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Education Budget Hearing Turns Into Complaint Session Against Common Core

  The New York State Education Commissioner testified at a legislative budget hearing, where he once again heard complaints from concerned lawmakers on the fast track adoption of the new national Common Core standards.

Lawmakers, calling the roll out of Common Core  a “nightmare” and a “mistake,"  grilled  State Education Commissioner John King and asked for more time for the adoption of the new federal standards.

Senator Terry Gipson, a Democrat from the Hudson Valley, told King that he’s been hearing numerous complaints from parents, students, teachers and administrators in his district. And he says his constituents, from all walks of life, rich and  poor, liberal and conservative, are upset.

“The only thing Common about Common Core is that is seems to be commonly objected to across the state right now,” Gipson said.

Even Governor Cuomo, who initially supported the fast tracking of Common Core, now calls the roll out “flawed." Many lawmakers have been asking for a delay in the implementation, and to put off the consequences of the high stakes tests for school children for another couple of years. Some have even proposed bills. Senator Gipson asked King to phase in the new standards more slowly.

“Why not step back, put this on hold, and figure out a way to do it properly?” Gipson asked.

Commissioner King, despite the blow back, has maintained that he can’t slow down the Common Core implementation. He says he does not want to “retreat” or go backwards, and he counters that he has met with thousands of teachers, administrators, and parents who are enthusiastic about the rapid transition.

“We have very different perspectives,” King said.

Senator Gipson told the education commissioner that he’d like to meet some of those people, because he had not heard from anyone with a positive view of the Common Core implementation.

“People are not just making this up,” Gipson said. “It’s worthy, since they are the taxpayers funding this program in the first place, that we step back and really listen to what they are saying to us.”

Republican lawmakers also complained. Assemblyman Al Graf, a Republican from Long Island, has a degree in elementary education. He says wealthier schools in his districts were able to rapidly create their own new curriculum to meet the new standards, and even in some cases, hold classes for parents to teach them how to help their children with their new homework. But he says schools in poorer districts do not have the resources to adapt so quickly.

“The implementation of this has been a nightmare,” Graf said. “Nothing is consistent.”

Graf calls the new curriculum suggested by the State Education Department “horrible”.  

Commissioner King says the ultimate goal of Common Core is to level the playing field and provide all school children, rich and poor, with a better education.  

The State Board of Regents, which sets education policy and hired King, has appointed a committee to review the complaints about Common Core and will report back by the end of February. King concedes it has not all gone smoothly.

“We will continue to make adjustments,” King said. “I don’t want anyone to misunderstand, I’m not saying the implementation has been perfect.”

The hearing was supposed to focus on Governor Cuomo’s education budget proposal. The governor recommends increasing school aid by $1.3 billion dollars next year. May lawmakers and witnesses who testified said that was not enough money, with all of the added pressures of adopting the Common Core. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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