Senator Flanagan Warns the Commissioner: Clean Up Your Act or We’ll Do It For You … Is the Common Core and Testing Rising to the Top of the 2014 Election Agenda?

If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution
(James Madison, The Federalist Papers, # 10)

Education policy in New York State is not made by the legislature or the governor, policy is determined by the Board of Regents, seventeen regents elected by the state legislature; the regents select the Commission of Education.

The legislature and the governor provide billions of dollars in funding, and, occasionally pass laws dealing with some particular area – such as the Principal-Teacher Evaluation law (APPR); however, the adoption of the Common Core, the testing regimen, the I Bloom data dashboard, the creation of curriculum modules, etc., are all within the realm of the Department of Education.

On August 7th the feces and the fan collided,

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. (In other words, two-thirds of kids did not meet the proficiency standard – they failed the tests).

Parents were shocked!!

My kids have always done well in school, I pay a ton in school taxes and it’s always been worth it. We have excellent principals and teachers – what happened? Who is this commissioner telling me to trust him? My kids may not get into college,

The revolution began.

As Madison so cogently wrote, “relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote.”

In forum after forum parents attacked the Commissioner, sometimes rude, sometimes downright angry. The Commissioner reacted poorly, pouring napalm on the fire.

In a statement, King said the meeting was disrupted by “special interests whose stated goal is to ‘dominate’ the questions and manipulate the forum.”

Are parents “special interests”?

The Commissioner defended, he didn’t back off from any of the wide range of complex initiatives – stay the course – trust me – some years down the road your kids will be better prepared to compete on the world stage.

Parents were more than leery – and they did what citizens in a representative democracy do – they pleaded with their elected officials to right a sinking ship.

Senator John Flanagan, the chair of the Senate Education Committee sponsored five forums. Flanagan’s hearings were highly structured, key players from across the state, supporters of the Common Core, opponents, superintendents, principals, teachers, parents from Buffalo to Rochester to Syracuse to Albany to Long Island to Manhattan.

Today Senator Flanagan issued a report reflecting the forums,

Action for the SED:
* Expedite Federal waivers from mandates on various testing restrictions including those for Students with Disabilities (SWD) and English Language Learners (ELL).
* Produce missing modules immediately.
* Align assessments proportionately to curriculum actually implemented.
* Delay operation of the Education Data Portal (EDP) for one year.
* Increase funding for professional development

Action for the State Legislature:
* “P-12” Bill would ban standardized testing in Pre-K thorough 2nd grade.
* “Unnecessary Testing” Bill would require the Commissioner to expedite a review of APPR plans solely to eliminate unnecessary student assessments.
* Privacy Bill which would strengthen protections of personal information stored on the state-wide data portal, establish significant civil and criminal penalties for unauthorized disclosure, and create independent oversight within SED on matters related to privacy.
* Truth-in-Testing Bill would require the Commissioner to report on the effectiveness of the common core state tests and require an independent audit to review and evaluate the common core testing program.

(Read entire 30-page Report here)

All too frequently electeds introduce bills to satisfy the discomfort and anger of their constituents. On the Assembly side over 10,000 bills are introduced in a session – only a few hundred become law.

Senator Flanagan is trying to mollify his constituents – in his 30-minute press conference he made it clear – either the SED responds, and quickly, or the legislature will intercede. 2014 is an election year, the governor and all the seats in the state legislature will be on the ballot – the anger in districts throughout the state could easily be directed at electeds who fail to respond to parent angst.

Senator Flanagan is taking a risk – he is taking the lead, he made it abundantly clear that unless the Department of Education responds, and responds quickly, the legislature would act aggressively.

Will the Governor agree? Will the Governor defend the Commissioner, or, take the lead? Will the Democrats see Senator Flanagan as a potential gubernatorial candidate and attempt to derail his leadership?

There has always been an unwritten rule – keep legislative hands off education policy. Bills usually die in committees, legislators are not education experts – leave these decisions to the Commissioner and, respect local autonomy.

In my judgment Senator Flanagan is both responding to the parents of New York State and responding to his own frustrations – the Board of Regents appears almost subservient to the Commissioner. Maybe he is right and the Common Core will result in students more able to deal with the increased skills necessary for life in the 21st century, he is not right to create the current testing regimen and his decision to set cut scores at a level to fail two-thirds of all students was a very poor decision.

Building consensus defines effective leadership. Ignoring the populace you serve, giving the impression that as a leader you know more than the plebeians who pay taxes only creates bitterness and a lack of trust.

Senator Flanagan has made it clear – clean up your act or we’ll do it for you. And, if he succeeds, and it boosts his political career, so be it.

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4 responses to “Senator Flanagan Warns the Commissioner: Clean Up Your Act or We’ll Do It For You … Is the Common Core and Testing Rising to the Top of the 2014 Election Agenda?

  1. Flanagan’s proposal seems pretty tepid as it does not really address the fundamental problems of vastly too much testing, high-stakes attached to them, and the lack of high-quality assessment and evaluation.

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  2. Monty
    Up to now electeds have rarely introduced legislation, and, when they did, it was only to pacify, the bills died a quiet death. Flanagan is both high pofile and a significant player in Albany – while his proposals, as you describe them, are “tepid,” they challenge the Commissioner and the Regents. and, they have raised the profile of testing and made it an election issue.

    Lets see how the Commissioner and the Regents respond, and, if the governor responds in his State of the State message in January.

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  3. Could Flanagan’s report be a reason that the Board of Regents has not posted an agenda yet for Monday’s meeting? While it is notable that Flanagan took a small step here, I agree this report is “tepid,” especially in the area of data collection and privacy. No other state is uploading student data without parental permission to a third party, corporate money-grubbing service. We need to stop this “by any means necessary.”

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  4. Carole Silverstein.

    My oldest daughter lives upstate and her neighborhood public school has a staff and parents furious over the new teaching curriculum.

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