Common Core critics should be working to improve, not bury, the new standards

OpinionThe Buffalo News, February 7, 2014 -

It’s disappointing to have the most powerful legislator in the Assembly throw in with critics of the Common Core standards by getting behind the call for a two-year delay in implementation of educational reforms that are already long overdue. That the educational system in the state isn’t working as well as it should is an understatement. Too many students are graduating from high school unprepared for college or training for jobs. Something had to be done to stem the tide of underachievement. The Common Core standards, adopted by most states, are meant to help properly prepare students. Yet implementation of the standards has been met with fierce resistance from teachers, who are joined by some parents. Parents are upset because of what they view as over-testing, which doesn’t have much to do with the Common Core standards themselves. They also question why their children have to learn subjects in such depth. The answer there is that hard work in school will prepare them for life in a globally competitive world. Teachers are upset that their job performance is being evaluated in a systematic way. That’s understandable; surely everyone dreads a job evaluation. Evaluations of any workers can be punitive, but the state’s new system of teacher evaluations is designed to help them become better teachers by identifying weaknesses and providing support so they can improve. In the same way, testing helps identify where students need improvement so that resources can be directed at problem areas. Education in the state can’t be properly managed if you don’t measure student progress. The Common Core was designed to fix education. It is not a perfect system, but it’s the system currently being used to strengthen education in the state. If the need weren’t so urgent, it would be fine to take a few years to decide how to proceed, and then a few more years gradually rolling out new standards. However, the need is urgent and it would be wrong to sentence children to two more years of substandard education. Instead of starting over, we should be working to improve it where possible. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has joined the parents, teachers and legislators who are targeting the Board of Regents and Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. Because Assembly Democrats appoint members of the Board of Regents, Silver’s call for a two-year moratorium on the Common Core sends a strong message to the Regents in advance of their meeting next week. The Common Core learning standards were a necessary course correction in education. There are meant to ensure that students are learning the things they need to know in a more competitive world. The newly rigorous course work means the tests used to measure proficiency are more difficult than previous statewide tests, and they revealed an alarmingly low level of proficiency. However, the answer shouldn’t be to lower the standards. The educational bar has been raised. Parents should show some faith that their children, with proper preparation, can meet and exceed the higher expectations. But they can’t do it when adults pull back the reins. While the Regents do need to make adjustments to deal with the concerns of critics, going backward is the wrong choice.