COLONIE — The whole thing is a train wreck. The teacher evaluations are an unmitigated disaster. Students are being drained of any creativity. The material isn't developmentally appropriate. Children are being used as political pawns.
A majority of people who spoke at one of five public hearings Friday on the state's Common Core program had these and lots of other negative things to say about New York's implementation of the stringent educational standards. The Capital Region was home to one of those hearings — the first since Gov. Andrew Cuomo charged a task force in September with reviewing the Common Core standards, curriculum and assessments for a "total reboot."
About 100 people turned out to the Crossings of Colonie Friday afternoon for the Capital Region hearing. They were parents, current and retired teachers, school administrators, school board officials and business representatives. Other hearings were held simultaneously Friday evening in the Finger Lakes/Western New York, Hudson Valley, Long Island and New York City regions.
"These kids see no relevance to these tests they now have to take," said Stacey Caruso-Sharpe, a math teacher in the Amsterdam City School District, where she's worked for more than 30 years. "The governor says they don't mean anything yet, and then you want to tie them to a teachers' score? It doesn't make sense."
John Hildebrand of Newsday on the Common Core hearing at Stony Brook:
Common Core opponents predicted at a state-sponsored forum Friday in Stony Brook that 500,000 students statewide in grades three through eight would boycott spring tests unless Albany pulls back from unpopular new exams and teacher evaluations tied to students' scores.
A standing-room-only crowd of parents and educators cheered and applauded as Jeanette Deutermann of North Bellmore, leader of Long Island's testing opt-out movement, warned that boycott numbers could more than double in April from more than 200,000 recorded last spring.
Other forum speakers followed suit.
"You are going to see a tsunami of test refusals," said Beth Dimino, president of the teachers union in the Comsewogue school district.
The 2 1/2-hour session, organized by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office, was held in a small auditorium of Stony Brook University's Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology. It was one of five simultaneous "listening sessions" across the state attended by members of the governor's appointed Common Core Task Force.
Several teachers and superintendents at the hearing called for a two-year moratorium on education reforms.
"What we have is a culture of standardization," said Patchogue-Medford schools chief Michael Hynes, a vocal opponent of overtesting and the linking of student scores to teachers' and principals' performance evaluations. He called for separating student scores from job ratings and "getting rid" of the Common Core.
For the most part, the forum was an orderly affair, in contrast to a raucous session held two years ago at Ward Melville High School, less than six miles away. At the earlier public hearing, then-Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. was at times shouted down as he tried to defend state education policies before an emotional crowd of 1,500 parents and educators.
Friday's session drew more than 150 parents, educators and others, and speakers were limited to three minutes each. Those who voiced criticism of the Common Core standards, curriculums and tests -- implemented in districts across the state largely over the last three school years -- were clearly the large majority. The national guidelines were adopted by New York in 2010.
"Common Core is destroying the dignity of the learning process," said Dan Campbell, a fifth-grade teacher in the South Huntington school district. He said one parent told him that his 10-year-old son cries at the bus stop because he doesn't understand the math curriculum.
Campbell said he wanted to tell the parent, "Your son is being bullied by the state."
A rare exception to the opponents was Preston Tucci, an eighth-grade math teacher in the Middle Country district, who was jeered by some audience members when he described how his students are enthused by a Common Core algebra curriculum.
"Your time's up!" several shouted as an electronic stopwatch that was used to limit speakers' time wound down. "Very disappointing!" another hissed.
Some participants began lining up more than an hour in advance for the "listening session," which began at 4 p.m., with people allowed to speak on a first-come, first-served basis. Check-in for the event started at 3:30 p.m., and all 45 speaking slots were filled shortly after the meeting began.
Dawn Wylie of North Babylon, who has pulled her two children out of state standardized tests for the past two years and plans to do so again in the spring, was among those in attendance.
"This is the most important thing happening right now," she said. "Our children are suffering -- collateral damage."
