DFER New York
From Our Blog
The Common Core will help our children compete
November 19, 2013
By Craig Johnson, DFER New York State Director
(Originally published in Newsday, November 7, 2013)
Long Islanders are understandably anxious about changes in the way public school students are taught and tested. People attending community forums on the new Common Core State Standards are worried that their kids aren’t succeeding, their property values are going to plummet, and public education is now under the control of bureaucrats in Albany who are working to dismantle it.
But slowing implementation of the Common Core standards, as some are calling for the state to do, would be a step in the wrong direction. This change has been difficult because the old way had become comfortable. Kids on Long Island looked good on paper: In 2012, 62.4 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded proficiency standards in English, and 72.7 percent did so in math. Those of us invested in our children’s education were coasting on complacency, even when we knew it wasn’t necessarily serving students well.
The Common Core reforms are a necessary recalibration. While it’s easy to get caught up in the vitriol, it’s important to ground the debate over Common Core in the facts.
Setting state standards is nothing new. The state Education Department has been outlining what students should know in English language arts and math for nearly 20 years. But, as in many states, those standards were often vague and cumbersome, a mile wide and an inch deep.
The Common Core standards are a definite improvement. They are clear, focused and rigorous — something even critics acknowledge. In the early grades, the standards emphasize foundational reading and math skills, and they acknowledge the importance of play to learning in kindergarten classrooms. By high school, they are focused on ensuring all students do the kind of demanding daily work that will prepare them for the range of opportunities that await them after graduation.
Peer-reviewed research by a leading expert on international mathematics performance has compared the topics in the Common Core to high-performing countries in grades K-8. The study found that the Common Core math standards closely matched the standards of high-performing nations. It also found that states whose standards more closely matched the Common Core tended to have higher scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — the largest nationally representative assessment of American students — than those that didn’t.
Similarly, the demands of the Common Core are a response to research that has shown that, even as the demands of college-level reading have increased, the difficulty of the texts students read in grades K-12 has dropped for years.
State Education Commissioner John King has correctly noted that certain tests are unnecessary and should be dropped. The goal has never been about testing our children into the ground. Any reduction of testing, however, cannot be at the expense of halting implementation of the Common Core.
New York is a national leader in Common Core implementation. In many states, teachers are clamoring for guidance. New York has begun developing a curriculum for all grades in both English language arts and math that has been highly touted by educators nationwide. The materials are well-aligned to the Common Core and available to every New York teacher free of charge.
As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has noted, the Common Core rollout has been rocky. But it’s a smart way to go if we want to ensure that Long Island’s young people are ready for the world that awaits them.
King was a teacher in Massachusetts when that state implemented the most ambitious curriculum and standards in the nation. He knows what disruption looks like. He also knows how important it is to get this right, so teachers can ensure that our students will flourish.
Delaying this important progress, rolling back these well-thought-out policies, and ignoring the problems they’re intended to solve won’t make the issues go away. And it certainly won’t do any favors for our kids.
Time For Moratorium On NY Bellyaching
October 22, 2013
By Joe Williams
Today’s preliminary results of the new teacher evaluation system for New York State should put to rest the bogus notion that employing more sophisticated measures of classroom performance is somehow bad for teachers. Hopefully the unproductive belly-aching about linking teacher evaluations and student learning will end soon, so that our educators and administrators can focus on the more important work - using these new tools to help teachers advance in their practice.
Under the old system, nearly all teachers were rated “satisfactory” and a tiny sliver was rated “unsatisfactory.”
New York’s kids deserve better than “satisfactory” from those of us who believe in the importance of a strong public education system. While there will no doubt need to be alterations to the new system based on the first few years of implementation, this is a major step forward in the professionalization of the teaching force statewide.
Arming “effective” teachers with the tools they need to become “highly effective”; helping teachers move from “developing” to “effective” - this is the work that will impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of students in the Empire State.
