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NYSNYS NEWS: Common Core fight pits Cuomo vs. teachers, with parents being urged to boycott testing.
NYSNYS News
NYSNYS NEWS: Common Core fight pits Cuomo vs. teachers, with parents being urged to boycott testing.

By Kyle Hughes
NYSNYS News


ALBANY, N.Y. (March 22) – An uncommonly nasty fight over Common Core is under way in New York, pitting teachers and their allies against Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Education Department.

"This extreme form of testing that does not measure anything valuable, that does not motivate students, that merely points out what they don't know without giving them the opportunity to learn more, is a colossal failure in my opinion," retired teacher Anthony McCann said. He retired from the Shenendehowa school district in Saratoga County and is on the executive board of NYSUT, the statewide teachers union that is leading the fight against Common Core.

McCann was one of a number of teachers and legislators who held a press conference here this week to endorse a bill to require school districts to formally notify parents they have the right to deny permission for their kids to take standardized tests. The tests are used as part of Common Core, the nationwide program to raise standards and student achievement.

The bill is called the Common Core Parental Refusal Act, and the goal of the sponsors is to increase the number of parents who won't let their kids be tested. Parents of about 60,000 students refused the grades 3 through 8 tests in 2014, and sponsors of the bill hope to get the number to 250,000, which would force state officials to re-examine their commitment to the Common Core standards bitterly opposed by the union.

"Our educational system is just fine," said Earl Wallace, a former Saratoga Springs English teacher who is now a leadership training consultant. "People around the world ask me … how come America is turning its back on all the principles that made it a great nation?"

Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R-Glenville) said he supported no Common Core testing at all. But others warn that encouraging parents to refuse the tests could end up hurting students who are not learning enough to be prepared for college level work or holding down a job. Schools will also suffer because federal aid to education is tied to raising educational standards.

To further complicate the issue, Common Core testing, which predates Cuomo becoming governor, has gotten entangled with Cuomo's longstanding goal of improving teacher performance. Past practice in many school districts was to do little to get rid of bad teachers, critics say. Cuomo says that mindset continues in current performance reviews that show 99 percent of teachers in New York performing at a high standard.

The high mark for teachers come even as statistics show dismal graduation rates in so-called "high need" districts with many poor or minority children. The Education Department says the graduation rate is 43 percent in Rochester, 51 percent in Syracuse, 52 percent in Buffalo and 64 percent in New York City.

Put another way, the agency says "the performance gap between high need and low need districts remains nearly unchanged at nearly 30 percentage points."

"More than 94 percent of students from low need districts graduate with a high school diploma as compared to only 66 percent of students from high need urban-suburban districts," the Education Department reported in December. "The achievement gap between Black or Hispanic and White students is approximately 25 percentage points for the graduation rate and approximately 30 percentage points for the Advanced Designation diploma."

The poor educations that students are receiving is reflected in the fact that 78 percent of CUNY students in New York City need remedial courses in order to be able to do college level work. About a quarter of freshmen need remedial courses in all three main subjects: math, English and reading.

SUNY administrators strongly support Common Core for the same reason.

"Forty-six percent of the state’s high school graduates who attend college in New York enroll at SUNY each year, and far too many are simply not ready," SUNY Board Chairman H. Carl McCall said last year when the board passed a resolution supporting Common Core. "SUNY has a vested interest in the advancement of higher standards brought on by the Common Core. The better prepared students are to take on college-level work, the more successful they will be in college and career."

"The Common Core will have a significant and lasting impact on student comprehension and achievement while re-positioning our state – and ultimately, our nation – as a global leader in education," SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said. "It is critical that New York come together on the effective implementation of the Common Core, so that the state’s students are not left behind."

SUNY says about half of all students at community colleges enroll in at least one remedial course, costing the system an estimated $70 million per year.

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