At the Core of the Academic Reform Movement

The Rye, Rye Brook & Port Chester League of Women Voters hosted an issue forum on an important subject, “The Common Core — From Inspiration to Implementation”, May 7 at Rye Middle School.

Published June 4, 2015 1:03 PM
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The Rye, Rye Brook & Port Chester League of Women Voters hosted an issue forum on an important subject, “The Common Core — From Inspiration to Implementation”, May 7 at Rye Middle School.

By Robin Jovanovich

The Rye, Rye Brook & Port Chester League of Women Voters hosted an issue forum on an important subject, “The Common Core — From Inspiration to Implementation”, May 7 at Rye Middle School.

The distinguished panel included Dr. Peter Salins, a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and former Provost of the State University of New York; Rye City Schools Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez; and Port Chester Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Kliszus. League member Fred Cummings served as moderator and Peter Larr acted as timekeeper.

“In a half-century of dialogue about the achievement gap,” began Dr. Salins, “and despite an heroic effort, we’ve made relatively little progress.” He pointed to the launch of higher standards in Massachusetts in 1993 that launched the state to No. 1 based on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) exam and put them on a par with the most educated countries. “The centerpiece was a more rigorous academic program and rigorous testing, and it worked,” he said.

With Common Core, the national reform program which was implemented three years ago, there have been bumps, but that’s true of any major reform, noted Dr. Salins. “And Common Core standards are clearly superior to what exists in most states.”

His view is that the country needs to go ahead with it. “I think it’s unfortunate that many are sabotaging it, or telling kids to opt out of tests, which will maroon us as an educational backwater.”

With so much confusion about and controversy over Common Core, Dr. Alvarez took a different approach, outlining its components and what’s changed in the three years since the rollout.

“The mission is to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are learning. For the first time we have a set of guidelines: a fifth grader should be learning the same skills, information, knowledge, and content,” he said.

There are negatives to the program: “One size fits all is problematic. We should be able to differentiate by district. The rollout has suffered tremendously because of the tie to teacher evaluation. There has been a lack of creativity in classrooms as a result.  The related costs — professional development and instructional support — are huge.”

But on the whole, Dr. Alvarez is sanguine about Common Core. “It focuses on best practices and we’ll see the residuals in years to come.”

Dr. Kliszus supports raising standards, but as Superintendent of an economically disadvantaged district with poor standardized test results, he’d like educational reform to ensure that the rest of the curriculum isn’t deemphasized because of a “narrow focus on high-stakes tests.”

He went on to name all of the educational reform endeavors that the U.S. has attempted since he began his career in the 1970s. It was a long list.

Then he brought the discussion home to his district, “where 30 percent of students are eligible for bilingual education and 72 percent for free lunch. Any educational reform must consider poverty.”

Dr. Salins remarked that while he too is concerned with inequality of opportunity, “it’s not going to improve without educational improvement. We need content reform.” He went on to point out that increased funding isn’t the answer. “New York spends more per student than any state and doesn’t have a lot to show for it. Baltimore spends a lot.”

Summing up the broader conversation, Dr. Alvarez said, “We are too quick to talk about failing schools. Mostly our public schools work very well. But we have great challenges and Common Core brings us back to tried and true measures.”

 

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