School reformers' comeuppance

[This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Daily News on Dec. 14, 2015.]

The days of test and punish are over. After a disastrous experiment with the Common Core standards — implemented without proper curriculum or teacher training — New York now has a chance to get things right.

Last week, Gov. Cuomo’s task force issued its report, finding that the standards and their implementation were flawed and calling for a new set of state standards, with curriculum and tests to match, to be created. About time.

This is a huge victory for those of us who repeatedly warned the state that it was making a mistake — moving too fast and in the process scapegoating teachers and angering parents.

A major problem with the Common Core was that it was forced on parents and schools without proper input from those affected by it. The commission wants educators, parents and students to be deeply involved in the creation of the new standards, including new age-appropriate benchmarks for students in the early grades and accommodations for students with disabilities and English language learners.

And, in contrast to the rushed rollout of the Common Core, this will hopefully happen via a carefully planned, comprehensive multi-year rollout, in large part to properly train teachers and prepare parents for what’s to come. While this process goes forward, the task force recommends that the results from tests aligned to the current Common Core standards not be used as part of student and teacher evaluations before 2019.

Annual state tests will continue, as required by federal law. But the commission acknowledges that the current six days of state testing for elementary students are too many, and that the actual tests be shorter.

That’s not all. The commission also urged that educators and local school districts be able to develop and tailor curriculum to meet the specific needs of their students; that public-sector educators rather than a private corporation be in charge of creating the new tests; and that the state adopt “a transparent and open process” by which the new standards are periodically reviewed.

Importantly, acknowledging the damage done by the focus on over-testing, the commission insisted that new standards should not lead to the narrowing of curriculum or “diminish the love of reading and joy of learning.”

The pro-testing “reformers” who have controlled the agenda for years are hailing this turn of events, but it’s clear that this is a setback in their efforts to redefine schooling.

For years, parents and teachers in New York state and elsewhere have been fighting the testing juggernaut that has turned our classrooms into test-prep factories.

We’re finally turning the tide. Last week, on the same day that the governor’s commission released its report, President Obama signed a new federal law that removes the requirement that forced states to take part in the over-testing mania in order to receive federal funds.

We should thank the members of the commission for their work, particularly their willingness to listen to the voices of parents and classroom teachers.

The issues now go to the state Board of Regents, and we will work with the board to ensure the commission’s recommendations are enacted.

These problems are not limited to New York; other states are also reviewing their adoption and implementation of the Common Core. But New York has the opportunity play a leading role in setting the right course for education in the coming decades.

Proponents of the Common Core tuned out rank-and-file teachers and parents and insisted that they alone were the guardians of high academic standards. The truth is that teachers want high standards for themselves and for their students. We just don’t want high standards to become a bludgeon that batters students and intimidates teachers.

We must all now fight to make sure this is a genuine turning point — seizing the opportunity to create not just high standards, but the curriculum, the training and the supports to make sure our students reach those standards.

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