APPR/Teacher Evaluation, Testing/Assessments and Learning Standards
November 11, 2015

North Country teachers, parents share concerns about Common Core

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT Communications
common core task force
Caption: Plattsburgh parent Kristy Bezrutczyk and Nate Hathaway of the Malone Federation of Teachers. Photos by El-Wise Noisette.

Parents and educators spoke with one voice at a North Country regional meeting on Common Core, urging task force members to let teachers bring back the joy of learning into their classrooms — and make schools child-centered, not test-centered.

"Common Core is hurting our children," said Saranac Lake teacher Lisa Kollmer, who spoke both as aneducator and the parent of a kindergartner and third-grader. Instead of valuing play, art, music, science and physical education, she said the current curriculum is dull, dry and "creating a generation of children who hate math and have lost self-confidence."

Kollmer was one of many who spoke out at a series of regional meetings being conducted around the state by the governor's Common Core Task Force, which is charged with issuing recommendations for a "total reboot" of the state's standards, curriculum and testing system.

About 35 people attended the North Country public meeting Tuesday night. The task force representatives in Lake Placid were NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino and Sleepy Hollow principal Carol Conklin-Spillane.

common core task force
Sleepy Hollow Principal Carol Conklin-Spillane (left) and NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino.

"Common Core is not appropriate for children. It doesn't match where they're coming from," said Saranac Lake first-grade teacher Elizabeth Guglielmi, who urged the task force to tackle the problem of poverty. "Kids need more than reading and math. They need extra help with all the things they didn't come in prepared for. Our help has been cut."

Ausable Valley teacher Tim Butler said last year's sixth-grade reading passages had a post-graduate readability level. Not only is this frustrating for the students, Butler said, "it sickens me that I'm going to be judged on such unfair items."

Plattsburgh parent Kristy Bezrutczyk, who said she has to go on the Internet to help her 9-year-old with homework, likened the current Common Core curriculum to a defective product. "If we had a batch of contaminated food, would we still be serving that to our children?" she asked. "We're continuing to poison our children every day."

"At its root, it's a basic disrespect for educators," said Nate Hathaway of the Malone Federation of Teachers, who noted corporate interests, not educators, largely developed the Common Core standards. He urged task force members to contact the only two teachers who served on the Common Core's validation committee – both of whom refused to sign off on the final product — to hear their concerns.

Ogdensburg EA's Bob Ladouceur urged the task force to "bring in a herd of teachers, not just one or two," to fix the state's broken system. "They are the experts. It's the teachers who see kids every day and know what they need."

Mark Beatham, an education professor at SUNY Plattsburgh, said the broken system is casting a pall over teacher education programs and discouraging excellent candidates from entering the profession. "We tell them 'this too shall pass,' and focus on the kids," he said. "Learn to duck when the imperatives aren't child-centered." After the hearing, Beatham said Plattsburgh's teacher education program enrollment has followed the national trend and declined about 40 percent.

"We have lost our core in search ofcommon-ness. We have to personalize education, not standardize it," said Chazy teacher Kathryn Brown, who was one of several speakers who urged an outright repeal. "Common Core does not need to be tweaked. It needs to be terminated."

"There is no such thing as a standardized child," said Doug Selwyn, who described spending a week with two grandchildren who are "as different as they can be."

Activist parent Mike Dornan warned that, unless substantive action is taken, the opt-out movement will more than double the number students who refuse to take next spring's state standardized tests. "I believe you'll see 500,000 refusals," he said. "If you don't listen, we will destroy your tests. We're going to go after it from every angle until it's done."

Saranac Lake High School's Amanda Zullo, a National Board Certified teacher, urged the task force to "use us as educators to help you in sifting through the good and bad. Take a moment to reflect … then we need to move forward."

Both Fortino and Conklin-Spillane said they appreciated the participants' thoughtful comments and would take them back to the task force as a whole. The task force conducted nine public comment sessions around the state in the past week and will continue to hear from selected experts. The task force has been asked to complete its work by the end of the year so Gov. Cuomo can incorporate recommendations in his State of the State message and proposed budget in January.

"It was heartening to hear parents and educators joining forces and saying 'Let's bring joy back to the classroom,'" Fortino said. "That was clearly the common theme tonight."

She urged others who were unable to attend the public hearings to submit written testimony on the task force website through Nov. 30.