Most New York educators would probably agree that education reform is a necessity. But when it comes to the implementation of that reform, many have concerns that the Common Core Learning Standards may not be the answer.
The Common Core Learning Standards are a U.S. initiative that seeks to bring diverse state curricula into alignment with each other, while preparing students for college and career readiness. Since being adopted by the state in 2010, however, the Common Core has consistently drawn the ire of several members in both educational and parental communities.
At the local educator level, the consensus seems to be that the overall concept behind the Common Core initiative is a good one, but the way in which it has been implemented throughout the state leaves much to be desired. This is the thought process of Anna Geronimo, regional staff director of New York State United Teachers' regional office in Jamestown, who said implementation of the standards was rushed.
"From the NYSUT perspective, the goal of the Common Core to get students engaged in higher order critical thinking is an excellent one, and we support it completely," Geronimo said. "The issues we've seen arising are the implementation and the development of these standards. We remain concerned over the schedule of implementing the standards, which has not allowed enough time for absorption of the process by teachers."
"It's just a matter of how the process is going to work, and bringing our kids to a place of making sense of this process," Geronimo continued.
Geronimo also pointed to concerns about the potential emotional toll the standards can take on students who are struggling to meet them.
"We remain concerned over the schedule of implementing the standards, which has not allowed enough time for absorption of the process by teachers."
NYSUT regional staff director in Jamestown
"There's concern about the emotional impact of the Common Core on students, making them think that they're not good enough," she said. "We're seeing students who are not on the schedule that the Common Core is asking them to be on, and so they are falling behind. When our kids are hurting and feeling discouraged, that's not a positive experience."
Having firsthand knowledge of how the standards are being employed in the classroom, two teachers in the Jamestown Public Schools district expressed similar feelings.
"These standards were developed to prepare our graduating seniors to be career and/or college ready, and they have definitely stepped up the instructional expectations at every grade level," said Mary Cook, a second-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School. "The curriculum is very different from the way education used to be. My greatest concern about the implementation in New York state is that it happened very quickly. The modules developed by New York state were not field tested prior to being used. In an effort to have materials ready for the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, modules were printed containing an excessive number of errors. The state is working hard to correct these errors, and their corrections are available at the www.engageny.org website."
Tara Hall, a fifth-grade teacher at Jefferson Middle School, said the Common Core is part of a larger political scheme, and that the standards are detrimental toward the cultivation of student individuality.
"I will be the first to say that increasing rigor and having high standards is of the utmost importance, and would never suggest that we lower the standards for students," Hall said. "But I believe Common Core is merely a political agenda which is aiming to create 'cookie cutter' students where individuality, creativity and even health and physical fitness is thrown by the wayside. Not only do we have a diverse country, but we have a diverse state. And a blanket curriculum (of national) standards is not what is best for our students. I believe increased local input and control should be given to the school districts where the needs of the students are known by the educators who see them on a daily basis."
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Between the Common Core and Annual Professional Performance Review plans, New York's education system is undoubtedly undergoing a transition period of massive proportions. But despite concerns over how the new statewide curriculum has been rolled out, there are those that believe good things can happen once the wrinkles are ironed out.
At a recent informational meeting on the various facets of the Common Core, JPS Superintendent Tim Mains discussed the standards at length while providing a glimmer of hope in what they can ultimately achieve.
"In my experience, I know that almost everybody agrees that schools should be better," he added. "The frustrating part is that almost nobody really wants them to be different. We get kind of used to what we've had, but it needs to change. And that's what we're trying to do. It isn't perfect, but we're in the midst of constructing something that - when it's done and finished - I believe will stand as tall and as proud as the Chrysler Building. And when we're at that point, I think we can all feel very proud of what we've done because we will have done it by working together."
Cook suggested that parent involvement in the early development of their child's education may serve them better by the time they reach the public school system.
"The best thing a parent with young children can do is to work with their children at home on basic skills like recognizing sight words, reading and knowing math facts. At school, we will extend these basics using higher-level thinking skills and questioning techniques."