Editorial: Common misperceptions about Common Core

Kevin Coyne, president of the Brentwood Teachers Association, Kevin Coyne, president of the Brentwood Teachers Association, chants, "Get It Right" during the Common Core Education Forum at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket. (Nov. 12, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas Ferrara

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The argument over the Common Core in our schools -- including issues of standards, tests and teacher evaluations -- has become a blend of half-truths aggressively promoted on both sides, and disingenuous rebuttals. Here are some of those claims:

Myth or truth? Common Core standards were "rushed" in New York.

In fact, it's been the law for almost 3½ years. So why is implementation such a problem? It's always a challenge to introduce a new curriculum. The state Education Department moved slowly in finding and choosing vendors to create needed materials, thanks to a clunky procurement process. And some school districts haven't met their responsibility to create the new curricula and prepare teachers to implement them well.

Myth or truth?Common Core is a curriculum being forced on local school districts.

It's true that the Common Core is required by New York State. However, there is no such thing as a federal curriculum or, in New York, a state curriculum. Common Core is a set of standards that 45 states have adopted stating what children ought to know and be able to do in various grades.

Properly used, those standards should lead to the creation of various curricula at the district level that improve critical-thinking skills in math and English, and abolish "teaching to the test."

Myth or truth?The state is at fault for slow development of a curriculum based on Common Core standards.

Partly true. The state, knowing how tough this transition would be, offered to create curriculum guidelines as an aid to districts. In 2012-13 it did fail to provide them in a timely manner. That slowness in issuing guidelines was a huge failure and the Education Department deserves the grief it is getting. This year, the Education Department says, all guidelines have been posted, some bit by bit, in time for teachers to use. At the same time, education officials can't claim both that it made sense for the state to spend $28 million to provide guidelines and examples because districts need them to create curricula AND that curricula are a district responsibility.

Slow action by the state, though, is not an excuse for districts to fail to develop lesson plans and train teachers in them. Some have done a great job, even with the state's failings, showing it can be done. Some even had rigorous curricula to instill complex critical-thinking skills before the state adopted Common Core standards.

Myth or truth?Because the curricula weren't in place quickly enough, we should stop giving tests that reflect Common Core standards.

Not wise. Those standards are the law of the state. The tests, since they are based on critical-thinking skills, can provide a good measure of where students stand against those standards. Giving tests based on anything else or not testing student competence at the end of the school year makes no sense.

Myth or truth?The state is forcing too much testing.

While some parents and educators have fumed about increased testing, much of that increase is due to many teacher unions refusing to accept student results on state tests as 40 percent of their evaluations. They've demanded that additional tests, determined at the district level, constitute half of that 40 percent -- and that those tests include fall pretests as well as year-end tests.

It may be a cynical ploy, but local educators ginning up anger against the state for overtesting are the ones who demanded that overtesting.

 

The adoption of Common Core standards has been, in spots, disheartening and difficult. At times, it feels like we're halfway across a rickety bridge, headed for a destination where we very much need to go to keep up with other nations.

It's a shame that journey has been so tough. Steps to make the passage smoother should be taken. To excel, we must have tough standards, appropriate curricula and properly trained and evaluated teachers. Turning back or standing still makes no sense. And all the claims being bandied about don't change that.

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