Archives for category: Common Core

The states are roiled with pushback and rebellion against the Common Core, and wise heads say the problem is the implementation.

If only the implementation had been slower; if only it had left out the testing until much, much later; if only, if only.

But Peter Greene says the problem goes beyond implementation.

He gives a multiple-choice question to explain why CCSS is in big trouble.

It has nothing to do with the Tea Party or people in tin-foil hats.

He offers three possible reasons.

I choose Answer C.

What do you choose?


Principals, teachers, and parents in New York state complained that the Common Core tests for grades 3-8 were too long. The tests for math and reading together take about 7 hours. Commissioner John King responded in a recent speech at New York University that students were spending “less than 1%” of the school year, which is sort of an odd way to explain (defend) 7 hours of testing for little children.


One of our readers decided to compare the amount of time required foe Common Core testing to the amount of time required for other examinations typically administered to college applicants or adults:


So I was curious about other standardized tests and how they compare to the tests they expect 8-13 years olds to do. Why would an 8-year old need to sit for longer than 7 hours to see if they can read and do math which is longer than every test until you get to the NYS bar exam.


The overall testing time for the computer-based GRE® revised General Test is about three hours and 45 minutes. There are six sections with a 10-minute break following the third section.


The SAT is made up of 10 sections:

A 25-minute essay
Six 25-minute sections (mathematics, critical reading and writing)
Two 20-minute sections (mathematics, critical reading and writing)
A 10-minute multiple-choice writing section

Total test time: 3 hours and 45 minutes

You’ll also get three short breaks during the testing, so don’t forget to bring a snack!



The test consists of five 35-minute sections of multiple-choice questions. Four of the five sections contribute to the test taker’s score. These sections include one reading comprehension section, one analytical reasoning section, and two logical reasoning sections. The unscored section, commonly referred to as the variable section, typically is used to pretest new test questions or to preequate new test forms. The placement of this section in the LSAT will vary. The score scale for the LSAT is 120 to 180. A 35-minute writing sample is administered at the end of the test. The writing sample is not scored by LSAC, but copies are sent to all law schools to which you apply.


MCAT (Medical school)

Total seated time 5 hours and 10 minutes and total content time 4 hours and 5 minutes.


NY Bar Exam:

Schedule for First Day of the Examination (Tuesday):
In the morning session, which begins at 9:00 A.M. and ends at 12:15 P.M., applicants must complete three essays and the 50 multiple choice questions in three hours and 15 minutes. Although applicants are free to use their time as they choose, the Board estimates an allocation of 40 minutes per essay and 1.5 minutes per multiple choice question.

In the afternoon session, which begins at 2:00 P.M. and ends at 5:00 P.M., applicants must complete the remaining two essay questions and the MPT in three hours. Again, although applicants are free to use their time as they choose, the National Conference of Bar Examiners developed the MPT with the intention that it be used as a 90-minute test. Therefore, the Board recommends that applicants allocate 90 minutes to the MPT and 45 minutes to each essay.


Schedule for Second Day of the Examination – MBE (Wednesday):
The second day of the examination is the Multistate Bar Examination. The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) is a six-hour, two-hundred question multiple-choice examination covering contracts, torts, constitutional law, criminal law, evidence, and real property. The examination is divided into two periods of three hours each, one in the morning [9:30am to 12:30pm] and one in the afternoon [2:00pm to 5:00pm], with 100 questions in each period.

Joanne Yatvin, who served for many years as a teacher and principal in Oregon, is a literacy expert. She here expresses her view of the Common Core English Language Arts standards.


What the Dickens is Education All About?

Did you know that Charles Dickens denounced the Common Core Standards more than 150 years ago and didn’t think much of the value of higher education either? In his 1854 novel, Hard Times, Dickens devotes the first two chapters to satirizing education in the grade schools of his era, and it looks a lot like teaching in our schools today.

Right away, Dickens introduces Thomas Gradgrind, owner of a small school in an English industrial town, who makes clear what he thinks education should be: “Now what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. “

Next, Gradgrind, an unnamed visitor, and the schoolmaster, Mr. M’Choakumchild enter a classroom and lessons begin with Gradgrind in charge. He looks around the room and points to a young girl: “Girl number twenty” he calls out. She stands up and gives her name: “Sissy Jupe, sir.” “Sissy is not a name,” charges Gradgrind. “Don’t call yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecelia.”

After learning that Sissy’s father performs with horses at the local circus, Gradgrind demands, “Give me your definition of a horse.” When she doesn’t answer, he turns to a boy named Bitzer and repeats the order. Bitzer says, “Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eyeteeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.” “Now, girl number twenty,” gloats Gradgrind, “You know what a horse is.”

Later, while lecturing the class on the foolishness of using representations of horses and flowers in home decorations, Gradgrind calls on Sissy again, asking her why she would have such pictures on carpets where people would step on them. Sissy, no longer tongue-tied, replies, “It wouldn’t hurt them, sir. They would be the pictures of what was very pretty and pleasant, and I would fancy….” “ But you mustn’t fancy,” cries Gradgrind. “That’s it! You are never to fancy.”

