Op-Eds

Common Core is a wake-up call

A tough job ahead of the next mayor

[This op-ed was originally published in the New York Daily News.]

Tens of thousands of New York City children opened their test booklets earlier this month to discover something very disturbing — they were being tested on things they were never taught. While children were disappointed and bewildered, their parents’ outrage at the difficulty and length of the tests has fueled a growing movement against the Common Core learning standards, on which these new tests were based.

Most teachers are supportive of Common Core, a national movement designed to foster the critical thinking and depth of knowledge many American students now lack. Yet New York State’s rush to implement the new standards, along with the Bloomberg administration’s obsession with high-stakes testing and its failure to provide a curriculum to help children meet this new challenge, have helped foster the growing opposition.

If the next mayor wants to forestall a rising tide of protests against Common Core and the more rigorous requirements that come with it, he or she needs to do three things:

Ensure that teachers have a coherent, detailed curriculum, along with rich learning materials, that they can use to create lessons that will prepare New York’s students to meet the new standards.

We have known for two years that these more difficult tests would start this spring. But Mayor Bloomberg and other officials put our students’ success at risk by failing to provide the curriculum, textbooks and other materials required — simply choosing to dither in the face of the approaching changes. A state curriculum website was late in coming and incomplete. The result is that teachers and principals were left to cobble together their own approaches to Common Core without sufficient guidance.

Admit that test prep is not real teaching and that high-stakes tests are no substitute for real learning.

The Bloomberg administration’s obsession with test scores has created an environment where nothing else counts. The school system deemphasized its department dedicated to curriculum and instruction — while hiring “accountability” experts to keep track of the flood of data that supposedly measured progress.

As a result of this demand for success on standardized tests above all else, schools were forced to spend huge amounts of time teaching test-taking strategies. Yet despite more than a decade of this approach, only about a quarter of our high school graduates are ready for either college or the workforce — and in some neighborhoods, the percentage is much lower.

Let teachers go back to teaching, rather than spending much of their time with multiple, repetitive and unnecessary reports.

The Common Core standards demand more from students and teachers alike. But teachers in New York now have to spend hundreds of hours every year on new and complex forms for each one of their students — lengthy and repetitive pre- and post-lesson assessments, benchmark and baseline assessments, task bundles, diagnostics, progress monitoring and every other piece of paper a principal can devise to make it look like supervisors are on top of the learning situation in each school.

This paperwork takes away from time teachers need to really do their jobs, such as working together across grades and subjects, planning lessons, giving individual comments on student assignments and meeting with parents. Much of this information goes into a bureaucratic limbo, unavailable to teachers and their colleagues when they sit down together to try to figure out how to help struggling students succeed.

We can be thankful that the coming end of the Bloomberg administration gives us the opportunity to remedy many of the mistaken policies this mayor has pursued. If we are serious about putting our schools back on the right track as Common Core takes effect, the next administration will have to disavow many of the Bloomberg obsessions and focus its attention on the classroom, the teachers — and the strategies that can help our children succeed.

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