Look out for those ‘Suburban moms’


For years my sensitivities have rankled by the editorial boards of the local daily newspapers because they make determinations about school governance and education without the slightest knowledge of what they are writing about.

Why do they do that? Because they can, and because one does not become a member of an editorial board by teaching in a classroom for 25 years. No, one becomes a member of an editorial board because he or she has been a pundit — a writer of columns and a general know-it-all.

Also, newspapers tend to be owned by millionaires and those millionaires will always dictate an editorial policy that looks the other way when public employees are concerned, and teachers are public employees, after all.

Arne Duncan, the federal commissioner of education, blamed the controversy over the Common Core rollout on “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child’s isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary.”

Duncan should have been excoriated for that comment, but instead, Newsday wrote in its editorial the next day, “Arne Duncan didn’t say it correctly, but what he said is correct, an nowhere is it truer than Long Island.”

Talk about being out of touch with its readers.

Another daily newspaper, this one in New York City, likened those complaining about the Common Core rollout to the Tea Party activists who recently closed down the government to make the point that they could.

Last month, more than a thousand parents and teachers — many of them both parents and teachers — crowded several high school auditoriums in both Nassau and Suffolk to tell state commissioner John King and Chancellor Meryl Tisch just what they thought of the way that the new standards and testing program have been rolled out and to complain about the aggregation of information about their children is being cavalierly placed into a cloud run by a group of non-profits with an agenda to privatize education and, they believe, to provide that information to businesses who will then use the sale of that information to enhance their own bottom lines.

Let’s make one thing clear at the outset. No one of the parents or school staff members who I heard speak at those meetings was opposed to the new Common Core standards. Nobody is opposed to students learning to think, to aggregate information and then use that information to made an informed opinion, to move up the hierarchy of skills necessary for living in the modern world.

What they are opposed to is the draconian testing program that comes with the new standards, the scripted lessons that teachers are made to use, the constant practice tests and the pressure the high-stakes tests put on young students — especially those with special needs or with language problems.

Listen to their voices:

“Few people would argue against an enhanced curriculum that stresses critical thinking and writing, not even white suburban moms,” wrote one Huntington Station parent. There are, however, two serious problems: the way it was introduced and the testing itself, which is more advanced than the curriculum. The tests are far beyond the developmental ability of most children to realistically succeed.”

Another comment, this from a parent in Melville, asks some critical questions that neither the state nor the federal government has answered.

Which professional educators with experience working with children participated in the design of the Common Core? Where was the peer review in professional journals? Where has Common Core been piloted or tested? How do we know it will have a positive effect on education? What are the connections between those who developed the Common Core and corporations? If it was developed under grants from foundations led by corporate leaders, how can we follow the money?

Don’t expect any of those questions to be answered soon — or ever.

One of my favorite people in education is Diane Ravitch. Ravitch was an undersecretary of education when Congress was crafting No Child Left Behind. She was an acolyte of a common curriculum, accountability through high-stakes testing and teacher evaluation based on student test scores. Until the law was put into effect and she saw the problems clearly enough to know that the law was destroying education by forcing teachers to use time for test prep rather than content learning and for forcing a curriculum that focused so much attention on reading and math that subjects such as science, social studies, foreign language and physical education were left behind in the dust.

“Your community is your boss, ” Ravitch recently told a meeting of school administrators from Nassau and Suffolk counties. “Do not take the Common Core tests. Stop the testing. Neither teachers nor students are prepared for these tests. Stand together and there will be no punishment.” Ravitch is right. The state should take a time-out on the rollout and the testing and get its act together for next school year. Then, roll out the standards in grades K-3 but kill the testing in those grades. Teachers will know whether or not the curriculum is working and the state can ask them about it. The following year, the 2015-2016 school year, use the curriculum in grade 4-8 and institute a shorter test schedule. The standards are good. The rollout and the testing are not. It is time for the powers-that-be to listen to the professionals and the parents and slow it down.