Having humiliated Sissy once again, Gradgrind turns the lesson over to M’Choakumchild, who, Dickens tells us, has been thoroughly trained for his job: “Orthography, etymology, syntax, and prosody, biography, astronomy, geography, and general cosmography, the sciences of compound proportion, algebra, land-surveying and leveling, vocal music, and drawing from models, were all at the end of his ten chilled fingers ……He knew all about all the Water Sheds of all the world (whatever they are), and all the histories of all the peoples, and all the names of all the rivers and mountains, and all the productions, manners, and customs of all the countries, and all their boundaries and bearings on the two-and-thirty points of the compass. Ah, rather overdone, M’Choakumchild. If he had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more.”

Dickens then ends the chapter with a metaphorical musing that compares M’Choakumchild’s teaching to Morgiana’s actions in the story, “Alibaba and the Forty Thieves”:

“Say, good M’choakumchild. When from thy boiling store,

thou shalt fill each jar brim full by-and-by, dost thou think that thou wilt always kill outright the robber Fancy lurking within—or sometimes only maim and distort him.”

While these excerpts from Hard Times are fresh in our minds, let’s consider their connection to today’s Common Core English Language Arts Standards. Below is a key statement from the official CCSS guide for teaching reading.

.The Common Core emphasizes using evidence from texts to present careful analyses, well-defended claims, and clear information. Rather than asking students questions they can answer solely from their prior knowledge and experience, the standards call for students to answer questions that depend on their having read the texts with care.

Although this statement does not include the word “facts,” it argues for the type of education that Gradgrind championed. Incidentally, neither “imagination” nor “creativity” is mentioned anywhere in the Standards documents.

To further emphasize the place of factual information in standards-based education, David Coleman, the primary architect of the Standards and now President of the College Board, has repeatedly asserted his view that students’ experiences, beliefs, and feelings should not be part of their educational journey. Below, is his explanation of how Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address should be taught:

The idea here is to plunge students into an independent encounter with this short text. Refrain from giving background context or substantial instructional guidance at the outset. It may make sense to notify students that the short text is thought to be difficult and they are not expected to understand it fully on a first reading —that they can expect to struggle. Some students may be frustrated, but all students need practice in doing their best to stay with something they do not initially understand. This close reading approach forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all students as they seek to comprehend Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Since I had not seen any lessons that fit Coleman’s criteria in my visits to classrooms, I turned to a website called “America Achieves” and viewed the only video there that portrayed the Common Core concept of proper teaching of a complex text.

That video shows a 9th grade teacher teaching a lesson on Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” that depicts a yearly event in a small rural village in which every family must participate. In this “lottery” the person who draws the one paper with a black dot on it is stoned to death by the crowd. Clues throughout the story let mature readers know about the lottery’s ancient origins and its initial purpose to persuade the gods to provide a good food harvest for the community, information that the story’s characters are never aware of.

At the video’s beginning the teacher describes her class to the audience as low-level readers with several English Language learners among them. She explains her choice of “The Lottery” as a complex text, yet within the range of suitability for ninth graders. The classroom scenes that follow show her asking students to locate specific bits of information and explain their literal meanings. She never asks why the story’s characters speak or act as they do. Also included in the video are short breaks where the teacher addresses viewers directly explaining her teaching further.

My response to the video was strongly negative. I felt that the teacher’s approach was mechanical and shallow. Without background information the students missed the author’s clues and failed to see the significance in the characters’ comments and behaviors. For them this was just a fairy tale without rhyme or reason. As a seasoned educator I could not accept the teacher’s choice of a text for this class or her failure to give them sufficient information beforehand and guidance during reading

It’s probably not fair for me to pass judgment on the Standards teaching methods after seeing just one video. But, if this new approach to K-12 education is so powerful why aren’t there more videos on this site—or elsewhere–showing teachers practicing more sophisticated teaching? Without research, field-testing, or evidence of student improvement, the case for the Standards right now is weak at best. Yet, most of our states’ governors, policy makers, pundits, and school officials have fallen for it. What we need is a reincarnation of Dickens to give us a picture of a modern classroom with a gifted teacher and a new Bitzer and Sissy to show us the difference between spouting “facts” and demonstrating genuine learning.








Today, parents and students rallied against the state tests at dozens of schools across New York City, unassuaged by State Commissioner John King’s claims that the tests were better this year and consumed less than 1% of the year. Little children that had sat for three hours of reading tests did not take comfort in his words, and parents demanded transparency.

“The protests, which drew hundreds of people to some schools before the start of classes, followed a speech Thursday by New York State Education Commissioner John King, in which he fiercely defended the state’s education initiatives, including the new standards and tests.

“He described recent debates over those efforts as “noise” and “drama,” and attributed some of the outcry to “misinformation.” And while acknowledging that some schools spend too much time preparing for tests, he insisted that the state had worked to reduce testing time. He added that the new Common Core exams “are better tests” than previous ones.

“His comments struck a nerve with some of the principals, who usually avoid getting involved in education’s political fights, but felt impelled to refute the notion that misinformed members of the public were stirring up unrest about the tests.

“P.S. 59 Principal Adele Schroeter said the hundreds of parents and students who filled the streets around her Midtown school Friday morning were “more than noise and drama, in spite of what John King might say.””

Tomorrow, dozens of Manhattan principals plan their own protests. One of them wrote in a letter to parents: ““I have never seen a more atrocious exam.”

