by Carreen Schroeder
A number of panelists spoke volumes on the Common Core standards, big business and privatization of the educational system in New York state, at an Education Summit held Feb. 13 by Assemblyman John Ceretto at Niagara Falls High School.
"The governor acknowledges that things are messed up," commented Douglas Regan, director of the Partnership for Smarter Schools and an educator for 42 years. He defined his group's four cornerstones: smarter school assessment; smarter teacher evaluation; smarter professional development and, smarter use of data.
"It's time to pause, it's time to take another look and it's time to rethink reform," said Regan. "With this in mind, we consider tonight our launching pad" for his group's next event - the Rally for Smarter Schools Friday, March 7, at 6:30 p.m. at Niagara Square in Buffalo.
State Sen. George Maziarz urged the audience of educators and residents to keep the pressure on elected state representatives for educational reform. "There are changes being made at the highest level of education policy in this state," Maziarz said. "We just want to make sure that the right changes are being made."
Ashli Skura-Dreher, a special education teacher at Lewiston-Porter and New York state teacher of the year, said the Common Core standards - and more specifically, the alternative assessments - have negatively impacted on students with disabilities.
Dreher stated that while she is supportive of a deeper and challenging curriculum in light of how technology is reshaping the world we live in, and that students need and should have an enriching curriculum, "There are students functioning below the pre-kindergarten level." Dreher argued that these children are being tested using measures that are developmentally inappropriate.
Dreher said the state designed its testing in response to the federal government's requirements that all students be tested according to Common Core standards. "Not all students are alike and certainly one size in education cannot and does not fit all students," she said. Dreher urged attendees to pressure the federal government to ban testing for students whose academic function is below school age. This "one-size-fits-all approach violates children's rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Act," she argued.
Molly Dana, a West Seneca schools parent-leader, had some powerful words for both U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and state Education Commissioner John B. King with respect to Common Core, arguing that each day current educational reforms remain in place children are being deprived of their educational freedoms.
Dana said that decisions made regarding public education need to remain in the public forum and "serve the interests and values of the public, not private corporations looking at schools to earn profits and maximize market share." Voicing opposition to the federal government's Race to the Top initiative, excessive testing and the sharing of private student records, Dana said that New York parents "value our children and we will not back down."
Dr. John McKenna, principal of Fletcher Elementary School in Tonawanda, offered criticism of Common Core and used Frederick Taylor's Scientific Management system of the late 1800s as a case in point, comparing the teaching standard to the older business model.
Under the Scientific Management model, Taylor developed enforced standardization of methods, standardized practices and used conformity to drive those standards, said McKenna. He said one important component of this model was synchronicity - one size fits all - along with careful scrutiny and evaluation, which required isolation and information control. Comparing this to the Common Core standards, McKenna said that, "Information is so controlled now, I can't see any questions on the test, teachers can't see any questions on the test; I have to sign off on the document that says if I show anything or tell anything, that I could lose my job just like that. It's scary controlled. Now I ask you, is the Common Core a learning model or a scientific model?"
Dr. Mark Garrison, director of Doctoral Programs at D'Youville College, argued the current educational reform isn't about improving education but rather about "changing its purpose and who has control over it. This is about narrowing and reducing the quality of education and should be rejected," said Garrison.
It is a "very serious problem when standards used to make decisions about schools and guide the development of curriculum are controlled by a private entity that is not accountable to the federal government, state government, school boards or any other public entity," he continued.
Todd Hathaway, an East Aurora social studies teacher, told attendees he was recently chosen to sit on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Common Core Learning Standards Panel. "I am the only public school teacher on (the panel) - no elementary teachers, no special education teachers, no building administrators."
Hathaway said the general public is well aware that the Common Core is not working, that the modules are flawed, rushed and that the state failed to get it right. "My plan on that panel is to be a teacher, a parent, an ambassador for the Partnership."
Hathaway said he would also push for the removal of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, arguing, "How can we expect our schools and teachers to do more with less?"
Ceretto told the audience that their voices are being heard. "It's going all the way down to Albany and it's because of you," Ceretto said. "You were left out in this decision for the Common Core and it should never have happened. With my colleagues and with your help and Sen. Maziarz, we are going to make that change; we are going to do it right this time. We are going to be heard but let's keep going, let's keep pushing because we have to remember it's for the child."