New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, speaks to members...

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, speaks to members of the state Board of Regents during a meeting at the State Education Department in Albany, on April 18, 2016. Credit: Hans Pennink

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia doesn’t have a time machine, so she can’t fix the biggest problem with English and math Common Core learning standards in New York.

That problem was a horrid rollout in the 2011-12 academic year. But she is trying to make better what went so horribly wrong. The state made a notable step forward in that area this week with its release of updated Common Core standards for public comment.

The new standards, which are probably going to be renamed to banish the hated “Common Core” brand, are the product of public comment and committee discussion that included more than 130 teachers and thousands of parents. But they haven’t changed much, because they never needed to change much.

In-depth study of the grade-level and broader “anchor” goals found they were mostly age-appropriate and sensible. The few significant new guidelines include a re-emphasis on learning through play until the end of second grade, and on including fiction along with nonfiction in curricula. These were both areas that had parents and teachers up in arms.

But when it comes to the strong initial criticism that the standards were simply too tough, Elia says teachers have changed their tune and found that students are capable of learning more, earlier, than they had realized.

Five years ago, the state tried to overhaul the entire public and local education system within months, and ended up disrupting it for years. By slowly building the trust of parents and teachers and painstakingly addressing concerns about standards and standardized testing, Elia is executing a smart plan.

She still faces even tougher challenges. She has to rein in the “opt out” movement for annual standardized tests in third through eighth grades. And she has to develop a teacher evaluation system that includes student achievement without creating a parent and teacher rebellion.

But by showing patience and good faith in addressing these first hurdles, the state is setting the stage for compromise solutions on the tougher ones.


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months