“Echoing criticisms of the exams that other educators have posted online, the Manhattan principals said the tests did not measure the type of analytical reading and writing they associate with the Common Core standards. They also argued that the tests were too long and many of the multiple-choice answers were bafflingly similar.

“I have a double masters and some of them could be A or C,” said Medea McEvoy, principal of P.S. 267 on the Upper East Side, one of the schools planning to protest.

“The principals also said that confidentiality rules shield the test maker, publishing giant Pearson, from public scrutiny. And because only a portion of the test questions are eventually released, they said, teachers cannot rely on them as instructional tools.
The school leaders added that, considering all the flaws they found in the exams, they do not trust the state’s new evaluations that rate teachers partly on their students’ test scores.”

The Peabody School Committee unanimously passed a resolution calling for an investigation of whether State Commissioner Mitchell Chester has a conflict of interest as national chairman of the PARCC governing board.

Some people in the Bay State are still angry that school officials dropped the state’s successful standards and assessments in exchange for $75 million in Race to the Top funding. Some wondered why RTTT didn’t adopt Massachusetts as the national model.

The article says:

“Committee member Dave McGeney, an outspoken critic of Common Core, believes there is a major conflict and Chester should be booted out of office. He said he’s had it with Chester, who’s been “utterly” disingenuous during the rollout of the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) trial test, and who, in fact, has a vested interest in Massachusetts jumping aboard the Common Core bandwagon. McGeney also says there’s no evidence to back up many of Chester’s statements on the benefits of PARCC.

“Chester is the national chairman of the PARCC Governing Board for the third year and was instrumental in developing the standards.

“He’s been running around the state portraying the PARCC test as a two-year trial, and there’s all kinds of literature with his name attached to it and statements that it’s a trial … but his actions belie that,” McGeney told The Salem News prior to Tuesday’s committee vote.

McGeney said what “pushed him over the edge” was when he learned Chester was due to speak to executives in Washington, D.C., on “how to handle Common Core dissenters,” according to McGeney. “That’s what we are now; we’re labeled as ‘dissenters,’” he said. “The deck is stacked, the game is rigged, and I don’t like it. We have the least to gain and the most to lose.

“When we took the Race to the Top money … the federal government said, ‘We’ll give you this money, and you have to agree to adopt the Common Core standards’” McGeney said. “The standards hadn’t been written yet. It’s the same deal as Obamacare. We signed on to the deal and didn’t even know what it was.”

“The committee unanimously agreed on Tuesday to send a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick and other officials that says that the MCAS has led to “unprecedented improvement in student achievement in Massachusetts” since 1993, and to consider abandoning it in favor of a still “unproven and theoretical” test that may hold promise is a “monumental decision” that “demands objectivity, fairness and the impartial scrutiny of empirical data to determine the outcome.

“We believe that Mitchell Chester, by virtue of his role as National Chair of the PARCC Governing Board and other actions, represents a serious breach of trust, which is at odds with his primary duties and responsibilities, and at the very least gives the impression of bias towards PARCC and compromises the decision-making process,” the letter reads.

“There are some very intelligent people who think it’s (Common Core) great, and there are some very intelligent people who think it’s going to be lousy, but there are 90 percent of the people who don’t have a clue,” McGeney said.”

A teacher describes a new start up–open the link and see if you can find a teacher in the lineup of leaders–funded by Rupert Murdoch and aligned with the Common Core. Thar’s gold in them thar hills!

She writes:

“You probably know about this outfit already, but take a look at the team members of Teach Boost. Quite telling. I am enraged.

(By the way, we are not K-12 educators. We teach at-risk youth between 17-21 with the goal being passing the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC) and college and career readiness. Of course, the test is Common Core-aligned, ensuring significant failure and dropout rates as we go forward.

Note in particular the connections to corporations, particularly Wireless Generation/Amplify:


Sherm Koons left this comment. Check out Sherm’s blog, Tales from the Classroom. He is a veteran high school English teacher in Ohio.


Down the Rabbit Hole with PARCC.

It’s taken me a while to begin to wrap my head around what’s really going on with PARCC and what makes it so absolutely wrong, but standing in the hall after school today talking to some fellow teachers I think got a glimpse. As we discussed the inappropriateness of the exams for our students, it occurred to me that actually it all makes perfect sense if your goal is to generate the most data that you possibly can. If you believe that, given enough data, you can predict human behavior, environmental, societal and other factors, and all the infinite variables of existence to a degree that mimics reality, of course you would want the most data that you could get. And you become obsessed with data. And eventually you lose track of what you initially were hoping to measure. It becomes data for data’s sake. And soon it has absolutely nothing to do with education, students, or anything human. And as you disappear further and further down the rabbit hole, you can’t understand why nobody gets it but you. The reason we don’t “get it” is that IT MAKES NO SENSE. You have become lost in your never-ending quest for data. You are delusional. And you must be stopped.

Robert Shepherd, a frequent commenter on the blog, is an experienced veteran in the world of education publishing, having developed curriculum, textbooks, and assessments.



He writes:


The New York legislature just voted to dump inBloom. But Diane Ravitch’s first post about that subjected noted, wisely, that inBloom was dead “for Now.”


