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State Senator Betty Little (at right) helped organize the forum, which included Assemblyman Dan Stec (left), Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, and state education Commissioner John King. Photo: Ian Lowe, high school senior at Schroon Lake Central School, used by permission
State Senator Betty Little (at right) helped organize the forum, which included Assemblyman Dan Stec (left), Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, and state education Commissioner John King. Photo: Ian Lowe, high school senior at Schroon Lake Central School, used by permission

State ed officials face "common core" rage

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State education commissioner John King and board of regents chair Merryl Tisch faced a barrage of criticism yesterday when they traveled to Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks to meet with parents and educators.

"It is challenging to raise standards. Any change process is challenging. But I am very optimistic because of what I see in classrooms," King said.

King argued that a national effort to raise public education standards was bound to hit road bumps and snags. But behind all the shouting and public debates and angry hearings in Albany, he insisted that students and teachers are adapting.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

State eduation commissioner John King fielded hostile questions from across the North Country at Wednesday's Schroon Lake forum. Photo: Ian Lowe, high school senior at Schroon Lake Central School, used by permission
State eduation commissioner John King fielded hostile questions from across the North Country at Wednesday's Schroon Lake forum. Photo: Ian Lowe, high school senior at Schroon Lake Central School, used by permission
“I see students being challenged to read challenging texts, students doing more writing, students doing problem solving in math, the kind of work that will prepare them for success when they leave high school.”

But there was a profound disconnect between King’s measured tone – he spoke about making tweaks and adjustments to common core – and the angry tone of many parents and educators at yesterday's forum.

“I personally find common core to be an abomination to education," said one Schroon Lake parent named Heather, who said she had a son enrolled in third grade.

This kind of fury and distrust was nearly universal, as parent after parent from across the North Country lined up to blast King for the content of common core, and its implementation.

“Education was not a function of the federal government  but rather the duty of each state," argued Jules Como, a parent from Long Lake.

[Editor's note:  Names from parents and educators who testified in Schroon Lake are spelled phonetically.  It was not possible at yesterday's hearing to confirm accurate spellings.]

Somewhere near 60% of [high school grads in NY] need remedial coursework when they get to our two-year colleges and institutions...the [old] standards weren't serving our students well.
"The federal government has essentially bribed the states to implement common core with promises of money.  Yet the funding that local schools have received from race to the top woefully in adequate for implementation of common core at the local level.  Another unfunded mandate from our local leaders in Albany.”

This idea, that common core has been rolled out poorly, with too much top-down design and without enough state funding, echoed again and again.

Sarah Fink is a middle and high school science teacher in Minerva and also a mom.  She said she likes parts of common core’s standards, but said the resources just aren’t there to make it work.

“We teachers cannot be continually asked to do more with less,” Fink said.

“Minerva Central school received just over $8,000 in total spread out over a four year period to fund everything new about race to the top.  At the same time we lost over $800,000in state funding due to the gap elimination adjustment.  The state must decide to adopt a budget that fully funds the initiatives for which it advocates so strongly.”

Not everyone described common core this way.  One educator from the St. Lawrence valley – who didn’t give her name – said districts in her area are making progress with the new standards. And she endorsed the idea that standards have to get tougher if kids are going to compete.

“Like our local college, Clarkson University, when we see the masters and the doctoral programs and the students walking through, most are not US citizens.  And we know our kids are just as smart and capable and we want them there.”

This is an argument that state officials have pushed again and again – that the common core roll-out may be painful and muddled, but it’s necessary to boost student achievement.

Board of regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. Photo: State Board of Regents
Board of regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. Photo: State Board of Regents
“Somewhere near sixty percent of [high school graduates in New York] need remedial coursework when they get to our two year colleges and institutions,” said Merryl Tisch, chair of the state Board of Regents.

“That is really a very big challenge for us as a state.  Only twenty-four percent of our students coming out of our high schools graduate our two year colleges after six years.  The [old] standards weren’t serving our students well.”

But John Armstrong, school board president in Schroon Lake, pushed back against the idea that critics oppose tougher standards.

“We’re all about raising the standards.  We’re all about making kids college ready.  We have the same goals.  But the process has been poorly done.  And we’ve got a big distraction on our hands to deal with now because of the process.”

Armstrong compared the common core implementation nationwide to the bungled roll-out of the Affordable Care Act.

“And it appears now that the Common Core roll-out and healthcare roll-out have similar looks and feels,” he said, prompting laughter from the audience.

Going forward, state officials clearly hope that school boards, teachers and parents will be patient, giving common core a chance to settle in and become a new, more rigorous standard.

“Yes, I hear a lot of the confusion," Tisch said, during an interview with reporters.

"But I believe if we stick with this, if we modify along the way to help school districts adjust, I think the benefits that will come to the citizens of New York state will be long lasting and enduring.”

It’s unclear whether state lawmakers and local education leaders will give common core that kind of that time.  At yesterday’s forum, state Senator Betty Little – herself a former school teacher – signaled impatience with what she described as the loss of local control.

“We are cognizant of the  diversity of the schools, and the rural schools and the small schools in our area,” Little said.  “And I’m not a person that believes that one size fits all.”

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