Written by Dave Gil de Rubio, firstname.lastname@example.org Wednesday, 12 February 2014 00:00
Governor Andrew Cuomo may have recently announced the members of the Common Core Implementation Panel, which will undertake an immediate and comprehensive review of the rollout of the Common Core standards in New York State, but it hasn’t assuaged the concerns of Garden City parents. The Garden City Board of Education recently opened up to the public what wound up being a two-hour plus work session having to do with Common Core on Tuesday, Feb. 4. With roughly 40 to 50 people in attendance, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Teresa Prendergast gave a thorough Common Core presentation complete with slides and handouts as a means of offering clarity on this highly controversial and complex state standards initiative.
With criteria for English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics at the heart of Common Core, Dr. Prendergast not only gave a detailed explanation of these learning standards and examples of questions on the exams, but also dispelled a number of misconceptions. One of the primary misunderstandings is the idea that New York State and not Garden City Public Schools, is in charge of the curricula.
“Standards are nothing really new here that we haven’t done before here in Garden City in prior years,” she explained. “As far as ELA goes, the state is asking school districts to look at reading, writing, thinking and listening and looking at writing in all content areas as well as the use of appropriate language. I’ve heard people say that grammar and vocabulary are ignored in the Common Core and that’s absolutely not true.”
Prendergast, who was formerly a certified math teacher, also went over the mathematics portion of Common Core testing, which has proved to be a source of frustration to parents trying to help their children study due to the problem-solving methodology used. It’s a process the assistant superintendent defended.
“The process by which you understand the instruction and how the mathematics unfolds is critical, particularly at the younger levels because that builds the foundation for the upper middle school and high school mathematics,” she explained. “Without that foundation, things start to fall apart.”
When Prendergast finished, members of the board weighed in.
“I think the best thing to educate parents about is that Common Core is not bad. Anytime you’re raising standards to have your children perform at a higher level and introduce them to more rigorous curriculum and vocabulary, that’s not bad,” said Board President Barbara Trapasso. “It’s the whole thing about the implementation and the testing. So it’s not Common Core but the way the State Education Department has decided to implement its test information.”
“Speaking for myself, we on the school board really feel in the middle. We are required as a school district to comply with the state mandates. We get no money under tax cap regulation but nonetheless, we have to spend the money. We are a long ways along the road and I don’t think anyone would question whether Garden City graduates are college or career-ready. I believe that’s the reason most of us live here,” said Trustee Robert Martin. “We face two directions as a school board—we’re trying to explain to the community that we have to comply and doing our best. On the other hand, we look at Albany and our legislators and complained loud and long to them about the inequities and the issues that are involved that we think penalize our school district and our students.”
When the meeting was opened up to citizens' questions or comments of the presentation, reactions from parents became very pointed and barbed. Particular criticism was aimed at the effectiveness of Common Core.
“I know you guys can’t opt out, I’d like to find out if we can apply for a waiver. But we can opt out as individuals and I will be doing that because I think it’s a superfluous test and doesn’t add any advantage to our children as you already alluded to on standardized tests. So it’s redundant and it’s taking time away from what we should be doing, which is educating our kids,” said Sam Meyers, a father of four.
Other parents were disturbed at how pressure was affecting students.
“My 11-year-old son came home with an 85 on a math test that he spent 15 hours with a tutor preparing for. His sixth-grade teacher publicly hung up the test scores and humiliated the low scores in that classroom. My son threw up in the driveway and apologized to me for getting an 85 on the math test,” said teary parent Jackie Straus. “My kindergarten student is looking ahead at what happens in the sixth grade. Four months into his instruction I’ve heard, ‘I’m not safe in my school.’ ‘ I hate Garden City.’ ‘[Superintendent] Dr. Feirsen hates my brother, so why should I be good?’ That is the reality of the Common Core in some households. It goes deeper than not understanding the math.”