Don’t think for a moment that Big Data has been beaten. I am going to explain why. I hope that you will take the time and effort to follow what I am going to say below. It’s a little complicated, but it’s a great story. It’s a birth narrative–the astonishing but, I think, undeniably true story of the birth of the Common Core.


The emergence of the Internet presented a challenge to the business model of the big educational publishers. It presented the very real possibility that they might go the way of the Dodo and the Passenger Pigeon. Why? I can point you, right now, to about 80 complete, high-quality, FREE open-source textbooks on the Net–ones written by various professors–textbooks on geology, law, astronomy, physics, grammar, biology, every conceivable topic in mathematics.


Pixels are cheap. The emergence of the possibility of publishing via the Internet, combined with the wiring of all public schools for broadband access, removed an important barrier to entry to the educational publishing business–paper, printing, and binding costs. In the Internet Age, small publishers with alternative texts could easily flourish. Some of those–academic self publishers interested not in making money but in spreading knowledge of their subjects–would even do that work for free. Many have, already. There are a dozen great free intro statistics texts with support materials on the web today.


Think of what Wikipedia did to the Encyclopedia Britannica. That’s what open-source textbooks were poised to do to the K-12 educational materials monopolists. The process had already begun in college textbook publishing. The big publishers were starting to loose sales to free, open-source competitors. The number of open-source alternatives would grow exponentially, and the phenomenon would spread down through the grade levels. Soon. . . .


How were the purveyors of textbooks going to compete with FREE?
What’s a monopolist to do in such a situation?


Answer: Create a computer-adaptive ed tech revolution. The monopolists figured out that they could create computer-adaptive software keyed to student responses IN DATABASES that they, AND THEY ALONE, could get access to. No open-source providers admitted.


Added benefit: By switching to computerized delivery of their materials, the educational publishing monopolists would dramatically reduce their costs and increase their profits, for the biggest items on the textbook P&L, after the profits, are costs related to the physical nature of their products–costs for paper, printing, binding, sampling, warehousing, and shipping.


By engineering the computer-adaptive ed tech revolution and having that ed tech keyed to responses in proprietary databases that only they had access to, the ed book publishers could kill open source in its cradle and keep themselves from going the way of Smith Corona and whoever it was that manufactured telephone booths.


Doing that would prevent the REAL DISRUPTIVE REVOLUTION in education that the educational publishers saw looming–the disruption of THEIR BUSINESS MODEL posed by OPEN-SOURCE TEXTBOOKS.


A little history:

Just before its business entirely tanked because of computers, typewriter manufacturer Smith Corona put up a website, the Home page of which read, “And on the 8th day God created Smith Corona.” 2007 was the 50th anniversary of the Standard and Poors Index. On the day the S&P turned 50, 70 percent of the companies that were originally on the Index no longer existed. They had been killed by disruptions that they didn’t see coming.
The educational materials monopolists were smarter. They saw coming at them the disruption of their business model that open-source textbooks would bring about. And so they cooked up computer-adaptive ed tech keyed to standards, with responses in proprietary databases that they would control, to prevent that. The adaptive ed tech/big data/big database transition would maintain and even strengthen their monopoly position.


But to make that computer-adaptive ed tech revolution happen and so prevent open-source textbooks from killing their business model, the publishers would first need ONE SET OF NATIONAL STANDARDS. That’s why they paid to have the Common [sic] Core [sic] created. That one set of national standards would provide the tags for their computer-adaptive software. That set of standards would be the list of skills that the software would keep track of in the databases that open-source providers could not get access to. Only they would have access to the BIG DATA.


As I have been explaining for a long, long time now, here and elsewhere, the Common Core was the first step in A BUSINESS PLAN.


Bill Gates described that business plan DECADES ago. He’s an extraordinarily bright man. Visionary.


So, that’s the story, in a nutshell. And it’s not an education story. It’s a business story.


And a WHOLE LOTTA EDUCRATS haven’t figured that out and have been totally PLAYED. They are dutifully working for PARCC or SBAC and dutifully attending conferences on implementing the “new, higher standards” and are basically unaware that they have been USED to implement a business plan. They don’t understand that the national standards were simply a necessary part of that plan.


And here’s the kicker: The folks behind this plan also see it is a way to reduce, dramatically, the cost of U.S. education. How? Well, the biggest cost, by far, in education is teachers’ salaries and benefits. But, imagine 300 students in a room, all using software, with a single “teacher” walking around to make sure that the tablets are working and to assist when necessary. Good-enough training for the children of the proles. Fewer teacher salaries. More money for data systems and software.


Think of the money to be saved.


And the money to be made.


The wrinkle in the publishers’ plan, of course, is that people don’t like the idea of a single, Orwellian national database. From the point of view of the monopolists, that’s a BIG problem. The database is, after all, the part of the plan that keeps the real disruption, open-source textbooks, from happening–the disruption that would end the traditional textbook business as surely as MP3 downloads ended the music CD business and video killed the radio star.


So, with the national database dead, for now, the deformers have to go to plan B.


What will they do? Here’s something that’s VERY likely: They will sell database systems state by state, to state education departments, or district by district. Those database systems will simply be each state’s or district’s system (who could object to that?), and only approved vendors (guess who?) will flow through each. Which vendors? Well, the ones with the lobbying bucks and with the money to navigate whatever arcane procedures are created by the states and districts implementing them, with the monopolists’ help, of course. So, the new systems will work basically as the old textbook adoption system did, as an educational materials monopoly protection plan.


