changes to the core

New York state recommends changes to over half the Common Core learning standards

PHOTO: Monica Disare
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia at the School of Diplomacy in the Bronx.

New York released its much-anticipated draft of the state’s new math and English learning standards on Wednesday, which officials said are a major departure from Common Core.

More than half of the standards, which specify what skills and knowledge students should be able to demonstrate in each grade, were changed. That could mean anything from wording tweaks to replacing a standard altogether, said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. Some of the most significant changes involve early-grade English standards and a clarified set of expectations for Algebra I and II.

These standards are only a draft, but they offer the first glimpse into what will likely become the basis for a New York state education.

“It isn’t just tinkering around the edges and doing small, little things,” Elia said. “We had a very dedicated committee that met multiple times… [to] make sure that while they were still rigorous standards, that they were more clearly defined for our teachers across the state.”

New York was one of 45 states to adopt the Common Core standards, which were designed to improve college and career readiness. Last year, New York joined a nationwide trend and started backing away from Common Core after one in five students in the state opted out of state tests.

Governor Andrew Cuomo called for an overhaul of the standards in December, which he said led to “confusion and anxiety.”

Since then, the State Education Department has convened committees with a total of more than 130 teachers and other stakeholders to review and revise the math and English standards.

The state’s teachers union praised the changes, saying they are aligned to what students should be learning — and praised the review process.

“New York parents and educators, who worked with these standards every day, had a more meaningful voice in developing these new draft standards, and that represents an encouraging start,” said NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino. NYSUT leaders also pointed out that the process is far from over and the public comment period will be crucial to finalizing the standards.

Others were quick to argue that the standards had not changed very much at all. High Achievement New York, a coalition formed to support rigorous standards, sent a statement celebrating the fact that Common Core remains largely intact.

“Clarifying and simplifying language and combining standards is just common sense – enhancing the standards already in place and helping teachers better use these standards in the classroom,” said the leaders of High Achievement New York. “Most important, the vast majority of the standards … remain in place.”

Though many states have backed away from the official Common Core standards, often their replacement closely resembles the original standards. A New York state survey of each standard provided mainly supportive feedback, suggesting many educators and stakeholders did not want significant changes.

Elia explained that the changed standards were revised to varying degrees. Some were moved to new grade levels, others saw terminology adjustments or were clarified, and some were completely replaced with a “more relevant” standard. Elia said she could not say which type of change was most common.

She also said that while other states had fewer people offering input, or had to finish the revisions quickly, New York had a thorough review process. The extent to which New York state’s proposed standards represent a departure from Common Core will likely be analyzed by policymakers and researchers over the next several weeks and months.

Some of the most salient changes to English standards were centered around the early grades, state officials said. The new standards try to focus on the “whole child” and place an emphasis on learning through play. Officials are also convening a task force to take another look at the early education standards.

In math, the standards have been revised to clarify what students should learn in Algebra I and Algegra II. They also give students more time to develop “deep levels of understanding” for complicated algebra concepts. For both math and English, the state will create a glossary of terms to make sure educators are on the same page about what the standards mean.

Those changes are consistent with statewide survey results, which suggested that early-grade English standards should be more developmentally appropriate and higher-level math standards should be clarified.

In New York, the Common Core standards have also became part of a larger discussion about other policy reforms, such as the use of state standardized test scores in teacher evaluations. Replacing the standards is the first step in redefining what it means to get an education in New York state, which will include revising assessments, teacher evaluations and how the state rates schools.

The standards will now go out for public comment, which will be open until Nov. 4. The Board of Regents are expected to consider the standards in early 2017 and roll out new assessments based on the standards by the 2018-19 school year.

“One thing we don’t want to do is to rush this,” Elia said.

legal opinion

Tennessee’s attorney general sides with charter schools in battle over student information

PHOTO: TN.gov
Herbert H. Slatery III was appointed Tennessee attorney general in 2014 by Gov. Bill Haslam, for whom he previously served as general counsel.

Tennessee’s attorney general says requests for student contact information from state-run charter school operators don’t violate a federal student privacy law, but rather are “entirely consistent with it.”

The opinion from Herbert Slatery III, issued late on Wednesday in response to a request by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, was a win for charter schools in their battle with the state’s two largest districts.

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen

McQueen quickly responded by ordering school leaders in Memphis and Nashville to comply. In letters dispatched to Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Director Shawn Joseph of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, McQueen gave the districts a deadline, adding that they will face consequences if they refuse.

“If you do not provide this information by Sept. 25, 2017, to the (Achievement School District) and any other charter school or charter authorizer who has an outstanding request, we will be forced to consider actions to enforce the law,” she wrote.

Neither superintendent responded immediately to requests for comment, but school board leaders in both districts said Thursday that their attorneys were reviewing the matter.

Chris Caldwell, chairman for Shelby County’s board, said he’s also concerned “whether the timeframe stated gives us enough time to make sure families are aware of what is happening.”

