JAMESTOWN – A lot of Western New Yorkers are concerned about the current state of public education in New York.
That was the message last night as hundreds of people filled the Jamestown High School auditorium to meet with New York State Education Commissioner John King Jr. to share their thoughts and asks questions about the controversial 21st Century Learning Standards – more commonly known as “Common Core.”
More than 30 people had an opportunity to speak directly to the commissioner, including Jamestown Teachers Association President Christopher Reilly. Reilly said the teachers in Jamestown are dedicated to improving student achievement, but the new teaching standards imposed by the state has not made it easy.
“The expectations of the common core are often times unclear,” Reilly explained. “The modules designed to assist teachers in implementing the Common Core are laced with errors. Teachers should not have to check ‘Engage New York’ to be alerted to errors found in modules. It’s unsettling when good veteran teachers consistently question the modules and their focus and appropriateness.”
Fredonia Middle School principal Andrew Ludwig also spoke out against the Common Core. He said that he’s not only opposed to it as an educator, but also as a parent.
“I can not possibly share with you all of my concerns in the time I am allotted, but you have heard many of these concerns over and over again in different times and different places,” Ludwig said. “You nod your heads, sometimes you smile, but I’m not sure you’re really listening. Unless major changes are made in the 3 through 8 testing program, I believe that many, many parents across the state will refuse your test.”
A few current students also spoke during the public comment, including one who said that the current education model and testing has created anxiety for him. He said he’s also seen his performance slip since the new standards have been implemented.
“Last year I received a [score of] 4 on the New York State test. This year I received a 3. How do you think that made me feel?” he said, adding, “Because of all the anxiety I’ve experienced, I’ve opted out from testing for this coming year. I know I am smart and I don’t need your tests.”
The vast majority of those who spoke expressed various concerns to the education model, ranging from poorly planned implementation models to over-testing and even corporate interests behind the creation of Common Core. However, there were some in attendance who were school administrators from throughout the region who spoke in favor of the standards.
Commissioner King responded to many of the concerns that were brought forward by the parents, students and teachers who spoke, with some of response aimed at refuting the claims made by those who spoke. His overlying message what that the standards are still new and will take time to adjust to. He added that the state is allowing for the performance evaluations to be slowly phased in over a seven-year period.
Prior to the public forum, WRFA specifically asked him about the amount of stress that the new teaching standards and assessments have created for students, parents and teachers. The commissioner’s response was that stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“There’s a balance you have to strike. There is some productive stress,” King said. “Most things in life that are worth doing require hard work. They require practice. They require preparation. So I think its important that we not say stress is inherently bad. But of course we worry about students feeling stress about the assessments or the educators feeling stress about the assessments. The assessments have to be treated as moment in time that gives us good information about student progress towards the goal, but not become the curriculum.”
The commissioner will hold one more public forum on the common core – most likely in Buffalo – prior to bringing his findings to the State Education Department and the Board of Regents.
WRFA will also have more from Wednesday Night’s public forum during Community Matters, which airs at 6 p.m. Thursday on WRFA.