Fred LeBrun of the Albany-Times Union is the only journalist (to my knowledge) who gets the picture of the reform disaster in New York (especially after the NY Times mothballed the great Michael Winerip). 

He writes today:

Cuomo may have seen light on the Common Core mess

Fred LeBrun

Published 6:09 pm, Saturday, October 31, 2015 

Things are at long last looking up for beleaguered public education in this state, probably.

 

I’d like to say the likelihood of significant corrections coming to Common Core, excessive and inappropriate standardized testing, and a hard-wired connection between those tests and teachers’ jobs, is because the politician most responsible for the total mess we’re in, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has finally seen the light. 

 

His infatuation with data driven education ”reform,” fueled by millionaire political donors, has been a disaster, for him and for our children. It’s his law that’s codified the problem. It’s his law that needs amending.

 

But I have a hunch closer to the truth would be the sobering recognition by the governor that what desperately needs fixing and quick are persistently in-the-toilet poll numbers over his intrusive handling of education issues.

 

Voters get it. 

 

Especially with Judgment Day a mere five months away, when the next round of standardized tests are mandated in English and math for grades 4 to 8. That’s also about the time we are apt to see a parental opt-out uprising across the state of a scary magnitude if big changes aren’t already made or in the works.

 

So Cuomo needs to distance himself from his own mess pronto and be part of the solution rather than the problem for a change. 

 

He’s emphatically called for a ”total reboot” of the Common Core system while avoiding any mention of prior ownership or responsibility, and his new task force looking into it is remarkably different attitudinally than the last one Cuomo convened that delivered the Common Core manure heap as the divine word, with no dissent allowed.

 

This time, dissent prevails — and it’s about time.

 

The first public meeting of the governor’s Common Core task force last week at the College of New Rochelle in Westchester County heard presentations and comments from anti-testing activists and a leader of the opt-out movement calling for the immediate decoupling of student test scores from teacher evaluations.

 

Speakers also included those successfully working with Common Core standards, but still calling for changes, such as greater flexibility for school districts, more local control of the process, a diversity of approaches, and the building of trust among parents, teachers and school districts. What’s heartening is that the governor’s office, of course, controlled the panel process because that’s the way they operate, and the fact that divergent views were incorporated is striking. 

 

Nothing like that happened with the first task force. But, there was no public comment period in New Rochelle. 

 

Whether we’re witnessing just more window dressing from the governor or a meaningful attempt at fixing what’s broken will be evident Friday when simultaneous public hearings by the task force will be held all over the state, with public comment.

 

Perhaps the most encouraging sign of all is the governor bringing Jere Hochman, superintendent of the Bedford school district, into the administration as his top education adviser. 

Hochman has been a consistent critic of the administration’s policies, reportedly even tacitly encouraging opt-out. The lower Hudson Valley, where he’s from, has been a center of parental outrage over Common Core.

 

Again, whether Hochman is window dressing, or one of the architects of change, will be evident soon enough. 

 

The State of the State, at which Cuomo is expected to announce his recommendations for changes to his education ”reform” act, is a scant two months away.

 

The announced departure of state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch is also great news. 

 

It’s not just that she backed the wrong horses pushing for hurry-up implementation of Common Core before anyone was ready, and a perfectly idiotic teacher evaluation system, but in truth she was a prominent nag in that stable, a major player. 

 

Before you feel too sorry for her, remember that Tisch was more than willing to sacrifice a generation of our schoolchildren and the state’s teacher corps to her cause. Deliver us from the ideologues. So good riddance. Her leaving is favorable news for the future of the Regents, and for the anticipated recommendations from their own task force to the governor and Legislature for changes to Common Core and teacher evaluations. 

 

Without Tisch in the mix, significant ties are cut to the failed policies of President Barack Obama, outgoing U.S. Education Commissioner Arne Duncan, and former state Education Department Commissioner John King. King, meanwhile, has been booted up to the very top of the ladder as Duncan’s interim successor when he leaves at the end of the year But the operative word that fits like a blanket over that whole lot of them when it comes to education policy is failure.

 

Meanwhile, still another encouraging tea leaf is the state Education Department giving, as promised, more than three-quarters of the school districts in the state waivers from the draconian teacher and principal evaluation formulas built into Cuomo’s education reform law. The stage is set for change. School districts are taking a pass in anticipation that better times are coming.

 

Now, the devil remains in the details, and forgive the state’s teachers, educators — and parents — for being skeptical. The last five years has been a horror show. At the very least sole reliance on the flawed ”growth score” from standardized tests in evaluating teacher performance has to change. It’s written in the law. Student performance, and an appropriate level of teacher accountability, can be measured in a number of different ways, and alternatives need to be part of the dialogue. Common Core standards need new flexibilities, and a total rethink down in the lower grades where serious issues of developmentally inappropriate testing, questions, and frequency are recurring criticisms.

 

It won’t be all that hard to torque the law back to reasonable. Now let’s see it happen before we break out the confetti. 
flebrun@timesunion.com • 518-454-5453