ROCHESTER — As seven Republican state assemblymen sat and listened attentively Wednesday, teacher after administrator after professor after parent after community activist broadly and specifically asked for changes to the new educational standards under the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
“Too many boys are learning to hate school at this age,” said Nancy Santor-Multer, referring to kindergarten. “Boys need to move a lot. They can learn to listen while they’re moving.”
“My daughter should not have homework that makes her cry,” said Rachel Rosner. “It’s imperative we eliminate Common Core in New York state. ... It was created by business, not educators.”
“I’m a white suburban soccer mom,” Flo Englerth said. “I brought my son, Gabriel, with me to see how great a country we have. He hated school so much in second grade, he was so frustrated, he was literally pulling his hair out.”
“Every night I used to cry and scream my lungs out before I did my homework,” Gabriel told the panel.
Originally planned as a two-hour session, the Common Core gathering in Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery ended up going three hours, with still only two-thirds of the speakers able to address the panel. Listening in front of some 170 people were Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (Canandaigua); assemblymen Robert Oaks (Macedon), Steve Hawley (Batavia), Mark Johns (Webster) and Bill Nojay (133rd District); and two downstate members of the Education Committee, Ed Ra (19th Dist) and Al Graf (5th Dist). This was the seventh such forum of 12 planned. Johns and Kolb spearheaded the forum in an effort to listen to the issues and gather information and feedback from the community about the Common Core and its high-level curriculum, which was designed to help students achieve higher standards that are more aligned with college and work expectations.
“The only people who can stop this train wreck of Common Core is you,” Rochester teacher Teddi Urriola told the state legislators.
Graf has already written a bill that would withdraw the state from the federal Race to the Top initiative and funding, and with it, abandon the Common Core standards.
“The purpose was to start a conversation,” Graf said. “I think we did.”
People at Wednesday’s gathering criticized factors in Common Core ranging from the curriculum to the teacher-evaluation process to the entire reasoning behind the initiative.
Dan Delehanty spoke of the “madness of overtesting and the APPR” (teacher-rating system) in Common Core, and was one of several who demanded that state Education Commissioner John King step down. He predicted the new standards would build a “school system of haves and have-nots,” saying there is little effort being made to help impoverished kids and those who have learning difficulties. Rosner pointed out that during the Common Core tests, students who have learning support in their regular classroom must go without it — there is no accommodation allowed.
Dan Drmacich, a retired teacher and principal, said comparing American kids’ test scores to those in other countries is a sham.
“If we disaggregate 25 percent of our students who are impoverished, our scores are at the top,” Drmacich said, noting that other countries cherry-pick who will get tested whereas the U.S. tests everyone. He decried the lack of field-testing of the new programs and modules, and the absence of what he considered real educators in the design: “It’s like building an airplane as you’re trying to fly it.”
“It would have made more sense to implement the standards after some time for evaluation,” said Brighton school district Superintendent Kevin McGowan. “Small children were put into a situation where they (the state) knew they would not be successful. Who does that to children?”
Bloomfield parent Jennifer Lyons asked why third graders were reading books about libraries being bombed in Iraq and family members getting killed in Afghanistan. She said the subject matter was “intense.”
“Is this the kind of material we want to subject our children to at eight years of age?” Lyons said, asking the panel to look at the pictures in the books she mentioned.
Criticism was leveled at the amount of money spent on the assessments, written by Pearson Education, and the process of using “field test” questions in the middle of the assessments, instead of lumping them at the end where they could be ignored while kids concentrated on getting right answers to the questions that mattered. Opponents criticized Pearson’s test questions as poor and faulted the assessment system for not allowing teachers, student and parents to see test results to discover what needed to be changed.
“Society is blaming teachers for a lack of results,” said Jack Kangerak, who guides student teachers at Nazareth College in Pittsford. “Lesson plans have been taken out of the hands of teachers — they’ve been ‘teacher-proofed.’ That’s a slap in the face of a good teacher.”
The result? “More and more teachers are looking for their first opportunity to get out,” Kangerak said. Others noted a steep decline in teacher college enrollments.
Many objected to what they see as a rote, inflexible approach in the standards — and there was even an objection to the very name “Common Core.”
“We should seek to inspire individuals to become uncommon,” said teacher Jay Schickling. “This one-size-fits-all approach is not the answer, that’s a business model.”
— Includes reporting from News 10NBC