Amid political pressure, GOP lawmaker endorses Common Core

John Flanagan, an influential Republican lawmaker, will soon shine a spotlight on criticism of New York’s implementation of the Common Core learning standards. But he doesn’t want to abandon the reforms altogether, the State Senate education chair suggested this morning at City & State’s annual “On Education” forum.

Speaking as a panelist at the forum, Flanagan said he has sensed growing opposition locally to the shared learning standards, which New York adopted in 2010 and implemented last year. He said he has received unannounced visitors complaining about the standards at his district office on Long Island and a flood of emails lately from people “who are lamenting Common Core.”

But Flanagan said he continues to support the standards, despite a rocky rollout that teachers, students, and parents in the state have criticized.

“I feel like almost all the educational leaders that I interact with have been, fundamentally, very strongly supportive of the Common Core,” Flanagan said this morning. “And I think that’s a good thing.”

Many of Flanagan’s conservative colleagues, both in New York and in legislative bodies across the country, are increasingly pushing to withdraw their states from a commitment to the national standards. In June, Republican lawmakers in the state Assembly introduced legislation to withdraw not just from the Common Core, but from all reforms tied to the state’s winning Race to the Top grant application as well.

Among the first states to adopt the standards, New York has been the subject of fierce criticism for how quickly it moved in rolling out more challenging tests. Elementary and middle school students took math and English tests that were tied to the standards this spring, and fewer than one in three students passed.

Though the opposition has conservative roots, it has also gained momentum from liberal-minded education advocates. Diane Ravitch, the education historian, opposes the standards and recently called for State Education Commissioner John King‘s resignation for imposing the new tests.

The opposition has alarmed many who say they continue to support the idea behind the standards, which is to teach students to think more deeply and critically, even as they have criticized the state’s implementation.

“This debate about whether Common Core is good or bad … is what frightens me,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, another panelist, said this morning.

Flanagan and Mulgrew said they have their own issues with how Common Core has been handled in New York. Mulgrew said teachers were not given the appropriate training or curriculum materials last year, one reason he offered for the test score decline. Starting next month, Flanagan will hold four public hearings across the state to probe the impact and effectiveness of these policies. A meeting in New York City is scheduled for October, Flanagan said today.

But both men insisted that concerns about how Common Core has been handled in New York should not sway people from being supportive of the standards.

“The implementation is a totally separate subject,” Flanagan said.

“Do not convolute the tests or what’s going on now with the idea of what Common Core is supposed to do,” Mulgrew said. “And if we do it correctly in the end it will benefit our country and all the children inside.”