During a lively forum on Nov. 13, parents, teachers, taxpayers and students from Mineola and other local towns, including Port Washington, took State Education Commissioner John King and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch to task over the “common core” standards, venting their concerns and outrage about testing, evaluations and student privacy.
State Senator Jack Martins of the 7th Senate District moderated the talk.
The Port Washington Board of Education had been debating the merits or lack thereof of the common core standards and found that when combined with more stringent testing standards students’ scores have come up short.
“What data do you have to show that State Education Department’s instructional and assessment protocols are better than ours for preparing our students for life after high school,” Port Washington Board of Education member Larry Greenstein said during the meeting.
“Why should we not be able to continue with our proven instructional and assessment protocols instead of adopting your untested and unproven strategies,” Greenstein said.
“I am the mother of a fourth grader in the Port Washington School District,” Deborah Abramson Brooks said. “She gets frustrated by some of the assignments because the questions are convoluted.”
The problems with the common core include its being “developed and pushed along by people who have more interest in business than they do education,” Abramson Brooks said. “They also don’t include much of a well-balanced curriculum, with their main focus on English and math.”
“If the point of elementary education is to teach children how to think creatively, problem-solve and learn from their mistakes,” asked East Williston parent Christine Cozzolino, “how can we expect our children to be innovators when they are subject to scripted lessons and the rigorous testing of the common core?”
The primary concerns during the meeting stemmed from four main issues: application of the standards, teacher evaluations, testing and student privacy.
Parents angrily questioned the one-size-fits-all approach that seems to underlie the standards—the “common” in common core.
Cheers and jeers were the norm, and especially rose when Westbury Teachers Association Christine Corbett stepped up to discuss students losing interest in school because of rigid testing regime.
Corbett was curious as to when it became “sound to ignore the whole child in an effort for students to be college and career ready in elementary school?”
“At what expense are our state leaders willing to gamble the childhood of students, as young as eight years old, who have already being turned off to school?,” Corbett said.
Corbett argued that the common core roll-out should have been started from the beginning, not in third grade, and that it was rushed.
Martins interjected, asking State Education Commissioner King if he’d reevaluate the progress of the common core in full. The commissioner said he didn’t think Corbett’s claim that students are losing interest is “true everywhere,” igniting parents to stand up, heckle and point fingers.
“The problem, is [King] is living in the world of theory,” Corbett said. “The way this whole process was rolled out and shoved down these kids throats…they weren’t ready for this. Step back, and halt or people will opt out.”
Another key issue was teacher evaluations. Twenty percent of a teacher’s or principal’s rating is linked to state test scores. The state reported a 40 percent drop in test scores of third through eighth-grade in the new roll-out of the English and math curriculum.
“With the anxiety of levels of these exams, it feels a lot more than [20 percent],” said Mineola Superintendent Michael Nagler. “It feels like 100 percent of their evaluation is based on these scores. How do you mitigate that?” Nagler suggested a three-year aggregate chronicling student achievement to determine educator performance.
King said the role of student performance via test scores is established in state law, yet the majority is in school district hands.
“Eighty percent of the evaluation is determined locally through collective bargaining,” King said. “For the 80 percent of teachers who don’t teach students in grades three through eight ELA and math, the gross portion is determined by the school districts.”
The final topic of the forum focused on student privacy, specifically inBloom, a nonprofit organization the state is using to mine student testing data and personal information.
Manhasset Data Coordinator Colleen Leon questioned why student data would still be provided to inBloom even if a district did not participate in Race To The Top, a federal grant program to spur innovation and reforms in schools.
Outside the forum, Jeanette Deutermann, founder of the Facebook group “Long Island Opt Out,” now more than 12,000 members strong, was among the protesters. According to Deutermann, data collected through inBloom catalogs an individual’s information from birth to age 20 and includes not just names, but address, birthplace, economic status, race, ethnicity, disabilities, and other information that some parents may wish to keep private.
“Data mining is across the board all kinds of wrong,” Deutermann said. “They want the data and that’s what is driving the entire system.”
The challenge for school districts is to keep families from opting out, which impacts state and federal funding. With groups like Deutermann’s gaining steam, that challenge is growing.