Changes coming to Common Core — Zeldin Amendment included

Lee Zeldin defeats Tim Bishop for Congress

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has confirmed that President Barack Obama signed proposed legislation Thursday that includes his own proposal, dubbed the Zeldin Amendment, which will allow school districts to opt out of Common Core without sacrificing federal funding.

In an interview with The Suffolk Times, Mr. Zeldin described the law’s adoption as a “huge victory” for students, parents, teachers and legislators who have been working to roll back “a very flawed” implementation of Common Core. The program is already set to be overhauled, according to an announcement Thursday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“It’s nice to see this through to completion,” Mr. Zeldin said. “This is the most significant thing that Congress can do to eliminate the threat states feared: that if they withdrew from Common Core that there would be a penalty from the federal government.”

New York State adopted Common Core standards in 2010 to qualify for a $700 million through the president’s Race to the Top initiative, a federal grant program he unveiled in 2009.

Mr. Zeldin’s amendment was attached to The Every Student Succeeds Act. The act allows state and local decision-makers to develop their own systems for improving education and student performance rather than “imposing cookie-cutter federal solutions like No Child Left Behind did,” according to a White House press release.

Former President George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law in 2002, requiring that students in grades 3-8 be tested every year in reading and math.

A timeline of the state's implementation of Common Core. (Credit: Times Review, file)
A timeline of the state’s implementation of Common Core. (Credit: Times Review, file)

For the past few years, parents and educators have rallied against the state’s latest system of so-called high-stakes testing, which ties teacher evaluations to the controversial Common Core standards. Their effort has principally adopted a strategy known as “opt out,” under which students refuse to take mandated assessment tests.

About 20 percent of eligible students across New York refused to take the exams this year, according to the state Department of Education.

[Related: Did more outspoken leadership play a role in ‘opt out’ results?]

David Gamberg, an outspoken critic of the state’s Common Core rollout and superintendent of both Greenport and Southold school districts, described the new law’s passage as progress.

“After millions of dollars spent and thousands of hours in hundreds of school districts in New York, we finally realize that this was not the right direction to go in,” he said. “Congressman Zeldin’s work and the effort to put the brakes on the coupling of those things is certainly part of what seems to have coalesced overtime to make us realize that it is in fact time to move in a different and more positive direction.

“I’ve wanted this all along,” Mr. Gamberg continued, “but they weren’t listening until the moms finally got them to pay attention.”

State Department of Education commissioner Maryellen Elia said in a statement that her office is currently reviewing the new law and has “a number of questions” about evaluations, assessments and accountability.

“But,” she explained, “it’s apparent that President Obama and the Congress have struck a balance between maintaining high standards for our nation’s students and providing states with the flexibility to implement their own strategies. In New York, we will continue to challenge our students to ensure they’re ready for life after high school, either on a college campus or in the workplace.

Mr. Cuomo also made an announcement Thursday outlining a plan to overhaul the state’s current Common Core system.

The governor’s Common Core Task Force unveiled the plan in its final report, which recommends a moratorium on linking teacher evaluations to student test scores until the 2019-20 school year in order to “avoid the errors caused by the prior flawed implementation,” according to an official press release.

The report also recommends adopting new, locally designed standards along with less testing and an assurance that state tests accommodate different types of learners — including students with disabilities and English Language Learners.

Mattituck School District Superintendent Anne Smith said she’s working with other administrators from the Suffolk County Superintendent’s Association to “advocate for more discussion about educator evaluation models and standards revisions.”

“We have been asking — and will continue to ask — for more expert participation from the field in developing the revisions to the standards and seeking new ways to design more effective and appropriate educator evaluations,” she said. “It remains unclear as to how the recommendations would be implemented via legislation and the Board of Regents and how that impacts us at the district level. My hope is that the work is done carefully and is not rushed.”

Mr. Gamberg said he’s preparing to send the state a list of professionals he recommends it consult for direction in overhauling the current system, including educators Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan, both of whom were guest speakers at a public forum Mr. Gamberg organized last year.

[Scroll down for a complete list of Mr. Gamberg’s recommendations and their bios]

“This should be a state education department and educator driven process — not a political one, which it has been up until now,” Mr. Gamberg said, adding that teachers, parents, educators and Boards of Education should also be included in the planning process.

Shoreham-Wading River School District Superintendent Steven Cohen said in an email that he supports the task force’s recommendation to provide more time to properly roll out new standards, but he believes the report falls short of ending high-stakes testing.

“From what I have seen and read so far,” Dr. Cohen said, “it seems as if these recommendations amount to giving us all more time to consider the best way to improve standards, curriculum and assessment — and that’s good. But these recommendations also seem to continue to assume that the combination of high-stakes testing and Common Core Learning Standards is the best/only way to measure student growth and provide for teacher/principal accountability. If this assumption remains in force, further discussion about how to improve education will be a lost opportunity. I hope we have something better here than old wine in a new bottle.”

No new state legislation is required to implement the recommendations in the task force report, Mr. Cuomo said. State department of education spokesman Jonathan Burman confirmed Friday that the Board of Regents will meet next week and could adopt the proposed regulations, though he added that some of them, such as professional development and resources, would require additional funding.

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Photo: Congressman Lee Zeldin. (Credit: John Griffin, file)

David Gamberg’s independent commission recommendations