“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.
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.