Before the hearing, Tucci told Newsday that he had come to speak in favor of new math standards that emphasize "real-world" problem solving.
"In a 15-year career, last year was the first year I haven't had a kid ask me, 'When will I ever use this?' " he said.
Dimino, of Rocky Point, who teaches eighth-grade science in Comsewogue schools, said she had testified last year against the standards and the state's teacher evaluation system. A vocal critic of Common Core, she said she has refused to administer the exams even if it means she is given an "ineffective" job rating.
Before the forum began, she said she was disappointed by both the timing of the event and the size of the meeting room. Organizers should have held it later in the day and in a larger space, she said.
"I am hoping this is not a nonsensical tour," Dimino said. "I am hoping this is a hearing tour."
Earlier this week, parents and educators complained that state officials had not given enough advance notice of the hearing, and that the time and location would make it difficult for many to attend.
Over the past three years, implementation of curriculums and tests aligned with the Common Core standards has spurred a growing test-boycott movement in states across the nation, with parents pulling children out of standardized tests.
Last spring, the revolt in New York was the largest in the country. More than 200,000 students in grades three through eight opted out of state tests in English language arts and mathematics in April, with about 70,000 of those students in school districts on Long Island.
As has been the case with hearings on education reform before, the hearing in the city was attended by the professional Common Core class - civil rights "activists" on the Gates Foundation payroll, an executive director for a corporate-sponsored pro-education reform group and members of StudentsFirstNY:
The first public hearing of Gov. Cuomo's Common Core Task Force in the city drew about 100 people to LaGuardia Community College Friday afternoon – parents, educators and students bitterly divided over the issue.
About two dozen signed up to speak, asking task force members Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and Brooklyn teacher Kishayna Hazlewood to toss the Common Core, saying it was forcing a test-driven curriculum in schools while others expressed the need to keep high expectations of students.
"I think our children are capable of learning," said Nina Doster, a mother of two from Queens who signed up to speak in favor of keeping the Common Core standards. "Children in other areas get their best education and sometimes our children are left out of that."
A large coalition of pro-Common Core advocates attended the hearing, including Urban League President Arva Rice, Stephen Sigmund, executive director of High Achievement New York and more than 50 parents from StudentsFirst NY.
But City Councilman Danny Dromm, a former teacher who heads the Council's Education Committee, said the state needs to step back from an emphasis on standardized testing.
"The kids are getting bored to death with being beaten over the head with test prep, test prep, test prep," said David Dobosz, a retired teacher who worked in Brownsville and Bushwick. "We are giving kids a narrow education."
As with all of Cuomo's task forces and commissions before, it is suspected that the "reforms" this Common Core task force is going to come up with are already written in stone, so these public hearings are probably nothing more than dog and pony shows to give the illusion that Cuomo is listening to parents and educators.
Nonetheless Cuomo felt threatened enough by the possibility of another Poughkeepsie (where John King had his public meltdown after parents and teachers challenged his reform agenda) that the Cuomo administration did its best to limit attendance at these hearings by having them held during school time and in small spaces.
They eventually made the hearings a little later after challenged over the scheduling, but even so, the message from the Cuomo administration on this is clear - they're not interested in hearing differing points of view on Common Core and the Endless Testing regime, just making it look like they are before they issue the already written Cuomo "reform" plan for the education system.
But one important part of the dog and pony show is it does put pressure on Cuomo, mirroring the polling on his handling of education issues as well as support for Common Core (both of which are very low) and showing that Common Core and the Endless Testing regime are deeply unpopular in most of this state.
I maintain that until politicians pay a political price for their support of the Core and the Endless Testing regime, we will get no substantive change to the reform policies.
Still, for Cuomo's sham force to hear so much criticism and negativity on Common Core and testing is important, because it continues to ratchet up the pressure and makes it harder for Cuomo to defend the "Steady as she goes" reform plan we're going to get on this in the end.