All this is part of a business plan put in place to prevent the open-source textbook revolution from destroying the business model of the educational materials monopolists.


In business, such thinking as I have outlined, above, is called Strategic Planning.


So, to recap: to hold onto their monopolies in the age of the Internet, the publishers would use the Big Data ed tech model, which would shut out competitors, and for that, they would need a single set of national standards. The plan that Gates had long had for ed tech proved to be just the ticket. Gates’s plan, and the need to disrupt the open-source disruption before it happened, proved to be a perfect confluence of interest–a confluence that would become a great river of green.


The educational publishing monopolists would not only survive but thrive. There would be billions to be made in the switch from textbooks to Big Data and computer-adaptive ed tech. Billions and billions and billions.


And that’s why you have the Common [sic] Core [sic].


Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and State Commissioner of Education John King spoke at the Wagner School at New York University. This comment came from a graduate student at that institution. Her insight was so on target that I thought I would share it.

She writes:

“I am an NYU Wagner graduate and a public school parent. I was unable to attend Commissioner King’s speech and Secretary Duncan’s appearance. I hope a bright Wagner student asked how two men entrusted with our children’s education could miss so many of the fundamentals taught at the Wagner School. A Wagner education includes the analysis of case studies. If they are not already doing so, I hope Wagner students will soon be studying the Common Core as an overwhelming failure and as an example of what not to do in order to create change. The Federal Government and New York State have set shining examples of top-down management at its worst. Instead of building support from stakeholders, parents and teachers have been alienated and demoralized. Instead of valuing each and every student, Commissioner King and Secretary Duncan have sought to rank and sort students into losers and winners. Instead of fostering collaboration, competition and the survival of the fittest are their goals. Great leaders possess large quantities of humility. King and Duncan exemplify hubris.”

State Commissioner  John King, with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan by his side, spoke this morning at New York University and sent a message to New York’s parents and educators: We are on the right track and we won’t back down! On the same day he spoke, elementary school principal Elizabeth Phillips published an op-ed article in the New York Times explaining that the state tests were too long and developmentally inappropriate. The juxtaposition demonstrated how out-of-touch Commissioner King is with the people who actually work with children every day in the state’s schools. If nothing else, his speech revealed his devotion to abstractions, not to real children. Despite widespread parent protests about the length of the tests–children in grades 3 through 8 are tested for about 7 hours in reading and math–Commissioner King insists that those 7 hours constitute less than 1% of the year of schooling. Technically, he is right, but in real life terms, why can’t he explain why the state must administer 7 hours of testing to find out how well children can read and do math. While talking about equity, he did not mention the appalling failure rates on last year’s tests, where only 3% of English language learners passed, only 5% of children with disabilities, less than 20% of African American and Hispanic children. Will he change the passing mark? On what does he base his faith that these horrifying failure rates will change? He didn’t say.


Here is Commissioner John King’s speech. Please feel free to respond:

Good morning and thank you all for being here. I especially want to thank the Wagner School for hosting us and Secretary Duncan for traveling from Washington, DC this morning to join us and for his warm introduction.


New York State has reached an important turning point in our work to ensure an excellent education for every student. We’re poised to lead the country. It’s within our grasp – and together we have the potential to make a difference for every single child in this state.


I became an educator for a very simple reason: I know that school can be the difference between hope and despair for a child and especially a child at risk – whether its from poverty, disability or a difficult family situation. I know that an amazing teacher can save lives because one of my elementary school teachers at P.S. 276 in Brooklyn saved mine. His name was Mr. Osterweil. My mother died when I was 8. At the time, my father was suffering from undiagnosed Alzheimer’s disease. It was just the two of us in my house. Over the next four years, he declined rapidly and then he passed away when I was 12. During those years, life outside of school was scary and unpredictable – but in Mr. Osterweil’s classroom I was safe, I was nurtured, and I was challenged. We read the New York Times every morning; we did a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. In Mr. Osterweil’s classroom, the world beyond Canarsie was opened up to me. We worked hard in Mr. Osterweil’s class and we discovered the joy of learning. As a teacher, principal and policymaker, my goal is and has always been to give every student what Mr. Osterweil gave me –a classroom where they feel supported and inspired and challenged. That’s all I want for New York’s children. We all want that — but sometimes politics gets in the way. I have always tried to separate the politics of education from the substance of the issue. I try to focus on instruction – to look only at evidence, at practice, and at what students know and are able to do. I try to focus on outcomes for students and to leave ideology and politics aside.


These days, however, New York politics seems to be all about education and its hard to find any agreement on facts — let alone policy. And it’s also hard to see where everyone stands. Some Republicans and business leaders support high standards while others don’t. Some Democrats and civil rights leaders support student-focused evaluations for teachers and principals and some don’t. Some folks align with unions while others keep their distance. Some demand accountability while others fight it. And often, those with the most to gain are not in the fight at all. Sometimes, these debates focus on real issues and there are honest disagreements that can lead to productive compromise. But sometimes the conversation devolves into extraordinarily personal attacks, which should have no place in open civic discourse. Civility and respect should be the price of admission in public debate. Its opposite is not only inappropriate but it has the disheartening effect of turning off the people we serve– the students, the parents, and the taxpayers of New York. Their voices matter. We represent their interests – not our own – and when the noise level rises, healthy engagement declines and the likelihood of achieving consensus drops. I saw that happen last fall in a series of public forums across the state. People were angry and frustrated.


