Meet the new standards

‘Common Core’ no more: New York moves to adopt revised standards with new name

New York's Board of Regents voted in committee Monday to replace the Common Core standards with the "Next Generation Learning Standards."

It’s official: New York has moved to adopt a revised set of learning standards that, among other changes, ditches the politically charged “Common Core” moniker.

New York’s Board of Regents voted in committee Monday to accept the Next Generation Learning Standards, capping off a nearly two-year revision process. The new standards include a number of changes to what students must learn, but they also serve a political purpose of distancing the state from the controversial Common Core brand.

“For two years we have been working and getting feedback,” said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. “So we’re very excited to bring this to you now.”

The new standards — which spell out the knowledge and skills students should acquire at each grade level — try to ensure students are learning the right skills at the appropriate grade level and clarify vague or confusing wording in the previous standards.

For instance, in an earlier draft of the revised standards, the state swapped the words “grade-level” text in a third-grade reading standard with “a variety of texts,” presumably to meet the needs of students who can’t yet read material written for students their age. In another example, a Common Core geometry standard read “Prove theorems about triangles,” while New York’s revised version lists the specific theorems students had to prove.

The Common Core standards have become a national lightning rod, with critics on the right saying they represent federal overreach (even though they were created by a consortium of states) and some educators insisting they made unrealistic demands of young students. Many states across the country have dropped the name Common Core and started their own revision processes.

In New York, the standards became closely linked with the high-stakes annual exams that students take. After one in five students boycotted those tests in 2015, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for the standards to be revised.

The state convened committees that included many teachers to review the standards. When the initial revisions came out, State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said the state was not “just tinkering around the edges” and noted that more than half the standards were changed. But the updates range from small wording tweaks to eliminating some standards entirely.

Stephen Sigmund, executive director of High Achievement New York, a coalition formed in support of the standards, said on Friday that the revised standards were similar enough to the Common Core that adopting them would signal that New York remains committed to tough standards.

“It’s an important moment to ensure that high expectations and high standards are enshrined into New York’s education system,” Sigmund said. “There’s been an effort to undermine and get rid of high standards and if, in fact, the Regents vote for the Next Generation Standards as they exist, that effort will have failed.”

Those who pushed against the standards were displeased with the result. Lisa Rudley, a founding member of New York State Allies for Public Education, which helped lead the movement to boycott state tests, said on Friday she thought much more work needed to be done to the early-grade standards.

Rudley said she is part of a large group that includes many educators who believe the early standards are “nowhere where they should be and they’re not appropriate.”

The standards for younger students remain a major sticking point for critics who say they are too rigid and don’t provide enough wiggle room for students who aren’t ready to tackle them, particularly students with disabilities or English learners. At one point, a group of educators called for the state to delay rolling out the early-grade standards until they had been revised further.

In order to address some of those concerns, the state education department added an Early Learning Standards Introduction, which provides more guidance on how to teach students, including English learners and those with disabilities. However, some of the Regents seemed concerned Monday that the revised early-grade standards may still not be totally appropriate for young students.

“I have been hearing and reading over the past several months the concerns about the … early childhood [standards],” said Regent Kathleen Cashin. “It bothers me because I would like to have a consensus” among the public about whether the standards are appropriate, she said.

It will still be awhile before the new standards make it into classrooms. Assuming the full board approves them at its meeting Tuesday, they are not expected to be in full use in classrooms until 2020. And students will not be tested on them until 2021, according to state officials who released a timeline on Monday.

The new standards are available here.

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”