Riding the Tsunami: Will Common Core/Testing Survive or Will the Revolt of Parents Topple the Core?

“My wife and I spent months searching for the right house in the right community – we finally found it! Beautiful tree lined streets, a house with plenty of yard, wonderful schools and people like us. The schools are modern, plenty of extracurricular activities; the graduates go to the best colleges. Our kids grew up loving the schools, good teachers, a warm welcoming principal, and, suddenly, in August, we find out our kids failed the state tests. What happened? Same teachers, same principal, why are our kids doing fine one day and failing the next?”

The release of the Common Core Grades 3-8 test scores in August released a tsunami of protest and anger, one year a scholar, the next year a dolt.

31.1% of grade 3-8 students across the State met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 31% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard.

Or, 69.9% of students across the state fell below the ELA proficiency standard, to be blunt, they failed the test.

Both Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch tried to assuage the confusion in communities,

King emphasized that the results do not reflect a decrease in performance for schools or students. The new assessments are a better, more accurate tool for educators, students, and parents as they work together to address the rigorous demands of the Common Core and college and career readiness in the 21st century.

Chancellor Tisch attempted to put a positive spin on the scores,

“Our students face very real challenges. But it’s better to have our students challenged now – when teachers and parents are there to help – than frustrated later when they start college or try to find a job and discover they are unprepared.”

As the school year started and the anger was unabated the Commissioner began scheduling a series of PTA-sponsored open meetings around the state. One of the first meetings was in Poughkeepsie, this 35-minute U-Tube that has over 50,000 hits, expresses the anger of the parents and teachers in the audience.

The Commissioner suspended future meetings and blamed unidentified “special interests” for the bellicose nature of the meetings,

“In light of the clear intention of these special interest groups to continue to manipulate the forum, the PTA-sponsored events scheduled have been suspended,” King said. “My office will continue to work with PTA to find the appropriate opportunities to engage in a real, productive dialogue with parents about our students and their education.”

The forums have resumed, the admission to the meetings is controlled, and the anger and frustration continues at each meeting. See comments at the November 12th meeting (2-minutes on U-Tube) that has over 4,000 hits in a few days.

Senator John Flanagan, the chair of the Senate Education Committee has held forums around the state – marathon 5-6 hour sessions, speakers by invitation only, the criticism continues.

The anger is directed at the Commissioner and is beginning to be aimed at the legislators.

Why is the anger so strong, so unabated and why does it grow instead of ebb?

The answers are complex. Virtually every public forum ends up within hours on U-Tube – the impassioned speech is available with a click of a mouse. Everyone has their 3-minutes of “fame,” (the time allotted to speakers at most venues).

Civility is archaic, from comments on blogs, to tweeters, to radio 24-hour sports shows, the rant and rave and insult is, unfortunately, the norm.

For parents the tension of the testing on their kids, the results of the testing, the In Bloom data collection; for teachers the pressures of a blunt teacher evaluation system, the micro-managing of their teaching; for principals the overbearing directions from the distant State Education bureaucracy in Albany; for superintendents the costs and the pressures from above and below.

Everyone is uncomfortable with the pressures.

The bearers of change failed to understand that personal and organizational change can be traumatic. Two basic rules:

* People See Change as Punishment (you’re told: what you’ve been doing, no matter how long you’ve been doing it, it’s the wrong way)

* Participation Reduces Resistance (playing a role in building something, no matter the level of participation, ties you to the product)

It was the spring of 2011 that I sat in a room with thirty or so principals and network staff and listened to David Coleman roll out the Common Core (See one version here). What I remember is a teacher at end of the speech commenting that we’re doing much of what Coleman espouses, Coleman snapped back, something like, “Why are the kids doing so poorly?” Clearly taking a shot at the teacher; in a lengthy, dense presentation I remember the disrespecting of a teacher.

The adoption of the Common Core means new textbooks, a new approach to teaching, new standards and new tests, all seemingly dropped from the heavens, or, perhaps arising from hell. What began as aspirational standards or goals has become the mantra of a new religion.

On an intellectual basis one can argue about strengths and weaknesses of the Common Core – listen to Sol Stern here and read Diane Ravitch's opposition here.