There was a great deal of misinformation and people felt they weren’t being heard. I saw it happen again this winter where the state teachers union voiced the anxiety and frustration of their members over evaluation and accountability. At times, the union leadership even appeared to oppose higher standards for teaching and learning – even though they had agreed to raise standards and worked with us to secure funding for that work. It culminated last weekend – not only in a “no-confidence” vote for me by NYSUT delegates – but also the election defeat of NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi, who lost his reelection as union president. While we have had our differences, I respect President Iannuzzi. He was a dedicated and hard-working teacher and union leader and I salute him for his service. I also look forward to working with his successor. Some principals and some superintendents have also called for a course correction and it’s played out in the State Capitol where long-time legislative supporters of education reform decided the transition to higher standards was moving too quickly. And I saw it over the last few weeks where a small percentage of parents and students opted out of the new state assessments that will measure whether our students are on track to being prepared for college and work. In doing so, they made their voices heard even if they are now denying themselves and their teachers the opportunity to know how their children are performing against a common benchmark used throughout the state.


On a more local level, you can read the comments section in any newspaper article about testing or standards, and quite often someone will end up saying something harsh and inappropriate. Partly – this is New York’s character. New Yorkers have deeply-held beliefs and we’re willing to stand up for them – and even fight for them. It’s one of the things that makes us great. But that doesn’t justify the kind of degrading rhetoric that increasingly fills our newspapers and airwaves. Every confrontation does not need to end with one side declaring victory and the other side retreating in defeat. We can achieve shared victories — and that’s especially true in public education, where there should be more acknowledgment of the facts and common aspirations – because there really is only one thing that counts – and that is student outcomes. No matter where we stand on the policy or political spectrum – our job is to get results in the classroom and graduate every student ready for the next step – whether its post-secondary education or work. We can differ on how to get there — what works best — and the pace of change – but the goal is beyond debate: to prepare our children for the future. So today, I’m going to try — not to add to the noise – but to turn the page and talk about how New York can move forward and affirm our place as a national leader in public education.


There are three basic issues on which we should be able to agree. The first is that – for all of our progress – New York State is not yet where it needs to be: Without question, New York State has many excellent districts and schools. From high school graduation rates to Advance Placement exams to college enrollment, our students are learning more and doing better than they were ten years ago or even four years ago. We should all take pride in our progress – BUT we can and must do better:


 One in four New York State students does not graduate high school. That’s below the national average.  Only about a third of the students who begin high school as freshmen graduate four years later ready for college-level work.


 More than 50 percent of those who enroll in state community colleges need remedial education. Here in the city it’s over 80 percent. Huge numbers never finish.


 And needless to say, all of these facts are worse – often much worse – for low-income students, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with special needs. New York, of course, isn’t alone. Whether you look at the NAEP national assessment, the PISA international assessment, state assessments or graduation rates, the conclusion is the same.


America needs to get better, faster or too many young people will face fewer opportunities in a global economy. The second area of agreement should be in favor of high standards. Nobody can honestly argue that we are better off keeping standards low and deluding ourselves and our children into thinking they are ready for college and work when we know they aren’t. Employers will tell you that many students coming out of high school struggle to communicate effectively. College professors will tell you that many incoming freshmen can’t write a simple essay in which they make an argument and defend it with evidence. To meet this challenge, the New York State Board of Regents adopted the Common Core standards in 2010 – standards developed by asking college professors, employers, and accomplished teachers what students need for success in college, careers, and life. Since then, we have committed nearly $500 million dollars in Race to the Top funds spent in districts to help launch Common Core and to improve instruction. • We put teacher trainers in every region of the state and in all the large school districts training thousands of teachers. • We created free voluntary curriculum that’s been downloaded more than 6.2 million times. • And we put instructional videos on our website showing how higher standards work in the classroom.


Countless teachers have bravely and creatively stepped up — adopting new curricula, developing new lesson plans and redesigning instruction to promote critical thinking and problem-solving rather than rote memorization. Whether in the local papers or on our website,, or on websites like the ones run by both national teacher unions, there are constant stories about teachers successfully making the transition. It’s a huge change and no one thought for a moment it would be easy – but the truth is that it is well underway in classrooms all across the state. I have seen the progress firsthand in the over 60 schools I have visited around the state since September. From a math teacher in Cooperstown challenging students to solve real world problems by subtracting mixed numbers to a classroom in Harlem where students were discussing evidence for common themes in Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and Watsons Go to Birmingham, the Common Core is enriching instruction in classrooms all across the state every day. Of course, in a system as decentralized as ours, the road to change will always be bumpier for some than for others. We have 700 school districts in New York and there is no question that implementation has been uneven—but that’s no reason to stop. We teach our children to meet failure and challenge with renewed effort. Adults must do the same. The third issue that unites us is accountability for student results. We can debate the best way to hold ourselves accountable.