Turning back on these groundbreaking efforts to treat teachers with the professional respect they deserve would be a serious blow to the future of public education in the state. Indeed, a moratorium on recent reforms across the state would be ill-advised and legislators should seriously question whether those calling for such a reversal have any intention of saving public education from extinction.
Sidenote: For all of the complaining that student test scores were not a good measure of teacher efficacy, it is worth noting that in New York City - the one district not included in this initial report because the grownups in Gotham couldn’t get their act together - the formal complaints coming from organized teacher representatives this week do not center on the tests, but on the classroom visits from administrators. Maybe basing more of a teachers evaluation on tests is the way to go here?
DFER On the NYC Mayor's Race
September 11, 2013
DFER's Joe Williams on the NYC Mayor's Race:
"Bill de Blasio ran one of the most effective political campaigns we have ever seen, tapping into real anxieties New Yorkers have about hot-button issues like ‘stop-and-frisk’ and income inequality. His come-from-behind victory in the Democratic Primary was a repudiation of the outrageous claims that United Federation of Teachers President Mike Mulgrew would 'make' or buy the next mayor. Mulgrew spent several million of the UFT's dollars trying to elect someone else for the job, even claiming that his chosen candidate had promised $3 billion for teacher raises. (The candidate claimed no such pledge.) This is an important moment for the Democratic Party in New York City, where Democrats and not union bosses elect their leaders. The reality is that many, many teachers and parents that we know pulled the lever for de Blasio, reminding us once again that in addition to losing its grip on the Democratic Party, the UFT has also lost the confidence of its rank-and-file and made itself irrelevant in the ongoing public education discussion in Gotham."
Hon. Craig M. Johnson, Chairman, DFER-NY also weighs in:
"Congratulations to my friend Bill de Blasio on his strong showing in the Democratic Primary for mayor. Having worked alongside the Public Advocate both in government and politics going back several years, I know that he will take his strong commitment to New York's school children with him to City Hall. As a parent, he understands what all moms and dad want for their kids, and schools in the city should benefit from that perspective."
New York Public Education Too Important To Abandon Competitive Grants
March 8, 2013
Statement from DFER's Joe Williams on attempts to eliminate Gov. Andrew Cuomo's competitive grants for public school districts:
"Eliminating these grants to hard-working school districts is exactly the wrong way to go if you are trying to convince taxpayers that our public schools are worth funding at higher levels. This is not money that would be thrown at the same old crap. Taxpayers very much want to support their public schools, but they keep telling us in community after community that they care how the moolah is being spent. The Governor took a huge step in the right direction by linking funding to innovation and success. Walking away from that principle will have disastrous consequences for the long-term fiscal sustainability of our state's struggling public education systems."
Hey Adolfo, You Don't Have To Leave The Party To Want Better Schools!
January 17, 2013
In this morning’s New York Daily News, former Bronx Borough Prez (and former Obama Urban Affairs Director) Adolfo Carrion eviscerates the United Federation of Teachers for being an “embarrassment” and “standing in the way of progress” over new teacher evaluations.
It certainly has looked like a Freak Circus, with Mike Mulgrew as the ring leader. But that’s not the point.
Carrion, whose own kids went to city public schools, is saying the kinds of things that most New Yorkers are saying this week as it dawns on them that the UFT cares little about either quality public schools or (believe it or not) the integrity of the collective bargaining concept.
But then he goes overboard:
Last year, I became a political independent to help demonstrate that, as a city, we can change this kind of corrosive atmosphere. Negotiations between government and organized labor should be moments when new ideas are debated, improved and implemented — not when respective sides hunker down and political brinkmanship distracts us from the issue at hand.
Say it aint so, Adolfo. You don’t have to leave the Democratic Party if you believe that teacher union leaders should be part of the solution rather than a cynical driver of the problem.
As the last few years have shown, the Democratic Party mainstream now accepts that possibility as a core of its belief system. The problem isn’t you, Adolfo. It is the likes of the United Federation of Teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union who are operating on the margins.
Come on back, brother
- Joe Williams
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