A battle is being joined that is heading to the heart of the U.S. educational system.
No one is suggesting this country is not adequately preparing students for college, least of all local educators who have implemented their own rigorous program to raise standards for Shelter Island students. But caught up in the local initiatives are the increasingly unpopular Common Core Standards (CCS) handed down from the federal government to state education departments. Local schools, educators and parents are loudly protesting that CCS is linked to extensive testing and is more about punishment than achievement.
Shelter Island Superintendent Michael Hynes and Academic Administrator Jennifer Rylott rolled out a curriculum redesign this year, creating three educational “houses.” These included an elementary house for students in kindergarten through fifth grade; a humanities house for secondary students integrating reading, writing and social studies; and a math, science and technology house to improve student performances in those areas.
Not only was there a curriculum change, but actual use of space in the building was changed to accommodate the three houses. The aim was to offer more rigorous, but also more integrated, studies; encourage team teaching; and create a more vigorous educational program.
From the outset, Dr. Hynes said the new approach might have to undergo changes as experience revealed shortcomings or difficulties in implementation.
But his attention to the effort has been diverted, at least in part by the CCS, that might have served as an engine driving the educational process. Instead it became a monkey wrench in the works, frustrating students and teachers who were suddenly being held to new standards for which they had no preparation, according to the superintendent.
Despite complaints from teachers, Dr. Hynes held his tongue, listening, but not expressing his growing doubts about the rollout of CCS until now. Last week, he broke his silence, not by declaring an insurrection, but joining other East End superintendents in lobbying for changes in a program that was developed without consultation with class room educators.
Following a forum last week at Eastport-South Manor High School with State Education Commissioner John King — a forum that many parents walked out complaining that Commissioner King wasn’t hearing their concerns — Dr. Hynes said he is in agreement with a Washington Post article on resistance to the CCS.
Appearing just before Thanksgiving, the article reported that Massachusetts and Louisiana — two of the early leaders in endorsing CCS — were putting the skids on its implementation. And those two were following the lead of educators in 10 other states calling for a slowdown and rethinking of the program.
Criticism of CCS have come from a wide spectrum of people from the left, the right and the middle, according to the Washington Post.
The Shelter Island Board of Education last week joined districts under the umbrella of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association in appealing to Commissioner King and Governor Andrew Cuomo to slow down implementation of the program. The letter also calls for:
• Revising scores to allow for greater margin of error resulting from the transition;
• Re-evaluating the relationship between student test scores and the new teacher evaluation program; and
• Providing alternatives to statewide computerized testing.
“As a group, we believe in the ‘philosophy’ of the Common Core and shifts it causes in instruction and learning,” the letter said. But there are “procedural” differences the educators believe need to be addressed. They call on Commissioner King to work in partnership with them to slow implementation and change the one-size-fits-all approach to raising standards.
Dr. Hynes has acknowledged his own position has shifted from endorsing and working hard to implement CCS to increasing skepticism. He has implemented changes in materials the state proposed that he believes were too structured to alternatives that still meet the requirements, but don’t stifle creativity.