Ever since New York adopted a curriculum based on Common Core standards for third- through eighth-grade English and math in the 2012-13 school year, anger has erupted.
Teachers say the implementation has been too quick, and the evaluations of their work based on student scores has been unreliable. Parents say the curriculum is impossibly rigorous, and lower test results are crippling student self-esteem.
Both groups are wrong to fight the changes. But they're powerful, and now that this power is being brought to bear politically, it's not just parents and teachers blasting Common Core anymore.
State Education Department Commissioner John B. King Jr. is standing firm on implementation of new academic standards. But the allies who helped him adopt the new curriculum, testing and teacher evaluations law -- members of the state Board of Regents and leaders in the State Senate and Assembly -- are now defecting as they confront a grassroots revolt.
Their fear has them saying implementation must be slowed or postponed. In fact, most of these changes can't be slowed or postponed. The only alternative would be outright reversal. And none of the critics have provided a good plan to teach and test the students, and evalute the teachers, if the Common Core policies are reversed.
The standardized tests that students are scheduled to begin taking in about 40 days are based on skills they've studied last year and this. There are no alternative standardized tests to administer instead. And the idea that students would not be given standardized tests this year, or that teachers would not be evaluated on the results, would be a step backward.
The testing and teacher evaluation system in New York was negotiated by the state and local teachers unions now leading the fight against them. The unions are working hard to turn back the tide of implementation. They're demanding a three-year moratorium on basing any part of evaluations on student test scores, even though the first year of evaluation under those standards judged only 4 percent of teachers as "developing," and a paltry 1 percent as "ineffective."
The unions are doing so because they oppose any standards-based rating of teachers, and any removal of obstacles to getting rid of the worst teachers. The union strategy, adopted in the face of political pressure to change in 2010, seems to have been to accept an evaluation system and then fight its implementation at every step.
So the educational establishment, upset about standards-based evaluations, has fanned a totally separate concern among parents -- lower scores on their kids' tests thanks to tougher standards -- to create a Common Core rebellion. Last year a smattering of parents even refused to let their kids take the tests. This year, that group could grow much larger.
There is a legitimate complaint about New York's implementation of curricula to meet Common Core standards, but it's last year's complaint: Although curricula are a local responsibility, the state promised to create such curricula to help districts develop lesson plans, but was woefully slow in doing so. This year, according to the state Education Department, every Common Core course has had publicly available curricula that are up to date. The lack of such tools last year added fuel to the anti-Common Core blaze.
We've always known Common Core would evolve. A panel of six Regents will report this week on suggested reforms, some of which make sense. A gradual -- but not too drawn out -- phase-in of tougher standards on Regents exams would be wise: Benefits of the Common Core curriculum are cumulative, so it would be unfair for some high schoolers to not graduate because they haven't been exposed to enough of it.
Other suggestions that may be put forward by this panel of Regents, such as an information campaign to convince parents that lower scores on state tests are acceptable, are unwise. And multiyear moratoriums on using these state tests to determine 20 percent of teacher evaluations are a terrible idea.
Much of how this plays out may depend on how Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo responds. The time has come for him to live up to his promise to be the person who will represent the state's students in the education fight. Cuomo announced the members of a newly created Common Core Implementation Panel on Friday that is supposed to offer recommendations. Those need to be aimed at boosting, not blocking, the changes.
After 11/2 school years with Common Core, there is, in most cases, no reason to go back or slow down. Giving the tests but not evaluating teachers on them would be a step in the wrong direction, and a violation of what the state promised the federal government it would do in return for $700 million in grant money.
Even worse, slowing or halting Common Core and standards-based evaluations would slow the movement toward the education system our kids need. That's the goal, even if it isn't the most popular topic in this fight.