Cuomo Common Core Task Force Listening Sessions Begin (With a Whimper)

Time for a review:

You will remember that the very hard charging Governor Spitzer resigned over the call girl scandal and was replaced by his lieutenant governor, David Patterson, who stumbled badly, Andrew Cuomo gained the nomination and was elected almost by acclimation. The state teachers’ union (NYSUT) did not make an endorsement. Cuomo, with minimal opposition passed a property-tax cap – the increase in school tax levies cannot exceed 2% … the impact: it is extremely difficult to negotiate local teacher contracts. (The “Big Five – NYC, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers are not part of the cap law). The 700 school districts struggle to meet basic costs and the wide disparity in funding from district to district is painfully obvious.

In 2013 the governor appointed the 25-member Commission on Education Reform, the commission held meetings around the state, scores of witnesses, hundreds and hundreds of audience members and many, many months later a lengthy, rambling meaningless report.

In Cuomo’s campaign for re-election in 2014 his opposition, Rob Astorino, was the popular county executive in Westchester, an overwhelmingly Democratic county. NYSUT did not make an endorsement; however, a number of Long Island locals endorsed his opponent in the primary, Zephyr Teachout, an unknown law professor from Fordham, and, clearly, teachers around the state were staying on the sidelines or voting for Teachout.

While Cuomo won the primary and the general election handily the election results were not the landslide that Cuomo anticipated.

In August, 2014, I was at a union event and chatting with a local union president who’s local endorsed Teachout, the Cuomo opponent in the primary. I told my colleague to expect retribution from Cuomo.

The retribution was a new, dense teacher evaluation plan, an increase in the teacher probationary periods from three to four years, a receivership model for the lowest achieving schools and a cozy relationship with the charter crowd.

NYSUT fought back ferociously, engaged the governor: rallies, paid advertisements, etc., the opt out movement grew and over 200,000 kids refused the exam.

The governor’s favorability rating nosedived.

The governor reconvened the commission (See Task Force website here), reduced the cast to 15 members with a new title, the Cuomo Common Core Task Force, with instructions:

The Common Core Task Force is a diverse and highly qualified group of education officials, teachers, parents, and state representatives convened by Governor Cuomo to perform a comprehensive review of learning standards, instructional guidance and curricula, and tests to improve implementation and reduce testing anxiety

The Task Force will complete its review and deliver its final recommendations by the end of this year.

The State’s learning standards must be strong, sensible and fair, and parents and teachers should be able to have faith in those standards. The Common Core Task Force will work toward this goal to ensure that we deliver the best possible education to our children.

On Friday, November 6th the Task Force met at a number of sites across the state. I signed up for the New York City meeting at La Guardia Community College. The meeting seemed organized, they had my name at the sign-in table and since I signed up to speak they had a number and an assigned seat – so far so good.

As I looked around the room – no webcast, no twitter hashtag – if you weren’t in the room – too bad.


The failure to avail every New Yorker of the opportunity to listen to the testimony at the Task Force, to participate via twitter, is insulting.

Two members of the Task Force, Assembly member Nolan and Ms. Hazlewood, a teacher from an elementary school in Brownsville led the ‘listening session.” (See full list of Task Force members here)

As soon as the speakers began about half the audience, identified as parents who had been bused to the meeting by Students First, the Moskowitz Success Academy folks, left – guess there was no one at the meeting important enough to impress.

There were a few speakers from pro-Common Core organizations, (Educators for Excellence, Chamber of Commerce) a few anti-Common Core speakers and a number of teachers and parents. The Task Force members asked questions, mostly about the impact of testing on Students with Disabilities and English language learners.

You can provide your testimony online and I encourage you to take a few minutes and put in your two cents (no more than 500 words):

The cynics among you will scoff at the entire process, and, I don’t blame you; however, I believe the Task Force (and the commissioner) will come up with a number of changes.

* Aside from undergoing a name change – the early grades standards will change as well as a number of other clarifying changes.

* The curriculum modules will also be modified.

* Fewer questions equal shorter tests, the release of more test items, and a quicker release of student scores.

None of these changes will pacify the naysayers – the opt outs.

Two of the major objections, the impact on Students with Disabilities and English language learners is not within the scope of the state – the annual “testing for all” is part of No Child Left Behind. I did remind the audience, meager by the time I spoke, that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), considered the gold standard of testing, uses a sampling technique. There is no reason to test every student every year.

The April/May grades 3-8 state tests will still be a Pearson test; QUESTAR, the new testing company does not take over until the 2017 testing cycle.

As I reminded the Task Force members the tests only impact teachers and schools, not students. I asked, rhetorically, whether Task Force member Hazlewood had any idea what her value-added measurement (VAM) score meant. I answered for her, she has no idea, no teacher has any idea nor does any principal.

The Task Force will hustle to complete work by December to produce a report that includes changes that may require legislation.

It’s hard to believe that the Task Force will recommend substantive changes to the brand new yet to be implemented teacher evaluation law or to the also brand new receivership law. There are a number of tweaks and clarifications necessary. Details can be really important.

With 200,000 opt out parents, heavily concentrated on Long Island and the suburban districts around the state, the legislature could take the initiative and recommend changes before the governor.

At the beginning of my testimony I turned to the governor’s staffer who appeared to be in charge and had a teaching moment.

“Unless you, the governor’s guy, understands that ‘participation reduces resistance’ and ‘change as perceived as punishment’ these listening sessions will be for naught and the public anger will continue to seethe and grow.”

Wednesday is now called Veterans’ Day, once called Armistice Day and in other nations Remembrance Day – World War One ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – the war to end all wars.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
“Dulce et Decorum Est ”

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under I green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.(“It is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country.”)


3 responses to “Cuomo Common Core Task Force Listening Sessions Begin (With a Whimper)

  1. Sobering thoughts. Thank you.


  2. The public education crisis in New York resembles a train wreck.


  3. There is only one way to FIX the Common Core Crap and that is to get rid of it and NCLB and RTTT and the high stakes testing that ranks public schools, ranks teachers and punishes them based on arbitrary and secret passing rrates on those tests that are being used as a tool to destroy our community based, non-profit, transparent, democratic public schools and replace them with autocratic, opaque, for-profit, often worse, fraudulent and abusive corporate Charters.

    There can be no compromise. They must go.


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