Time will tell whether the current mix of measures – from state tests and Regents exams to graduation rates and student portfolios – provide the best indicators of college and career readiness. But the idea that we don’t really need accountability is unacceptable. It’s an abdication of responsibility. We’ve been hired to educate the children of New York – all the children of New York – no matter how poor or how challenged or how difficult their home life. Every single child deserves an effective education and the parents and taxpayers who hired us have a right to know whether we are getting the job done. And — if New York is not getting it done – then I am accountable. We are all accountable. That’s the bargain at the heart of public education.


Parents trust us with their children and the people of the state give us billions and billions of dollars each year – and what they ask in return is that we deliver results – and prove it. And that gets to two issues that are really at the heart of all the drama here in New York in recent months: the first is testing and the second is evaluation. Many New York parents have expressed frustration with testing and I understand where they are coming from. Testing is not teaching. Testing is not the point of education. Testing does not make our children smarter. It just tells us where we are so we can get better. Unfortunately, the facts around testing seem to get lost. First of all, the new Common Core tests are a much better reflection of the skills students will need for college and career success. They rely less on multiple choice and require students to write more. They ask students to critically analyze challenging texts and to apply their math skills to real world problems. They are better tests. Second, New York State has not added any new tests since adopting the Common Core standards. In fact, we have made every effort to simultaneously improve our tests and reduce testing time. Today, the total testing time for those state tests accounts for less than one percent of the instructional time in the school year.


I want to say that again: since New York State adopted the Common Core in 2010, we have not added any new tests — and total testing time accounts for less than one percent of class time each year. We also discourage test prep, which takes time away from learning. The best preparation for testing is good teaching so let me say here and now – as loudly and clearly as possible – stop doing rote standardized test prep. It doesn’t help children or schools and I salute the legislature and the Governor for putting a cap on test prep into law. We have also discouraged local school districts from layering on additional testing. Now, some local tests provide useful information throughout the school year to inform instruction and guide efforts to help struggling students. But principals and superintendents have to justify these local tests to parents – or eliminate them. Our goal is the minimum amount of testing needed to inform effective decision- making. And that gets to the second issue around accountability. Some teachers and principals are pushing back on evaluation, even though New York has barely begun to implement the evaluation process that our districts and our unions all agreed to support. Moreover, no teachers or principals have faced any consequences so far. The evaluation system has three parts: 20 percent relies on the state test or comparable measures; another 20 percent relies on local tests. The other 60 percent of a teacher’s Page 5 of 9Page 6 of 96 evaluation relies on classroom observation and other factors like feedback from parents and students. Again – 60% has nothing to do with test scores – so anyone who says that evaluation is all about test scores is wrong. They’re misinforming people to stir up anxiety and fear among teachers and parents – and that’s having a negative effect on students. Right now – as we speak — we have only one year of test results that measure the new standards. We have not identified any new schools for intervention. Not a single teacher or principal has faced any negative consequences in connection with the new standards. No one has been fired through the process created under the new evaluation law. And there won’t be negative consequences under the new evaluation law until new results come in next year.


More than likely, districts would not take action until the summer of 2015 – which is five full years after the Common Core standards were adopted. Moreover, last year, just one percent of educators in the entire state were found ineffective – which is the bottom of four categories under our new evaluation system – and they have to be ineffective two years in a row to be at risk of dismissal. In the meantime, they develop a plan to improve – and hopefully they will. The bottom line is that less one percent of teachers could face dismissal proceedings from our evaluation system over the next year. So — anyone who says evaluation is all about firing teachers is deliberately misrepresenting the facts. For the vast majority of teachers – 99 percent – these early evaluations will only help them get better – and that helps our students improve. Now – the work of raising standards for teaching and learning is work we launched together. Not just the state – but the districts, the unions, the teachers, the legislature, the governor – all with the support of the federal government. Everyone has had a voice in this. It’s been open, transparent – and we have all known about it for years. But for this to actually work and to make a difference in the lives of students, local education leaders must implement these changes – thoughtfully, consistently and fairly. Local leaders set budgets and priorities. They dedicate time and money to professional development. They choose curriculum. They track results and they manage school schedules to allow for planning and collaboration and create a culture of continuous improvement. Several talented local superintendents are here with us today representing the 700 district leaders across this state charged with delivering on the promise of the Common Core. The state can help with funding, provide guidance and highlight best practices. We can offer flexibility when it is in the best interests of students. And we can seek relief from Washington and we have. We thank Secretary Duncan for giving New York the flexibility to do this right. Now, there’s been a lot of talk about rushed implementation of Common Core. Some people say it is unfair to hold ourselves accountable for meeting new standards when teachers are still getting comfortable with new curricula and lesson plans.


