Common Core learning made Bill Kelly feel inadequate as a parent.
The attorney and father of two from Albany was trying to help his son with his math homework, but quickly found himself at a loss. The Common Core arithmetic assigned to the New Scotland Elementary School second-grader proved too difficult for Kelly to explain.
“I had no idea how to answer it,” he admitted Thursday. “I didn’t feel like a dad at that point.”
And that’s part of the problem with Common Core, Kelly told state Education Commissioner John King Jr. He said the system of standardized learning recently implemented in New York’s public schools is bewildering to both the children trying to adjust to the new curriculum and their parents, who are trying to help with that transition.
“You’ve eliminated me, and you’ve eliminated other parents from the education of our children,” he said during a community forum Thursday night at Myers Middle School in Albany.
Kelly wasn’t the only one to blast Common Core. Almost all of the 67 speakers taking part in the more-than-three-hour forum spoke out against the new system before King, Board of Regents member James Jackson and a collection of Capital Region legislators, many saying its rigors are having a drastic impact on young students.
Some teachers spoke of losing passion for education, since Common Core seems to dictate how they teach their students. Brenden Fix, a teacher at Myers, said the system is taking the artistry out of teaching, leaving educators with hardly any ability to deliver curriculum in the manner they see fit.
“I feel heartbroken at times because what we do now is paint by numbers,” he told the commissioner. “While the painting at the end may be beautiful, we have to wonder the implications and the problems that are inherent when the people teaching have no investment in it.”
Others spoke of how Common Core testing has left their children unduly stressed, how some simply give up after several minutes of trying. Kristin Bonds, a teacher in the Schenectady City School District and a mother of three, said the level of testing presented by Common Core is almost absurd and, when coupled with the already cash-strapped nature of the public education system, will lead to a tipping point in the classroom..
“Commissioner, I feel I need to tell you these things because there’s a perception that you’re disconnected with the reality our children face every day,” she said.
King tried to allay some fears about the new system, promising local districts would have control over their curriculum. He also acknowledged a learning curve in the process of implementing the new system,.
“Common Core is not about tests,” he said. “Common Core is about standards.”
But King failed to appeal to the crowd. Reeve Churchill, an eighth-grade honor student at Myers, said the new curriculum isn’t engaging and expecting all students to learn at the same pace is not realistic.
“It’s not helping me, and it’s definitely not helping my peers,” she said. “Please let the teachers teach and the students learn at their own pace.”
Leslie Javarone, a fourth-grade teacher in the Shenendehowa Central School District, said Common Core seems to be less about teaching students and more about making money for education-based businesses, like test makers and textbook makers. She questioned whether the violent behavior she sees acted out by students might be related to the type of standardized testing they’re being subjected to through Common Core.
“Our children are acting out, and they’re telling us something,” she said. “Perhaps we should stop seeing them as data points and start seeing them again as human beings.”
Randall Gunther, an educator in the Schoharie Central School District, said the regulations and mandates of Common Core are too costly and ultimately detrimental for children. He said the testing being given to primary school children isn’t age-appropriate and is having a negative impact.
“When tests for 8-year-old, 9-year-old and 10-year-old children are longer than the tests given to law students taking the bar exam, we have a problem,” he said. “And when students with learning disabilities are forced to take a test when they can’t even read the directions, we have a problem.”
Katherine Biel, a mother with two children in the North Colonie Central School District, said seven of the first 14 days of elementary school were devoted to standardized testing associated with the Common Core. She said her daughter in kindergarten couldn’t write letters properly, but now knows how to fill in test bubbles.
“The Common Core is not developmentally appropriate,” she said. “You can’t put a cake in the oven and expect it to bake in less time just because you’re hungry.”
William Farmer, a parent in the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District, said the problems with Common Core are too numerous to repair. He urged the commissioner to halt its implementation before the system becomes counterproductive.
“The new standards, combined with the heavy reliance on testing, are hurting our children right now,” he said. “You need to make a change and make it quickly, as each day in school is putting our children further behind, instead of your goal of being ahead.”
Common Core did have a small gathering of supporters during the forum. Bill Sherman, director of operations at Troy Prep Elementary School and a father with students in the Mohonasen Central School District, offered himself as one of the “silent majority” in urging the state Education Department to finish implementing the new system, which has worked wonders in his building.
“I ask you to continue with this plan,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Stay strong. We need this change.”