Red Hook Supe Finch Had me at Hello!!
Love his anti Core testament!
Dear Parents & Community Members:
You are likely aware that New York State has implemented a new set of educational standards called the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) and that the implementation of these standards has garnered much attention as of late. State Education Commissioner John King recently held a forum in Spackenkill to better inform the community about the CCLS, and to respond to questions and concerns. I think it is fair to say that this meeting did not go well. Commissioner King stated that the meeting was “co-opted by special interest groups.” All subsequent meetings were cancelled, only to be rescheduled after wide-spread public indignation.
There is so much “noise” around the CCLS that it is difficult for parents and community members to know what to think. I would like to share my thoughts on the CCLS to assist you in making an informed judgment for yourself.
The CCLS were developed in response to the belief that students are not college and career ready at the completion of high school. This belief is certainly subject to debate; particularly, in a district like Red Hook that offers a rich and challenging academic program. Many, myself included, also question whether the purpose of public schooling is narrowed by a focus on college and career readiness. At a time when the public is largely disengaged, apathetic, or just numb to state and federal issues, perhaps we should be making more room for encouraging civic-minded behavior alongside marketable skills.
The first question a parent or community member might ask is:What is the purpose of public schooling and does the CCLS align to what you view as that purpose?
A common criticism of the CCLS is that there is little or no research to support the notion that its implementation will actually produce students who are college and career ready. The Lower Hudson Valley Council of School Superintendents is one group that makes this claim (www.lhcss.org). A convincing case can be made however, that the emphasized skills (e.g., the ability to critically analyze, write persuasively and apply mathematical concepts across domains) do, and will, continue to constitute a necessary skill set into the foreseeable future. That said, the impact of rapid technological change on our society might ultimately make other skills or qualities more necessary.
The second question a parent or community member might ask is: How confident are you that the skills emphasized in the CCLS will be the necessary skills in the future?
Our current kindergarteners will graduate in 2026 and it is somewhat disingenuous for anyone to suggest that they know the exact skill set these youngsters will need 13 years from now. Parents are starting to see what the CCLS means for students in the classroom. My own children are talking about “number bonds”, using unfamiliar methods for calculating products, and reading more challenging non-fiction texts. The pace of the CCLS implementation has left many teachers scrambling to learn the new expectations and methodologies while at the same time trying to educate their students’ parents on the accompanying changes in their classroom instruction.
It is eye-opening to review just one of CCLS modules (i.e., model units) from the State Education Department (www.engageny.org). For example, one unit or module of first grade math spans over 30 lessons with over 400 pages of resource material to digest. This represents just one of five math modules for first grade. At the upper grades, there are high school math teachers who tell me CCLS lessons are based on a 45-minute period without dedicated time for homework review. Our high school classes are 39 minutes and homework review is certainly a valued part of the learning process. These math teachers describe implementation of the CCLS, with fidelity, as “nearly impossible.”
The third question a parent or community members might ask is: Are the implementation expectations reasonable?
In my opinion, the answer is quite simply no. The State Education Department instituted a CCLS testing regimen without an adequate implementation timeline for the curriculum. This is grossly unfair to students, teachers, and administrators. The waters become even more muddied when the abovementioned tests are tied to teacher and principal evaluations. From a teacher’s perspective and the administrator’s perspective, there is no time to waste considering whether CCLS is the “right” thing to do. It has become just something that has to get done and the students need to score well on the tests.
The fourth and final question a parent or community member might ask is: Do I want my local teachers and principals to be thoughtful practitioners who work to do the right things in the right ways OR do I want them to just do what they are told regardless of the implications for teaching and learning?
I would choose the former. And, herein lies the importance of Commissioner King and the Board of Regents really listening to the feedback from the field.
I hope you found my reflections on the CCLS helpful.
Paul Finch, Superintendent of Schools
Follow me on Twitter – @finchstweet for updates on news and events throughout the school year.
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