Implementation of new Common Core standards has been rushed. Public schools need to offer students more opportunities for vocational training. And New Yorkers feel they can trust that teachers have students’ best interest at heart.
As for New York education leaders like Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.? Not so much.
These are some of the findings of a survey that explores education in upstate New York released Sunday by the Siena Research Institute. The Albany Times Union/Siena College Upstate Education Poll, conducted early this month, sampled 874 people, including 154 from Erie and Niagara counties.
Following a school year full of debate surrounding the state’s ongoing public education changes, some statistics made residents’ opinions overwhelmingly clear.
Eighty-two percent say the implementation of the Common Core has been rushed and has resulted in confusion for everyone involved; 58 percent say it’s time to slow down and “take a time out” on standardized testing.
“That’s a dramatic figure,” Siena College Research Institute Director Don Levy said of the 82 percent. “They’re not saying, ‘Throw it away.’ They’re saying they believe it has been rushed … what we’ve gotten here is, with the Common Core’s rollout, too much has happened too quickly.”
Many Western New York parents have been outspoken in their belief that the Common Core, which sets standards for what students need to learn in each grade, has been detrimental. Many have shown their disapproval for standardized testing by withholding their children from exams.
“I would go so far as to say it’s been a complete disaster,” said Eric Mihelbergel, a City of Tonawanda resident and co-founder of New York State Allies for Public Education.
Mihelbergel’s daughters are in third and sixth grade. He said he’s seen “nothing but problems” in his school district.
“There are so many errors on the homework assignments they’re doing,” Mihelbergel said. “There obviously has not been nearly enough time into putting these programs together. Some of the things my kids work on are almost embarrassing.”
Mihelbergel, who has spoken out on this issue for more than three years, said he has conversed with thousands of parents. He said the survey’s determination that people believe implementation of the Common Core has been rushed is “very much in line” with feedback he has gathered.
Brenda McDuffie, president and CEO of the Buffalo Urban League, said the program’s rollout has been messy largely because of misinformation.
“I would say 99 percent of the time when we share with people basic information on the Common Core and what it will mean, they are very supportive of it,” McDuffie said. “They want their children to be prepared for college and careers.”
Donald Ogilvie, district superintendent for Erie 1 BOCES, said though it has been a tumultuous three-and-a-half years implementing the program, things are beginning to be sorted out. He said much of the confusion has been a result of the way individual districts have grappled with change in general.
“I think that the process after three, four years is now working,” Ogilvie said. “The state has been much better at churning out the modules and characterizing what they’re going to do.
“Was it a perfect implementation? No. Could it have been accomplished with a better plan and better assessment of resources available to do it? Of course. But it’s underway. Corrective actions have been built by the state.”
Another big issue, the survey found, is vocational opportunities offered to students. Sixty-one percent say schools are doing no better than fair or poor in preparing young people for the workforce, and 94 percent support increased vocational training in public schools.
“I think the kids need a wide variety of educational opportunities. Is the Common Core pigeonholing kids into one track in life?” said Chris Cerrone, a Springville School Board member, teacher in Hamburg and a critic of the rollout.
“It doesn’t allow for accommodation for special-education students, English language learners. It has the same expectations for all kids. We need to understand there’s differences in the ways kids learn and we can’t pigeonhole them.”
“There needs to be more work by the Board of Regents so vocational courses count just as much as academic courses,” said Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore, who also has been critical of the Common Core and the effort to tie teacher evaluations to students’ test scores. “There needs to be more work so students aren’t penalized for taking vocational courses.”
The study also found that 88 percent of respondents said they completely or somewhat trust teachers in their local schools to do what is best for New York’s students, whereas that percentage was lower for local school boards (71 percent), the state Board of Regents (59 percent), teacher unions (57 percent), Cuomo (50 percent), King (43 percent) and the State Legislature (41 percent).
Levy said the poll reflected “very, very strongly” on teachers.
Additional findings of the study:
• Those polled considered the most serious problems in public schooling to be lack of parental involvement (72 percent), students behaving poorly (71 percent) and bullying (70 percent).
• Thirty percent were opposed and 28 percent in favor of the new teacher evaluation plan that involves judging teachers based on students’ standardized test scores. Ogilvie said that is “where everything started, in my mind, to become a problem.”
“Although it’s a relatively small percentage of a teacher or a principal’s evaluation, when you raise the stakes early on, it is a very unsettling feeling,” he said.
• Sixty-four percent of residents, and 73 percent of parents with children in public schools, rated public school teachers as either excellent or good.
Last week, reacting to the barrage of criticism, leaders from more than 200 colleges and universities created a coalition to defend the Common Core. They say students are not prepared for college-level work and Common Core is the solution.
Of the residents polled by Siena, 55 percent said they believe public schools do a good or excellent job of preparing students for college, while 30 percent said “fair” and 12 percent said “poor.”
Though Ogilvie cautioned “there’s some statistical stuff that could color the results” of the poll, Levy said the sample size was substantial and his group polled people of all ages, political backgrounds, geographic areas and education and income levels.
Some remain optimistic about Common Core, even as some states move to drop the standards.
“It hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been simple,” Ogilvie said. “But change this profound, change this necessary, is not going to be without different points of view and a lack of necessary resources including time.”
Others, like Rumore, are not buying it.
“I think if you talk to educators, parents, they’ll say this is ridiculous,” Rumore said. “They see kids coming home not liking school anymore, feeling they’re failures, because they aren’t doing well on the tests.
“And we don’t really know if the Common Core is going to work. So you’re going to have a generation of kids that are essentially guinea pigs.”