The North Country Alliance for Public Education held its fourth “Open Forum on Open Education” Thursday evening. The panel included the region’s state representatives and one of its newest Regents. As WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reports, the discussion focused on the impact of Common Core on the state’s education system.
The forums held by the Alliance are driven by educational issues swirling in the wake of the implementation of Common Core. While much of Thursday’s discussion focused on the link between test results to teacher review, a number of other issues came up.
Republican State Senator Betty Little, Republican Assemblymember Janet Duprey and Regent Beverly Ouderkirk were the panelists for the session in a packed lecture hall at SUNY Plattsburgh.
After an explanation of how state government interacts with the Board of Regents and Department of Education, Ouderkirk, who was appointed Regent six months ago, asked people to look at Common Core from a different perspective. “I would like to hear from people not about opting out. I want to know what it would take to opt in. Because we need to stop taking about the negative rhetoric and we need to get to the point of taking some actions so we can get on with the important task of providing educational opportunities for every kid and not put them through some of the things that are happening to them right now.”
Nearly two hours of discussion followed as teachers, students, parents, school administrators and community members stepped up with questions and comments. SUNY Plattsburgh Professor of Teacher Education Cindy McCarty says teachers are increasingly disillusioned as they try to make Common Core work. “These are teachers that have been able to teach students for years who are just frustrated with the system. One of the things I’m also very concerned about is the lack of students going into the field.”
“I’m Mike Morgan, Dena of Education, Health and Human Services at the college. The scary fact is, and it’s no different than around the state and the rest of the country, that our teacher prep enrollments have dropped by 47 percent in the last five years. Our teachers, and the students who are coming up in the system, have dealt with the negativity in the system to the point that people don’t want to go into the profession any more.”
“My name is Don Carlisto and I’m a teacher in Saranac Lake. I’m a union president. I’m a member of the New York State United Teachers Board of Directors. One of the under-reported factors that gets in the way of student progress and student success is the crippling impact of poverty. And I know that there are interventions and there are things that we can do to try to mitigate the impact of poverty on our students. One of the most promising models that I’ve become aware of is the community schools model.”
“My name is Bob Arnold. I have spent 64 years, I think, in education. One of the things that strikes me that is missing from this conversation is we’re not discussing alternatives to standardized tests.”
“My name is Catherine Brown. Many teachers feel powerless to affect change and feel silenced for their concerns, myself included. Students and teachers are being required to be standardized with flawed modules and flawed standards, rather than being unique, imaginative and creative learners. We must return to a wide and varied curriculum and experiences. We are not data-driven machines and we must stop being asked to be these demoralizing compliant machines.”
“My name is Sarah Lake. I wanted to share the experience my son had last year with the state exam. I chose not to opt him out. On the third day he came home in tears. His reason for being so upset was because he was worried that the teacher he absolutely adored was going to lose her job because of the way he performed. I’ve heard this repeatedly from students: that they are afraid that their performance on the test is going to affect their teachers. It’s not fair to put that pressure on our kids.”
Following the formal session Regent Beverly Ouderkirk noted there are positives within the Common Core, but its flaws must be corrected. “There are a lot of teachers who find some very good things about Common Core. Somehow in this difficult turmoil that we’re in everything that’s negative has been dubbed Common Core. What’s important about the efforts that are going on now is to go through and say what’s good about it, what needs to be improved and what maybe needs to be dropped. But let the educators be part of that process. And that’s what we’re hearing is going to happen. And if it doesn’t happen there’ll be some of us asking why it didn’t happen. That’s very important. And that’s going to help restore confidence and trust. We’ve got to get education back in the hands of educators.”
Malone School Psychologist Chris Van Houten, a board member of the New York Association of School Psychologists, released results of a survey taken with the New York State School Boards Association. It finds 88 percent of the state’s school psychologists believe teacher and parent test performance expectations lead to higher test anxiety. It also found that state level assessment exams led to more test anxiety than local exams.