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Editorial: More growing pains for the vital Common Core

New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John B.

New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John B. King, Jr. is shown during a press conference following a presentation of the Regents Common Core Work Group report to the Board of Regents in Albany on Feb. 10, 2014. Credit: Philip Kamrass

It's been an exciting month for "As the Common Core Turns," with new plot twists, old story lines and, of course, plenty of spluttering outrage.

The state Board of Regents approved a 19-point plan designed to turn down the heat coming from parents and educators toward the tougher school curriculum. That's a start.

But at least six of those fixes -- and by far the most sensible ones -- cannot be implemented without a lot of help from New York's legislature and governor, waivers from the federal government or cooperation from the other 44 states using Common Core.

So the Regents' attempt to bring rigor for both teachers and students might wind up pretty hollow.

The Regents' plan calls for spending $525 million over three years to better implement Common Core in schools across New York State. That makes sense, based on the state Education Department's admission that it flubbed the rollout.

The Regents want another $8 million to fund tests that would enable teachers and parents to learn more about where students need help. This initiative would really help educators and parents; it must happen, too.

But the very smartest changes the Regents approved when they met Feb. 10 in Albany -- advocating more appropriate testing for English language learners and students with disabilities -- will need the permission of the federal Department of Education, which is dead set against granting practically any exceptions.

One big change mistakenly supported by the Regents turned out to be dead on arrival anyway. It would have let teachers found ineffective two years in a row defend themselves at dismissal hearings by citing the dismal rollout of the Common Core. That idea was dropped after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo denounced the idea as caving in to the teachers unions, and the unions themselves slammed it as not going far enough to weaken the process.

Cuomo told the Newsday editorial board on Wednesday that he is not backing down on evaluations of teachers. "It has to be done right, but it has to be done," he said.

Unfortunately, the changes the Regents did pass and can implement are the most dangerous and politically cowardly ones. These include delaying until 2022 when students will have to show real competence to pass Regents exams and graduate. They also postponed the requirement that students in the third through eighth grades who do poorly on English and math assessments be subject to academic intervention. These are changes that actually hurt educational reform by robbing it of its urgency and by inspiring complacency.

The stage for all this turmoil was the groundswell of parental anger after the new standards resulted in tougher tests and lower scores in 2013.

Teachers unions, looking for a way to derail the evaluation system, added fuel to the Common Core bonfire. The result is that the teachers unions are using the uproar as cover in their demands for a moratorium on the evaluations. And scared members of the State Legislature are poised to agree. Common Core has already become an issue in this year's gubernatorial and legislative races. And it's turning the upcoming vote for the leaders of the New York State United Teachers union into an unusually bitter election.

Cuomo isn't too happy with the Regents' moves on Common Core or, really, the fact that his office doesn't control the state education system. He wants his say, and has created his own panel to address the shortcomings in the implementation of Common Core.

 

Meanwhile, students in the third through eighth grades begin testing in English and math in about 40 days, and no one's sure whether the trickle of parents who held their kids out of the tests last year will turn into a raging river.

Implementing Common Core standards is not easy; it has to evolve. Mistakes were and will be made. The issue, however, is whether the changes needed to improve the education of children can survive this soap opera's political drama.

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