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The Regents Aren't Listening to Parents About the Common Core

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A friend recently posted on her Facebook page an article that New York was about to delay full implementation of the Common Core until 2022. Another parent, who shares my concern for what the Common Core is doing to our school district, wrote me an email saying: "We did it!" A third person on an education listserve announced that New York was stepping back from the Common Core. Each of these communications contained a link to a report that the Regents want to adjust the implementation of the Common Core.

I read the report with a mixture of excitement and wariness.

Alas, the Regents remain deaf to legitimate parent criticisms of the Common Core.

Here are a few of my firsthand observations about the Common Core. It has narrowed my second-grader's curriculum to an almost exclusive focus on math and English Language Arts (ELA) test prep. It has added huge expenses to our school district, including to purchase computer programs, textbooks and time with corporate education consultants. And it has established the framework for the engageNY modules that tell teachers, minute-by-minute, what and how to teach.

In practice, the Common Core enforces a dreary, repetitious pedagogy that many parents, teachers and students hate.

Alas, the Regents' primary solution for the Common Core implementation is for the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to get more time, money and power.

The report offers a weak apology for how the Common Core has been implemented so far. Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch explains, "We have heard strong support for higher standards, but we have also heard a desire for more time."

That is not what parents are saying. In Common Core forums across the state this fall, parents stood up and reported how the Common Core hurts the teaching profession, the classroom environment, and children's natural love of learning.

Last month, State Senator George Latimer spoke for many parents when he told Commissioner King that the NYSED was like a ship heading straight into an iceberg.

What more do parents need to say for the Regents to hear us?

Here are a few of the Regents' recommendations for how to improve the roll out of the Common Core.

First, advocate a $525 million Core Instructional Development Fund for the next three years. This money will be used by BOCES to coordinate "professional development and parent engagement." This means more informational sessions to tell parents about how great the Common Core is.

Parents don't need to hear a sales pitch for the Common Core. We see every night what the Common Core entails. My son has not had any science or history homework this year. Instead, he has had a mind-numbing amount of drills for Common Core tests. He taught himself cursive to give himself a challenge, but the teacher told him that he had to use print on his homework. It is not the teacher's fault: My son needs to be ready for the Common Core tests that may be graded by a computer.

The Regents recommend the creation of an online teacher portal to share Common Core curricular resources and modules.

This solution, however, assumes that the Common Core is a good thing and that parents and teachers only need more exposure to it. And yet many parents see that the Common Core promotes a pedagogy based on "close reading" of "informational texts." This philosophy demands that students answer questions about a passage using the exact words in a prescribed order. Students do not get full credit if they restate the main idea in their own words or draw connections to material outside of the assigned text. The Common Core's emphasis on informational texts means, in turn, less attention to novels or poetry, even in English class.

We're in New York, one of the cultural capitals of the world, and we're teaching an ELA curriculum that gives short shrift to creativity or appreciation for the arts? It makes no sense.

A third recommendation is to reduce or eliminate traditional local tests, but this merely creates a testing monopoly for the Common Core.

The report suggests numerous changes at the periphery, including allowing schools to promote students with low Common Core test scores and giving teachers a chance who are terminated for low student scores to appeal on the ground that their school district did not provide sufficient Common Core training. The Regents set a date of 2022 for when students need to reach "aspirational scores" on the Common Core tests to graduate, but seniors will still take Common Core tests in the meantime.

My wife and I moved to our neighborhood in 2008 to take advantage of its excellent schools. In the past two years, the school has cut huge swaths of the curriculum and imposed a one-size-fits-all model on all children, regardless of their talents or interests. The Common Core, in reality, has made our school district worse.

The Regents report misleads parents into thinking that our legitimate concerns have been addressed. They have not. The Common Core is a sinking ship that the Regents need to abandon.