Wednesday’s flurry of events heats up the battle that started in July when charter operators Green Dot and LEAD requested student contact information under the state’s new charter law, which gives districts 30 days to comply with such requests. School boards in both Memphis and Nashville refused, arguing they had the right under the federal student privacy law to restrict who gets the information and for what reasons.

The attorney general said sharing such information would not violate federal law.

The requested information falls under “student directory information,” and can be published by school districts without a parent’s permission. For Shelby County Schools, this type of information includes names, addresses, emails and phone numbers.


To learn what information is at stake and how it’s used, read our in-depth explainer.


The opinion also backs up the new state law, which directs districts to share information that charter operators say they need to recruit students and market their programs in Tennessee’s expanding school-choice environment.

However, the opinion allowed for districts to have a “reasonable period of time” to notify parents of their right to opt out of sharing such information. It was not clear from the opinion if the two school districts have exhausted that time.

A spokeswoman for Shelby County Schools said Tuesday the district had not yet distributed forms that would allow parents to opt out of having their students’ information shared, although the district’s parent-student handbook already includes instructions for doing so.

Below, you can read the attorney general’s opinion and McQueen’s letters to both superintendents:

Clarification, Sept. 14, 2017: This story has been updated to clarify the school boards’ arguments for not sharing the information.

First Person

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Grace Tatter covers a press conference at the Tennessee State Capitol in 2015.

For three years, I covered the Statehouse for Chalkbeat Tennessee, reporting on how policies from Nashville trickled down into more than 1,800 public schools across the state.

Now I’m starting back to school myself, pursuing graduate studies aimed at helping me to become a better education journalist. I’m taking with me six things I learned on the job about public education in Tennessee.

1. Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.

I heard from hundreds of parents, educators, and students who were passionate about what’s happening — good and bad — inside of schools. I covered crowded school board meetings and regularly scrambled for an open seat at legislative hearings where parents had filled the room after driving since dawn to beat the opening gavel. Not incidentally, those parents usually came from communities with the “worst” schools and the lowest test scores. While many disagreements exist about the best way to run schools, there is no shortage of people, particularly parents and educators, who care.

2. Tennessee has one of the most fascinating education stories in America.

I’ve had a front-row seat to massive changes in K-12 education under reforms ushered in by Race to the Top — an overhaul being tracked closely well beyond the state’s borders. But the national interest and import doesn’t end with changes stemming from the $500 million federal award. Tennessee is home to some of the nation’s premier education researchers, making its classrooms laboratories for new ideas about pre-K, school turnaround, and literacy instruction, just to name a few. And at the legislature, more lobbyists are devoted to education than to most any other cause. A lot of eyes are on Tennessee schools.

3. The education community is not as divided as it looks.

During the course of just a few years, I watched state lawmakers change their positions on accountability and school vouchers. I witnessed “anti-charter” activists praise charter leaders for their work. I chronicled task force meetings where state leaders who were committed to standardized testing found middle ground with classroom educators concerned that it’s gone too far. In short, a lot of people listened to each other and changed their minds. Watching such consensus-building reminded me that, while there are no simple debates about education, there is a widespread commitment to making it better.

4. Money matters.

Even when stories don’t seem to be about money, they usually are. How much money is being spent on testing, teacher salaries, school discipline reform? How much should be available for wraparound services? Why do some schools have more money than others? Is there enough to go around? Tennessee leaders have steadily upped public education spending, but the state still invests less than most other states, and the disparities among districts are gaping. That’s why more than a handful of school districts are battling with the state in court. Conversations about money are inextricable from conversations about improving schools.

5. Race is a significant education issue, but few leaders are willing to have that conversation.

More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, Tennessee’s schools are largely racially segregated. Yet most policymakers tread lightly, if ever, into conversations about achieving real racial integration. And in many cases — such as a 2011 law enabling mostly white suburban Shelby County towns to secede from the mostly black Memphis district — they’ve actually gone backwards. Then there’s the achievement data. The annual release of test scores unleashes a flurry of conversation around the racial achievement gap. But the other 11 months of the year, I heard little about whether state and local policies are closing those gaps — or contributing to them — or the historical reasons why the gaps exist in the first place. To be sure, state leadership is trying to address some of Tennessee’s shortcomings. For example, the State Department of Education has launched modestly funded initiatives to recruit more teachers of color. But often, race and racism are the elephants in the room.

6. Still, there’s lots to celebrate.

If there were unlimited hours in the day, I could have written thousands of stories about what’s going right in public education. Every day, I received story ideas about collaborations with NASA in Oak Ridge, high school trips to Europe from Memphis, gourmet school lunches in Tullahoma, and learning partnerships with the Nashville Zoo. Even in schools with the steepest challenges, they were stories that inspire happiness and hope. They certainly inspired me.

Grace Tatter graduated from public schools in Winston-Salem, N.C., and received her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina. She’s now pursuing a master’s degree in specialized studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.