The New York Regents have embraced the Common Core standards and testing with the fervor of zealots.
They brook no opposition, and they only pretend to listen to critics.
The Regents are appointed by the New York Legislature, which in practice means the State Assembly, which is controlled by the Democratic Party.
Theoretically, the Regents each serve a five-year term, but in practice the members get reappointed if they wish to be reappointed.
The terms of four Regents are expiring this year, and the Assembly has the opportunity to appoint four new members, four people who have not been insulated from public opinion, four people who have some sense of what parents and the public are thinking, four people who recognize that public schools belong to the public, not to the Regents nor to Pearson nor the U.S. Department of Education.
The question: Will the Assembly have the wisdom to appoint new Regents or will it stick with the failed status quo?
Will the Assembly have the wisdom to add parents and citizens who are prepared to think anew about the needs of the children and public schools of New York State?
The implementation of the Common Core standards and testing was a disaster, as everyone acknowledges, including Governor Cuomo (who is also a fervent supporter of the Common Core) and the leaders of the Legislature, who threatened to take action if the Regents did not.
The Regents assembled a committee, which made cosmetic recommendations but did nothing to assuage the concerns of the public. It did nothing to reduce the high-stakes testing or to review the standards themselves. The committee recommended that the CC standards be reviewed by the original authors– the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, Achieve, and David Coleman’s Student Achievement Partners. Of course, the original writing group no longer exists, and there is no process in place to review the standards, not in D.C. nor anywhere else.
And that is the problem with the standards. They were handed down from Mount Olympus, as though the gods had written them in stone and they could not be changed by mere mortals. Not field-tested; no early childhood education experts; no one knowledgeable about the needs of children with disabilities. And the crowning insult: the “national standards” were copyrighted by the NGA and CCSSO. Have you ever heard of national standards that were copyrighted? I have not.
The standards will fail utterly if the Regents stick to their present course because the Regents cannot indefinitely ignore public opinion.
At every public meeting (except for one in Brooklyn that was packed by supporters of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst), thousands of parents expressed outrage about the standards and the testing.
What is needed now is clear:
First, the standards should be carefully reviewed by New York teachers who have been nominated by their superintendents as experts in teaching and learning, including teachers of the early grades and teachers of students with disabilities, as well as teachers of ELA and mathematics. They should be encouraged to revise wherever it is necessary.
Second, the standards should be decoupled from state testing. The state should offer standardized testing in fourth and eighth grades, as it did for many years, to gauge student progress.
Third, teacher evaluation should be tied to peer assistance and review, by peers and supervisors, with help for those teachers who need help.
But to make such significant changes, the Regents themselves must change. They cannot cling blindly to a failed status quo. By their actions and by their inaction, they are fomenting a parent rebellion.
And if the Legislature does not take heed and change the composition of the Regents, bringing in four new members dedicated to children and not to the current agenda, the people will remember in November.