In the auditoriums around the state the opposition is visceral, my kid failed the test: who is responsible? How can we turn this around? The intellectual arguments of the Commissioner and the Chancellor fall on deaf ears, in fact, each attempt to explain the long term advantages of the movement to the Common Core results in renewed opposition, renewed anger, and more cries for rolling back the state initiatives.

At the end of yet another raucous session the Commissioner responded,

State Education Commissioner John King said at the forum he is listening to the concerns and confirmed he has been tweaking the curriculum but insists that overall it has been working.

The jeers from the audience do not support the insistence of the Commissioner that “overall it has been working.”

Senator Flanagan will be issuing recommendations at the end of the month, and perhaps, introducing legislation. 2014 is an election year – all the members of the state legislature and the governor will be on the ballot. Jumping on the anti-Common Core, anti-testing bandwagon will be attractive for electeds and potential electeds across the political spectrum. Politics makes strange bedfellows (and visa versa) – it altogether likely that Republicans and Democrats will jump on the “Dump the Core” trolley.

Down the block from the State Education building in Albany is the 1875 Governor’s Mansion, the enigmatic occupant has been a strong supporter of the state teacher evaluation plan and the adoption of the Common Core; will the growing opposition across the state impact the governor?

“Messing with my kids” evokes an instinctual response – to fight to defend your brood. No one, the commissioner, the chancellor, the state senator, the governor, is going to harm my Michael and my Alexis.

David Coleman and Sol Stern and Diane Ravitch can parse whether the Common Core is untried, whether it is age appropriate, whether it will ultimately achieve its objective, to the suburban parents it is an assault on everything they cherish – their family.

Governors and state legislators have sensitive antennae, they survive because the can taste and smell change, they feel the anger, the frustration, and they’re really good at surfing the tsunami.

The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is
wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts
they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions,
it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. …
And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not
warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of
resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as
to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost
in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from
time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
It is its natural manure.

Thomas Jefferson

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3 responses to “Riding the Tsunami: Will Common Core/Testing Survive or Will the Revolt of Parents Topple the Core?

  1. In its eternal quest to be trendy, the world of educational potificators conceived of The Common Core. This infantile child can look to its ancestors to truly appreciate what we only hope is a brevity of its lifespan. Alongside, what were supposed to be such pivotal bookmarks in progressive education as :Frameworks, Gates, (just to mention a few), let us prepare a resting place now and forever for Common Core. I do not frivolously make this gesture. Ask around, start with our parents, who cannot compute how children who were rated as achievers in one year have been identified as failures the next. Admissions Officers of some of our most noted ivory towers, several of whom I know personally, have commented to me that they believe that in 3 years time this present generation of common core students will be that group of students who are considered borderline admissable to top tier colleges. One reason they state is that SATS and those who tutor SATS are not common core friendly. Test taking skills which are practised over and over again in terms of preparing for such exams, require students in many cases to perform based on factual and sometimes rote comprehensions that are uniformly discounted by common core instructional delivery. Indeed freshman in college will find a complete opposition from Professorial instructional delivery to what they will have been forced to experience in schools guided by a mandate of common core instructional delivery.Our new mayor is correct when he talks about 2 cities. But he really doesn’t understand that a continued perpetration of this latest trend, only serves to further handicap the children of what he believes to be the 2nd city, or the less priveleged one. I wonder if the Gov, the out-going Mayor, Comm King and all the other trend setters commissioned a fact finding body to see what our universities nationwide thought about the new baby.

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  2. This is like the ACA mess. You can’t make changes all at once. Logic tells you one can’t test kids on things they haven’t yet learned. Who are these people making these decisions? They are not qualified to be put in positions with such powers.

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  3. It was common in the heyday of imperialism to purposely under educate the children in the colonies. We are now under educating the children who must attend public schools,the children of the poor and middle classes. Are we now colonists in our own country? It does seem that most of the modern imperialists keep their capital outside of the U.S. We are reduced to consumers and the educational policies reinforce this reality. Public school students are not college ready, therefore they will be unprepared to compete in the modern job market. They will remainpoor and middles claa.

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