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State lawmakers differ over Common Core fix

Ryan Delaney
WRVO/file photo
New York State Education Commissioner John King testifies to a state Senate committee during an early October meeting in Syracuse. (File photo)

There’s continued dissatisfaction over the state’s implementation of the new Common Core standards, which parents, students and teachers have complained has led to too much testing. But there’s disagreement in the state legislature over how to fix it.

The fast tracking of the new national Common Core standards set off a near rebellion last fall, as parents, teachers and students voiced their concerns at often raucous meetings with state education officials. They complained that teachers had not had enough time or support to prepare adequately. They also said the rapid adoption of a new teacher evaluation system led to excessive testing of students.

Some, including the teachers union, are looking to the legislature to provide a fix.

New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi says lawmakers should approve a moratorium that would allow three more years for schools to fully adopt the Common Core standards and the accompanying tests.   

“We have been attempting to deal with the implementation process and have been unsuccessful,” Iannuzzi said, who explained that a moratorium would give an opportunity to step back and really get it right.

The teachers union has won some support in the state Senate. At least two Senate Republicans, who rule the Senate in a coalition government, support delaying the impact of Common Core for another three years.

Senate Education Chairman John Flanagan has proposed several bills, including a ban on testing children in the second grade and younger, and a reduction of testing used to evaluate teachers. Those bills advanced in the Senate Education Committee during the first days of the session.         

In the Assembly, Speaker Sheldon Silver agrees that the Common Core is going too fast.

“I think there needs to be a slower implementation,” Silver said, who noted that teachers need more training.

But Silver says he prefers to leave it to the state Board of Regents and Education Chancellor Meryl Tisch to resolve the problems. Tisch has formed a Regents subcommittee that will report back at the end of February.

“I await their determination,” said Silver. “I think it’s something that belongs in the purview of the Regents.”

The state Board of Regents sets policy for schools and chooses the education commissioner. The Regents are selected in a vote by both houses of the legislature each year. But, since Assembly Democrats have the largest numerical faction, they have the most influence on Regents appointments. Silver is also a close ally of Tisch.

Silver says he’ll consider legislation after the Regents issue their report, if they believe it’s necessary.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has no direct influence over the state education department, initially supported fast tracking Common Core. More recently he’s said legislation might be needed. Cuomo gave only passing reference to the issue in his State of the State message, while a commission he appointed on education policy issued a report that stayed off the subject altogether.

Tensions have risen so high that NYSUT plans to hold a vote of no confidence in the Regent’s chosen education commissioner, John King. Iannuzzi says King has not taken the concerns seriously enough.

“You get to the point where you have no confidence in his ability to lead us in the right direction,” Iannuzzi said.

So far, no one else has been willing to take that act. Silver, saying he has confidence in King, adds that it’s not about unions, but about the children.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.