With the state Board of Regents’ decision last week to delay full implementation of the Common Core program for five years, it has become pretty clear that, as far as the state is concerned, it is not a matter of if but when.
To be fair, you will find few who argue against the idea of holding New York students to high standards, and the decision to delay full implementation gives districts the time they need to meet the demands of the program. The problem is, all this Common Core discussion is becoming increasingly about what the adults want and not the very students who will be impacted most.
It seems like a good time to ask ourselves what we would like the graduates of 2020 to embody. The stricter Common Core curriculum promises to promote critical thinking skills and the ability to synthesize ideas across different disciplines. This is certainly a noble goal, but we wonder how well a standardized test is going to measure that outcome. Common Core curriculum also promises to raise the level of math proficiency in students, and again, you would find few people sounding the call to hold our children back.
But when we envision this 2020 graduate, STEM-proficient and able to navigate a complicated system of testing, there is no guarantee that he or she will be better prepared for life beyond the schoolyard than the students who are graduating today.
Does this focus on Common Core and its required testing come at the detriment of activities and skills that make a student an individual and a productive adult? Does this insistence that there is only one kind of successful student — the Common Core proficient one — ignore the fact that individuals have different skill sets that can be just as valuable to society? Does judging teachers on the results of those tests without considering the variables that differ among districts make them better educators?
Delaying the full Common Core implementation does not answer these questions, but the extra time is certainly necessary if districts are going to make it work — for the students.
There are new textbooks and computer software to buy that will help students learn the skills the program says will prepare them for college and the 21st century workforce. Also, math and English teachers must change their lesson plans to fit the program’s requirements. These are items that cannot be checked off overnight. And at what cost — financial and otherwise — will these changes be implemented?
Districts are already cutting costs because of decreases in state aid over the last several years, not to mention the 2 percent tax cap they must now adhere to or risk homeowners’ ire if they miss out on a tax rebate, thanks to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new directive that ties the two together.
And if our schools are using those limited resources to put these changes in place, we can only imagine ever deepening cuts to music, art and athletic programs, which are, sadly, not deemed Common Core worthy.
If Cuomo is serious about getting our schools up to speed, he should make it a priority to increase funding or establish grants to help districts purchase the necessary equipment.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with holding teachers and students to high standards. After all, we want our children to be prepared for life after high school. Being able to read, write and perform essential math skills (adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing) at high levels are all important, but let’s not forget about those who have no say in the changes that will most directly affect them — the graduates of 2020 and beyond.