hitting pause

State lawmakers unite to support two-year Common Core delay

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Cuomo spoke to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver last month before delivering his State of the State speech. Silver is among the many lawmakers calling for a pause on Common Core consequences.

ALBANY — State lawmakers today issued a bipartisan call for a two-year moratorium on consequences attached to the Common Core standards, potentially paving the way for revisions to the state’s teacher evaluation law.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Education Committee Chair Catherine Nolan announced today that they support a two-year delay — “at a minimum” — on using tests aligned to the Common Core learning standards to evaluate teachers. Leaders in the Senate, including Republican Dean Skelos and Education Committee Chair John Flanagan, seconded the request this afternoon.

Such a moratorium, which the state teachers union has lobbied for, would not remove the Common Core as the standards in use in New York’s schools. In fact, all of the legislators said the State Education Department and local districts should continue to develop and implement curriculums aligned to the standards, which are meant to ensure that students are prepared for college.

But a moratorium would dramatically lower the stakes for districts and teachers to hold students to the standards, because Common Core test scores would not be used to evaluate teachers and principals.

Detaching test scores from teacher evaluations would require legislators to revise the evaluation law for the third time since it was first passed in 2010. State officials have so far resisted such a change, in part because they fear it could jeopardize $700 million in federal Race to the Top grants that New York won to install teacher evaluations that weigh student growth.

But lawmakers are under pressure now, given that teachers outside of New York City are being evaluated for the second time under the new system this year. The law allows districts to move to fire teachers who receive two consecutive “ineffective” ratings. (New York City is evaluating teachers under the new system this year.)

National and local teachers union leaders have been calling for a delay for nearly a year. NYSUT has called for a three-year moratorium, while Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called for a national moratorium on Common Core stakes in a speech last April.

Any bipartisan proposal to change the evaluation law would put pressure on Cuomo, who praised the system in his State of the State speech last month. In a statement, Cuomo’s office suggested today that legislators had inappropriately conflated the teacher evaluation system with the new standards.

“The Governor believes there are two issues — Common Core and teacher evaluations — and they must be analyzed separately,” a spokeswoman said. She said Cuomo had determined that the State Education Department’s rollout of the Common Core had been “flawed, leading to too much uncertainty, confusion and anxiety among students and their parents.”

Parents and local educators protested the standards’ implementation in Albany and at heated public meetings with State Education Commissioner John King and with lawmakers last year. They charged that schools had not had time or support to adjust to the new standards before testing students on them.

The moratorium would also delay consequences for students’ scores on Common Core-aligned tests. Those scores are sometimes used to determine whether students are promoted to the next grade or accepted into specialized schools, but those decisions are made by districts, not the state.

Responding to the criticism, Cuomo — who is up for reelection this year — recently announced that he would form a panel to study the state’s implementation of the Common Core. “It would be premature to consider any moratorium before the panel is allowed to do its work,” he said today.

The call for a moratorium comes just days before a separate task force formed by the Board of Regents is expected to come up with its own proposals to change. State Education Commissioner John King, who is a part of that task force, has remained steadfast in his insistence that the state not slow down its pace of implementation.

A spokesman for the department said King and Tisch would have more to say after it releases recommendations next week.

As the legislative session got underway last month, lawmakers from across the state have talked about the possibility of a Common Core “delay.” Today’s announcement offers clarity about what that would look like. In addition, today revealed New York City legislators’ stance on the Common Core, which has drawn the most heated opposition in suburban districts.

Nolan and Silver, who are part of the Assembly’s Democratic leadership, have previously raised concerns about the standards, but had yet to indicate where they would come down on the issue. Martin Golden, a leading Republican senator from the city, also said today that he supported a delay.

“I think it needs to be delayed a little bit,” Golden said. “Probably about two to three years so that the educational system can get caught up to the Core curriculum.”

Speaking Up

Letters to J.B.: Here’s what 10 Illinois educators said governor-elect Pritzker should prioritize

PHOTO: Keri Wiginton/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

As governor-elect and national early childhood education advocate J.B. Pritzker assembles his transition team and builds out his early agenda, we asked educators to weigh in with items he should consider.

Here are 10 of their responses, which range from pleas for more staffing to more counseling and mental health services. Letters have been edited only for clarity and length. Got something to add? Use the comment section below or tell us on Twitter using #PritzkerEdu.

From: A non-profit employee who works with schools in the city and suburbs

Letter to J.B.: I work with a number of students from the City of Chicago and sadly most of them lack basic skills. Most of the students lack the ability to read and write properly, and perform below grade level. It is alarming how many students don’t have critical-thinking and analytical skills. The lack of education in low-income and minority population will hurt our city and state in years to come.

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From: A youth organizer at Morrill Elementary, a K-8 school on Chicago’s Southwest Side

Letter to J.B.: Morrill School has suffered from constant turnover due to an unstable Chicago Public Schools environment that cares more about upholding its own self-interest than the people it should be serving. We need representatives that will advocate for what communities say they need!

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From: A music teacher at a Chicago charter school

Letter to J.B.: I work at a charter school and I don’t think we are doing the best we can for our kids. Our school’s policies are too harsh and dehumanizing.

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From: A Chicago charter school social worker

Letter to J.B.: We’ve cut mental health services throughout the city and that has crippled us. Parents have a hard time getting jobs and having enough money to supply basic needs.

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From: A Chicago principal

Letter to J.B.: My school is 100 percent free- and reduced-price lunch-eligible, or low-income population. We are a middle years International Baccalaureate school. Our children were once were the lowest performing in the area and now we are a Level 1-plus school. Our school was on the closing list back in 2005 when I took over.

But now we are an investment school. Teachers are dedicated and work hard. We need funding for a new teacher to keep classes small and additional funds to purchase multiple resources to continue and strengthen overall academics. We have a vested interest in educating all of our children!

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From: A teacher at A.N. Pritzker Elementary in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood

Letter to J.B.: Great kids. Great staff. No librarian. Extremely poor special education services. No substitute teachers. No time for planning. No time for anyone to provide mental health services for those in need.

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From: A teacher at Whitney Young High School on Chicago’s Near West Side

Letter to J.B.: Every teacher knows that well over 90 percent of the students with academic problems have serious problems at home and in their neighborhoods. In the suburbs, social worker and psychologist staffing levels are often five to 10 times what they are here in the city, where kids are dealing with way more challenges, not less. If you’re looking for bang for your buck, fund psychologists and social workers!

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From: A teacher in the Galesburg CUSD 205

Letter to J.B.: Our school is diverse in all definitions of the word. We have a diverse population in terms of race, money, and ability. We currently don’t have the money to keep all of the schools in our district open and are in the process of closing some of the buildings in order to get the others up to code and comfortable; many of our schools don’t even have air conditioning.

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From: A teacher at Kiefer School, a Peoria school that educates children with severe behavioral and learning challenges

Letter to J.B.: We work with students with behavioral and mental challenges who need more help getting mental health services. We’ve had children deflected from being hospitalized due to no beds being available.

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From: A teacher at Unity Junior High School in Cicero

Letter to J.B.: People often think that our school is “bad,” but the truth is, we have so many staff and students that work hard every day to bring positive change.

Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”