Some have proposed a delay of two or three years – with no consequences for teachers or principals when students aren’t making progress. The Board of Regents established a workgroup that looked at Common Core implementation, made recommendations for adjustments, and proposed that rather than delay student-focused evaluations yet again we should create additional mechanisms to ensure fairness. Similarly, the Governor appointed a commission to consider the issue and they came back with their recommendation. Despite some anecdotal evidence of poor implementation in some places, the commission said that New York must stay on schedule and stay on track toward higher standards. But they listened – and they continue to listen — and we will continue to talk with the Board of Regents, the Governor, the legislature — and teachers and administrators — about how to do this fairly and thoughtfully. But we’re not going backwards. We’re not retreating. New York is moving forward with a common belief in the power of great teachers to make a difference in the lives of children and an urgent commitment to do everything in our power to put an effective teacher in every classroom. And that requires real and authentic accountability that recognizes, celebrates and honors our best teachers and lifts and strengthens the entire field. Nothing else we do is more important. So I hope that all of us – administrators, educators, parents and unions – can lay down our swords – soften the rhetoric – put aside the politics — and come together for our children. It is time to rebuild the trust and mutual respect required to collaborate at scale on something as complex as raising standards for teaching and learning. It is time to stop stoking the fires of fear – and start expressing the confidence and optimism that common sense standards offer – both to our teachers and our students. To our students – New York offers you the promise of an education that truly prepares you for college, work and life. Included in that promise is a commitment to tell you the truth about how well you are prepared and what you need to do to succeed. For our teachers, we offer you a path to the respect and recognition that you rightly crave and justly deserve. Instead of feeling blamed for our educational shortcomings, we want teachers to feel empowered to fix them. Recently Secretary Duncan called for a new era of teacher leadership in order to strengthen the teaching profession. New York will be the first state in the union to answer that call. On Tuesday, I was in Greece, NY, a district using Race to the Top funds to develop a career ladder for teachers. Teacher leaders – master teachers selected jointly by the district and their union – split their time between classroom instruction and supporting and coaching their peers.


I was inspired and reassured listening to them describe the powerful conversations they are having with colleagues. It affirmed for me what I have always known: That there is no educational challenge in New York that is beyond the reach of our educators, our schools, our parents and our students. But it will ask more of each of us. Schools of education need to rethink how they train teachers. Elected officials must take greater responsibility for fully and equitably funding our schools and I am grateful to the governor and legislature for boosting education funding next year. Administrators need to use that money to give teachers the training and support they need. The union leadership at the state and local level needs to continue to honor its commitment to accountability and reform. We can’t do this without them – and we certainly can’t do this in a climate of open hostility. It’s got to end. Teachers themselves need to embrace a system of accountability – instead of fearing it – because they have very little to fear and far more to gain. And finally – we at the state level and our colleagues at the federal level need to own up to the unintended consequences of our policies – from narrowing of the curriculum to the overemphasis on testing. We can and must minimize test prep and the stress that it places on students and teachers. I worked in schools where collaboration and trust were central to the school culture and where students had a rich, well-rounded curriculum. Testing was a diagnostic tool – not an end in itself. It didn’t impede learning or overwhelm children. Teachers valued the feedback.



Still, I accept responsibility for state policies and the impact they have had – both positive and negative. I know implementation has not gone perfectly and there is more the state can do. Which is why today, I want to announce three initiatives to further support the transition: (1) The first is a $16 million dollar grant program called Teaching is the Core. The goal is to reduce local testing by evaluating which ones are needed and which ones aren’t. I don’t want New York students spending one minute longer than necessary on testing. (2) The second is a plan to borrow classroom teachers from across the state to help us shape the state’s curriculum and instruction supports around the Common Core. We want to find teachers who are doing it well so they can help their colleagues across New York make this transition. We’ll pay their salaries for a year so that there is no cost to districts. (3) The third is really a challenge to local administrators and local union leaders to build time into school schedules for more collaboration and high-quality professional development. Student learning is our bottom line and that means professional development is not an optional luxury – it is essential.


This is a historic moment and an opportunity to lead the whole country. I have never been more confident because I know there are tens of thousands of smart and dedicated teachers across this state that share Mr. Osterweil’s passion and commitment. They’re devoted to their students and willing to do whatever it takes to help them get over the bar we have set for ourselves. I know there are millions of parents across this state who want only the best for their children and who are willing to be good partners with their children’s teachers in meeting those goals. There are elected officials all across New York who don’t want to take sides among adults fighting over reform. They just want to be on the side of children and what is best for them. I also know that even my most ardent critics in the teachers union share the goal of providing the best education possible to every child in our state – and just because we don’t agree on everything – does not make us enemies. One of the gifts my mother gave me when I was little was that she taught me to look for the good in everyone. I hope that we can all see the good in each other and begin to move forward together – because the alternative is unthinkable. Children have been waiting for too long for the education they desperately need, while the adults have become paralyzed by the politics of education. We can’t get back a single day stolen from our children because we could not find common ground. We all have to own that and accept responsibility for every missed opportunity and that means we have to resolve here and now not to let another day go by where we are arguing about process instead of delivering an effective education to children. Not another day should go by when we are more concerned with making ourselves look good and making others look bad, because we all look bad and nothing good comes of it. I know that this work is difficult for some. I know this is scary for some. But anything worthwhile is going to be difficult and scary sometimes. It’s been difficult for me as well. I didn’t seek or invite the antagonism and acrimony – but it’s there and it’s real and I don’t dismiss it. I just hope we’re all a little bit stronger for it and a little bit chastened by the recent battles. I hope we’re all a little bit humbler and a little bit more understanding of each other’s point of view. And hopefully, we’re all a little bit smarter – and a little bit more able to find today’s solutions to yesterday’s battles. We have a lot of work to do. Let’s get to it. Thank you.


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