Common Core and Race to the Top Programs

A testy situation: New state and federal programs have parents and educators up in arms. PLUS: See which local schools have opted out of these programs

It robs children of the joy of learning by creating a test-focused environment. It’s a corporate takeover of the education system and hinders teachers’ ability to do their jobs. The expectations are too high, and the test questions developmentally inappropriate.

These are among the litany of complaints lodged against the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), a series of benchmarks for student learning purported to help them become career and college ready.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia are currently implementing the Common Core, which bills itself as a high quality foundation for math and English language arts (ELA) developed by national governors and education commissioners for students from kindergarten through grade 12.

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Adopted by New York State in 2010, the standards were rolled out in classrooms this school year — along with a new teacher evaluation program and high-stakes testing — causing confusion, consternation, and outcries at local school district board meetings. Some parents have gone so far as to boycott state tests.

So what exactly has changed? In ELA, children will now read more nonfiction at each grade level so that they can learn about the world through reading. For example, a child reading the novel Charlotte’s Web would also read a nonfiction book about spiders. Students are also expected to read challenging texts more closely, and there is a renewed emphasis on building vocabulary. In math, students will work more intensely on a few topics, learning their math facts at a glance and using math in real-life situations, such as divvying up a pizza using fractions.

“I do not feel that this latest reform is the ‘magic bullet,’ because there is absolutely no empirical evidence that the CCSS will actually improve academic achievement,” says Lori Jiava, former board of education president for the Wappingers Central School District and education chair for the Taconic Region PTA. “My concerns are that there was not enough time to implement these rigorous standards, thus creating a gap in the delivered instruction to students in the primary grades.”

Indeed, one of the major criticisms leveled by parents and teachers is that elementary and middle school students were tested on the new standards before they were actually implemented. New York State is quick to point out that the CCSS do not tell teachers what to teach. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans, with the difference being that they are aligned to the CCSS. Curriculum modules are available for schools to adopt or adapt.

“My fear is that — as we narrow the focus to ensure that teachers and schools are being held accountable by a simplistic belief that testing and data will reveal all — we may be transforming our school culture in a way that actually impinges on innovative and creative approaches to learning,” says Kenneth Mitchell, Ed.D., of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents (LHCSS), a nonprofit educational corporation representing 76 school districts and four BOCES in Dutchess, Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester counties.

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While districts can’t opt out of the CCSS, they can withdraw from Race to the Top (RTTT), an initiative created in 2009 by the U.S. Department of Education to spur innovation in public schools. By opting out, school districts lose funding meant to fulfill the RTTT’s educational policies.

The concern is RTTT’s digital dashboard, the online spot that stores student information. The site includes not just test data, but also program participation, enrollment history, and attendance information. Parents and educators have expressed concerns over who can see and access the data.

If districts want to receive funding, they must choose among three possible digital dashboard vendors to store student information or let the state pick one for them. Even if a district opts out, however, the data is still encrypted and stored on the company’s inBloom data storage system. A number of school districts have written to the CEO of inBloom to ask that their student data be deleted from its data storage.

“We were told that the data would be used for research purposes, but given no specific plan about such use,” says Mitchell on behalf of LHCSS. While RTTT was created to spur innovation, Mitchell says the U.S. is already doing just fine, generating more utility patents and Nobel laureates in 2012 than any other country. “These are just a few examples of many more that I can give you about the innovation and creativity that has come out of a nation with a vast public school system.”

Local districts that have opted out of Race To The Top:

Bedford, Brewster, Byram Hills, Carmel, Croton-Harmon, Dobbs Ferry, Eastchester, Elmsford, Garrison, Greenburgh-Graham, Hastings, Hendrick Hudson, Hyde Park, Irvington, Lakeland, Mahopac, Mamaroneck, Mount Pleasant, Pearl River, Pawling, Pelham, Pleasantville, Pocantico Hills, Rye Neck, Somers, South Orangetown, Spackenkill, Tuckahoe, and Yorktown

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For more information:

Common Core State Standards Initiative
National CCSS site

New York State Department of Education
State site

Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents

New York State Allies for Public Educaton
Represents grassroots parent groups

U.S. Department of Education/Race to the Top

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