Protesters say Common Core standards should be scrapped

About 50 opponents of the more rigorous academic standards known as the Common Core held a rally outside state Sen. John Flanagan's office in Smithtown on March 7, 2014, arguing that the standards harm children's learning and that the state should drop the entire initiative. (Credit: Newsday / Jessica Rotkiewicz)

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About 50 opponents of the more rigorous academic standards known as the Common Core rallied Friday outside state Sen. John Flanagan's office in Smithtown, arguing that the standards harm children's learning and the state should drop the entire initiative.

Julie Lofstad, 52, of Hampton Bays, called on Flanagan and others to put politics aside and halt the standards, which have required new curricula and tests.

"It seems to me there is more politics going on than caring about children," said Lofstad, who has a daughter, 14.

The protesters held signs opposing legislation passed Wednesday by the Assembly that would delay for two years a new system of teacher evaluations and elements of curricula tied to Common Core standards.

They support a bill sponsored by Assemb. Edward Ra (R-Franklin Square) and state Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) that would put the standards on hold and establish a commission to examine them.

"It's absurd to think that children could learn in the same way, the same things working at the same pace. All children are not the same," said Mary Calamia, 51, a clinical social worker from Holbrook who organized the rally. She said she sees kids suffering from stress associated with coursework and tests aligned with the standards.

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The demonstrators called on Flanagan to back Ra and Zeldin's legislation, not the Assembly-passed bill. Flanagan, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, held hearings on education reform across the state last fall and has issued his own recommendations.

Flanagan (R-East Northport) said later Friday that he supports the tougher standards, which are backed by many educators.

"The basic thing is that every major educational organization -- teachers, superintendents, school administrators, school business administrators, the PTA . . . They all support Common Core standards," Flanagan said. "The frustration has been over the implementation, which has been suspect and flawed in many different ways."

Last month, Flanagan and Senate co-leaders Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Jeff Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester) said while they believe the standards' implementation "may have been well-intended, it has been poorly executed."

The three said they continue to have "grave concerns" about the process and called on the state Board of Regents, which sets education policy and appoints the education commissioner, to delay the use of Common-Core-aligned tests for decisions relating to performance of teachers, principals and students for a minimum of two years.

Flanagan said the just-passed Assembly bill has "some good parts, and some parts that are not very helpful." He said he expects "we will see some legislative activity that will become law sooner rather than later."Skelos said Wednesday that the issue won't be considered until after the April 1 budget deadline.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said he supports the academic standards, but he has criticized the state Department of Education and its rollout of Common Core-related curricula and testing, calling it "flawed."

The governor last month appointed his own review panel. Ra has said the panel lacks independence.

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The controversy over the Common Core standards comes amid outrage from many parents and educators statewide. The tougher standards, adopted by the Board of Regents in 2010, were created with the aim of helping students better compete with their counterparts in other countries. They have been adopted by 44 other states and the District of Columbia.

In New York, which is among a handful of states in the forefront of Common Core implementation, the reforms have brought ire from school administrators and teachers, in addition to parents.

Many educators support the higher standards, but say changes in curricula and testing have been far too hasty and made more difficult because the state Education Department did not provide all curriculum guides needed to teach the more challenging concepts and course material.

The Regents voted provisionally at the board's February meeting for a delay. But they immediately backed off after Cuomo lashed out at any stalling in a new system of teacher evaluations, which now are tied to student performance on state standardized tests -- the same tests made tougher because of the Common Core standards.

On Long Island and statewide, the test scores of students in grades 3-8 who took those harder tests last April plunged more than 40 percent, with less than half of all students in those grades passing exams -- in contrast to majorities that did so in 2012. At the time, top education officials said the dramatic drop was largely because of tests overhauled to meet the Common Core standards.

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The state, in its successful application to the federal government for $700 million in Race to the Top education funding, agreed to push ahead on implementation of Common Core standards and strengthen its monitoring of teachers' job performance.

State education officials have said any delay in those reforms could lead to New York's losing millions of dollars in the federal funds.

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