Burris has written a series of posts about the many problems with test-driven reform in New York (here, and here and here and here and here, for example). She was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and in 2010,  tapped as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. She is the co-author of the New York Principals letter of concern regarding the evaluation of teachers by student test scores. It has been signed by thousands of New York principals teachers, parents, professors, administrators and citizens. You can read the letter by clicking here. 

By Carol Burris

“Hit the delay button.”  That was the message New York’s senators sent to state Education Commissioner John King during last week’s hearing.  Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan made it clear that if King did not act, senators on his panel would.  Senator Maziarz observed that the only Common Core supporters remaining are “yourself (King) and the members of the Board of Regents.”  To make his position crystal clear, Senator Latimer emphatically smacked the table while calling for a delay, likening the rollout of the Common Core to “steaming across the Atlantic” when there are icebergs in the water.

The defiant King refused to acknowledge the icebergs, and remained insistent on full steam ahead. He let the senators know “you’re not the boss of me” by asserting that standards are controlled by the State Education Department and the Regents, not by the legislature.

Following the meeting, King told reporters that there was no need for a delay because “we have strong support for the Common Core from all the education stakeholder groups in the state.” Less than two days later, the largest stakeholder group of all, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), not only withdrew its support of the implementation of the Common Core, it publicly called for the dismissal of the commissioner. Whoops.

Why is support for the Common Core in New York so quickly sinking into the deep? Some contend that it is because teachers do not have enough materials to teach the Common Core. They argue that if teachers had more preparation and resources, all would be fine.  I disagree. Support is disappearing, not because schools don’t have the Common Core curriculum, but because for the first time they do.  After last year’s testing debacle, teachers are frantically attempting to implement the standards using the modules provided by the state. Kids and parents are reeling from the effects of teaching the Common Core standards, at the fast pace needed to get through them in time for the tests.

Nowhere is this more evident than in mathematics. Bianca Tanis, a special education teacher, showed a group of Westchester parents and educators how elementary math topics were now pushed down a full grade level because of the Common Core.  After watching her presentation, I checked for myself.  I compared the 2005 New York State Mathematics Learning Standards K-5, with the Common Core.  Ms. Tanis is right. Not only are many topics now taught in a lower grade, what students are required to do to achieve the standard is far is more difficult as well.

For example, the 2005 New York State Learning Standards asked fourth-grade students:

to find the area of a rectangle by counting the number of squares needed to cover it (NYS Learning standard  4.G.4)

Here is the third grade Common Core standard for the same topic:

Use tiling to show in a concrete case that the area of a rectangle with whole number side lengths a and b+c is the sum of a*c and b*c. Use area models to represent the distributive property  in mathematical reasoning. (NYS Common Core 3 MD 7.C)
Recognize area as additive. Find areas of rectilinear figures by decomposing them into non-overlapping rectangles and adding the areas of the non-overlapping parts, applying this technique to solve real world problems. ((NYS  Common Core 3MD 7. D)

My assistant principal’s third-grade son cried when he tried to do his homework based on this Common Core standard MD7.D.  You can view the problem he was asked to solve here. Dad had to do it for him.  This eight year old had just learned how to find the area of a rectangle. When there are 180 module lessons for 180 school days, there is no time for the practice of less complicated examples.

Here is another example. Previously, third graders were asked to measure to the nearest standard unit using a ruler or yardstick. Now second graders must “measure the length of an object twice using length units of different lengths for the two measurements; describe how the two measurements relate to the size of the unit chosen”.  You can see other examples, cut and pasted from the original documents here.

Aside from the question of whether or not the above reflects the appropriate leveling of topics and practice, consider the practical effects of pushing nearly all math topics down a grade level. For intermediate-grade students, it means that they will have “knowledge gaps.”  Those gaps will occur during the year that the former learning standards are replaced by the Common Core. For most students, that is occurring this year. The effects will be lasting. Any student who was forced to “jump into the deep end,” as described by Chancellor Merryl Tisch, will feel the effects of that gap throughout their remaining school years.

The fact that no one in the State Education Department either realized or cared about the effects of whole scale, K-8 implementation of the Common Core Mathematics curriculum demonstrates either a disregard for the sequential nature of mathematics instruction, or a callous disregard for the mathematical competence of an entire generation of New York State students.  It is no wonder that both the New York State Alliance for Public Education (NYSAPE) and now NYSUT are calling for John King to leave.

There will be time to analyze what went wrong, and many will share the responsibility for mistakes.  But now is the time for us to undo as much of the damage as we can. For the sake of our students, we must lower the lifeboats into the water.

New York senators are right. Hit “delay” on the Common Core and the misguided policies that go along with it.  Examine the reform policies one by one and when needed, have both the honesty and courage to then hit, “delete.”

 (Correcting: Wording in one of the problems above)