Our Views: Common sense and Common Core

The Island Now

In medio stat virtus: virtue stands in the middle. 

Aristotle defined virtue as a balance point. That balance point is sorely needed in evaluating the state’s Common Core curriculum.  

State Commissioner of Education John King Jr. came to Mineola High School earlier this month to take questions from teachers, administrators and parents, many of whom are troubled by the state’s new education standards that are embodies in the Common Core curriculum.

 We too have expressed concerns about the Common Core and its emphasis on standardized testing. Teachers have told us that they are tired of “teaching to the next test” rather than helping their children learn. 

One thing appears clear: the rollout of Common Core has been a disaster, winning more enemies than friends.

“Our emphasis,” said King “is to address the needs of the whole child. The goal isn’t to create an education system that’s focused on rote testing.”

The 700 people or more that filled the auditorium weren’t buying it. They criticized the Common Core concept, the speed of its implementation and its impact on students and teachers.

 We hope King was listening. The state needs to go back to the drawing board. The sad truth is that today too many young people promoted in the state’s public schools lack the basic skills that they should have learned.

King and the people in Albany behind the Common Core must realize that opposition is not coming only from Tea Party “crazies,” although the state’s ultraconservatives are united against it.

Sheila Simone, president of the Great Neck Teachers Association, said bluntly, “I will tell you as a teacher I find this absolutely unhelpful in terms of improving my own instruction.” She then asked how teachers can use results of state assessment tests to improve students’ classroom performance without full access to the results. Great question.

King replied that the state education department is trying to “strike a balance” in determining how much information it releases about test results.

Although the teachers’ and administrators’ main concern was the emphasis on standardized testing, King insisted that Common Core is “about preparation for college and career success,” adding that K through 12 educators, college educators and business leaders had collaborated on developing the Common Core.

Last week, on Staten Island, Gov. Cuomo admitted that “elements” of the transition to the curriculum are “problematic.” 

That’s an understatement. Given the feedback, the state should hold off evaluating teachers and schools by Common Core standards.

However we also believe that elements of Common Core can significantly improve public education. We respect the goal of helping children to understand and not just memorize a list of facts.

In the debate this summer, critics complained that Common Core math “actually said it wasn’t important that children always have the right answer to a math question.” Is that really so wrong? Kids can use a calculator to arrive at the square root of 144, but if they don’t understand the logic and process, what have they really learned?

Unfortunately King and the state Department of Education have done a poor job getting their message out. 

We’d give the department a D- for the rollout. But we also think that if King listens carefully at every meeting he attends across the state, that Common Core can begin to make a real contribution to public education.

Share this Article