Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made two wise decisions regarding the Common Core learning standards. One, he created a broad-based advisory panel to review the standards and how they have been implemented in New York. Secondly, he invited Buffalo parent advocate Samuel A. Radford III to be one of the panel’s 15 members.
The Common Core standards represent an important national effort at ensuring that students across the country are educationally equipped to compete for jobs in an ever-shrinking, increasingly competitive world. Parents who reflexively oppose those standards are, knowingly or not, undermining their children’s future standard of living and the country’s long-term interests.
This panel’s obligation should be to improve the definition of the standards and their implementation. But it should go without saying that high standards are crucial to students and, more than that, nothing to fear. Children want to rise to the expectations of caring adults; ask more of them and they will achieve more. What is the advantage to students or society of not challenging them to excel?
Many critics say the Common Core was rolled out carelessly in New York. There is some legitimacy to that contention. Big social changes require thoughtful, detailed planning. Still, it is important to note that many school districts, including Sweet Home in Erie County, took to the standards immediately. Their students now have an advantage over those whose districts floundered.
Still, there was enough confusion and controversy to warrant rebooting the program, giving struggling districts an opportunity to right themselves, to take better advantage of the standards and to serve the interests of more of New York’s students.
The panel will appropriately include members from across the spectrum of the educational system. Radford is president of Buffalo’s District Parent Coordinating Council, and on the subject of education, he is among the most passionate and committed people in Western New York.
In addition to Radford, the group will include Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, the president of the Harlem Children’s Zone, teachers, a superintendent, the vice president of New York State United Teachers, the leaders of the State Legislature’s Education Committees and more.
In all, it’s a fair representation of those who are – or who should be – interested in improving the Common Core in New York. What the panel is not charged with considering is the state’s linking of state standardized tests to teacher evaluations. That is appropriate. It is already a lot for the panel to improve the implementation of the Common Core. The political matter of test scores’ influence on teacher evaluations should be left to the governor and Legislature.
Still, it is instructive to note the comment of one parent who helped lead the boycott of tests and who acknowledged that the issue wasn’t really the tests, at all, but their connection to teacher evaluations.
“For the governor to really fix it, he’s got to detach the teacher evaluations from testing,” said Eric Mihelbergel, a Tonawanda parent who helped found Western New Yorkers for Public Education. “And I really don’t think he’s willing to do that.”
Nor should he, except perhaps as part of a restructuring of teacher evaluations overall. Nevertheless, the comment was a depressing confirmation that parents are risking their children’s education not because they oppose the tests, but because they oppose their use in evaluating the value that taxpayers are getting for their educational dollars.
Regardless, Cuomo has taken a wise step in creating the panel to review the Common Core in New York. All members should acknowledge that their only goal is to ensure that New York’s students are being asked to meet appropriately high standards in a way that will benefit them for decades to come.