When Southold parent Amy Burns comes across a math problem, she knows how to solve it.
But when confronted with math questions in her child’s homework — crafted under the new Common Core standards — she said she’s “afraid to touch it,” lest she teach her daughter the wrong way.
And she’s not alone.
The Southold School District hosted a public meeting Wednesday to discuss how the district is working under the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The new set of standards requires instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age to better prepare them for college and careers after high school.
Ms. Burns was among about 50 people seeking answers from the Southold school board and district administration about how Common Core is being implemented.
“As a parent, I’m a little in the dark and I want to help,” Ms. Burns said about the new curriculum. “[When I try to help my child], I get, ‘No! That’s not how [the teacher] showed me!’ And I’m like OK. I have to step away.”
After New York adopted Common Core, the state published lesson plans for teachers to help students achieve the new standards. The state doesn’t mandate schools to use these specific lesson plans, but they are available online at engageny.org.
Southold Elementary School principal Ellen Waldron-O’Neill said many of her teachers are using the state’s lesson plans this year for the first time. The school is starting to put together a K-6 parent packet that will show parents how students are working out math problems.
A “math night” at which parents would learn how to undertake math problems in a classroom setting, is also in the works.
Other parents praised the latest direction in their child’s education.
Southold parent Angelo Tondo said she’s noticed her daughter is more engaged with her studies because of the new curriculum.
“She loves coming to school,” Ms. Tondo said. “They have fun. They dance. They sing. They’re in the garden and in the sandbox. I know there are bad parts, but we’ve got to remember that there are a lot of good parts and the teachers are doing the best that they can.”
Southold School Superintendent David Gamberg said although teacher’s aren’t simply teaching to the state-created plans directly, they he was “heartened” to see they are incorporating some of the materials in their own lessons.
“They have every intention to use their professional judgement, and where it’s appropriate, to incorporate examples that come from those modules that may be helpful,” he said, “and resist and reject those things that are not.”
While Mr. Gamberg and the school board have agreed there are some good elements to Common Core, they’ve also been one of the more outspoken school districts on the North Fork to oppose the state’s mandate that ties teacher evaluations to state assessment scores.
In August, the school board approved a resolution calling on state and federal officials to overhaul the current method of standardized testing, and New York’s teacher evaluation system called the annual professional performance review, or APPR.
Most notably, Southold denied it’s total portion of Race to the Top funds in protest of the mandates.
Mr. Gamberg described the district’s share as “minimal, at best.”
“It would have been $11,000 spread over four years on a $25 million budget,” he said. “By agreeing to that money, which we did not agree to, we actually would have had more requirements and thus more costs … Many, many districts are exploring ways to return that money.”
As for questions about students opting out of state assessments, Mr. Gamberg said the matter is “still under investigation.” He said he believes all of the details will be ironed out prior to the tests.
At the start of Mr. Gamberg’s presentation, he held up a piece of paper he said he’s carried around for the past few years.
It was a letter written on May 25, 2010 by education expert and local author Diane Ravitch and lists her top ten reasons why states and local school districts should not participate in Race to the Top.
“By raising the stakes for tests even higher, Race to the Top will predictably produce more teaching to bad tests, more narrowing of the curriculum, more cheating, and more gaming the system,” Ms. Ravitch wrote. “If scores rise, it will be the illusion of progress, rather than better education.”
Mr. Gamberg said he believed much of the doom Ms. Ravitch predicted nearly three years ago is already coming true.
“This is all I needed to have for me to say as superintendent, ‘No, we’re not signing for Race to the Top,’” Mr. Gamberg said. “I’m not sure defecting Common Core is the answer, but the way to explore this deeply is to really build forums like this for us to continue to contact lawmakers.
“I think that’s the way to go.”