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LI educators, parents denounce Cuomo Common Core panel

(L-R) NYS Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch,

(L-R) NYS Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, NYS Education Commissioner Dr. John B. King, Jr., and Regent Roger Tilles look on during a forum organized by Senator Carl Marcellino at Oyster Bay High School. (Oct. 15, 2013) Credit: Barry Sloan

Long Island educators and parents Wednesday denounced Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed panel to review the rollout of the Common Core academic standards, repeating calls for an immediate moratorium and saying the state's schoolchildren are being harmed by a hasty, flawed process.

"Maybe you just have to bite the bullet and stop it for a period of time," said Roberta Gerold, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association and superintendent of the Middle Country school district.

Jeanette Deutermann of Bellmore -- who has taken an activist role among the Island's parents on education reforms, especially regarding state tests -- said: "It's a little too late. Meanwhile, all these kids are being hurt and the testing is coming up. Why not pause?"

The fresh calls for a halt were a reiteration of a chorus that has reverberated for months across the Island and the state, coming from parents, teachers, superintendents and school administrators, the New York State PTA and New York State United Teachers, the state's largest teacher union. Some key lawmakers, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), have weighed in similarly.

New York, as a state in the forefront of implementing the Common Core initiative, is being watched by others not as far along in the process. The standards, adopted by 45 states, are an initiative of the National Governors Association, working with the Council of Chief State School Officers, which represents state education commissioners.

While many educators both nationally and in some states, including New York, have endorsed the concept of the national academic standards, many here have taken strong issue with the State Department of Education's rapid introduction of new curricula and tougher tests tied to the Common Core.

Cuomo, in his budget address on Tuesday, defended Common Core's agenda and the new regimen of teacher evaluations that he helped to broker. But he also chose the high-profile moment to criticize the state Board of Regents, which sets education policy and appoints the state's education commissioner.

"The way that Common Core has been managed by the Board of Regents is flawed," Cuomo said. He noted there is "too much uncertainty, confusion and anxiety," and said parents, students and teachers "need a rational system that is well-administered."

The governor said his new panel, which would "include education experts and members of the legislature," would recommend "corrective action" that lawmakers could enact this session.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, noted that Cuomo's statement appeared to be one of the first times that the governor "took a position squarely in favor of Common Core standards."

However, Flanagan, whose committee held hearings about education reforms across the state, said action cannot be delayed until the end of the legislative session -- the deadline Cuomo set for his panel's report and for putting its recommendations in place.

"If there is not some proper alignment, either the tests should be modified or potentially put off," Flanagan said of this spring's state standardized tests and Regents exams.

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. is scheduled to appear Thursday morning before Flanagan's committee in Albany.

Dennis Tompkins, an Education Department spokesman, said Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and King stand by a joint statement issued Tuesday, which said Cuomo's "continuing strong support for the Common Core standards is exactly right."

"Of course, implementation has not been perfect," the joint statement said, adding that any change this significant "requires adjustments along the way."

Regent Roger Tilles, who is on a Tisch-appointed committee that expects next month to issue its own recommendations, said some school districts, including East Moriches, which wrote and tested its own curriculum, have succeeded.

The troubled rollout seen across the state, however, could kill the benefits of the more rigorous standards, he said.

Tilles, who supports a temporary halt, said it was "a little disingenuous" of Cuomo to pin all the problems on the Regents, noting, "I think he was an integral part of the original implementation of the rollout."

NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi was one of the few to praise the governor for acknowledging there are problems that need fixing.

He added, however, "We have to stop the implementation that's flawed while we're trying to decide how to do it right."

Some teachers and experts were dismayed that Cuomo did not say whether his new panel would include parents, teachers and superintendents who are experienced with the curricula tied to Common Core.

They also questioned why Cuomo waited months to act and whether he was motivated by concern that the vociferous criticism could affect the success of his bid for re-election in the fall.

An administration official said Wednesday that the panel will want to hear all viewpoints regarding revisions to the implementation of the Common Core.

"There is a good chance that the governor is not going to get support from groups he traditionally gets support from," said Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in the Rockville Centre school district.

Burris and some parents said they have lost faith in the Regents chancellor and in King because they had failed to slow Common Core's implementation despite intense criticism, including public forums that drew hundreds and at times turned raucous.

"In my opinion, the present chancellor and commissioner cannot fix the reforms because they are not only vested in them, they see critique of the reforms as 'distraction,' " Burris said in an email. "If they do not see the flaws, they cannot possibly address the problem."

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