At the core of our future

Editorial, Albany Times Union, February 2, 2014 -

Our opinion: Yes, Common Core has problems, but the state must not abandon an effort to raise student performance. No reform worthy of the name is going to happen in education without some discomfort and push-back. New York, however, is seeing far more than a little resistance to the new Common Core academic standards. The governing board of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers is the latest to pile on, calling for a three-year freeze on the move to raise student performance standards. NYSUT’s board says the state Education Department needs the pause in order to make “major course corrections” in Common Core’s implementation. The powerful union’s board of directors also wants the ouster of Education Commissioner John King, who it blames for Common Core’s bumpy rollout. NYSUT’s action follows a year of complaints of excessive testing and an overly aggressive pace in putting the new standards into place. While some of the extra testing is for a new teacher evaluation system that has nothing to do with Common Core, Mr. King acknowledges that many students, particularly in poorer districts, were tested initially on Common Core material they hadn’t even been taught. The stress is understandable. It shouldn’t have happened. But stopping Common Core is not the answer. With no real alternative, New York would likely fall back on the underperforming system in place before 2010. It’s important to remember why New York and 45 other states adopted the Common Core standards. Developed by a coalition of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, Common Core was a response to studies showing American students lagging far behind many of their Asian and European counterparts. It established nationwide goals for reading and math from kindergarten through high school, with an emphasis on critical thinking. Common Core is not a federal program, but the Obama administration tied its implementation to “Race to the Top” grants as an incentive to embrace the new standards. The uneasiness in New York is not unique. At least 10 other states, including Massachusetts, are reconsidering Common Core or slowing down implementation, for many of the same reasons. Some quick fixes are needed to address the legitimate concerns over the transition. That’s essentially what Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed in the creation of a panel of education experts and legislators charged with putting a corrective action plan in place by June. Any honest appraisal of how to better implement Common Core must recognize the especially difficult job such a move is for poor, urban districts. Funding to support the effort must be a part of any action plan. But New Yorkers must separate their frustration over Common Core’s clumsy implementation from the program itself. We need to remain focused on raising the performance of all students. Common Core is a fundamentally sound approach. Its problems can be fixed. The alternative — letting our students continue to fall behind — cannot be an option.