Skuggz, Zeldin want local education decisions

REPORTER FILE PHOTO Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik favors local control of curriculum, promising he’ll always be setting the bar higher as his students achieve improved standards.

REPORTER FILE PHOTO
Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik favors local control of curriculum, promising he’ll always be setting the bar higher as his students achieve improved standards.

Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik hasn’t read the entire HR5 bill that is meant to replace No Child Left Behind legislation, but he likes the intent — to put more decisions in the hands of local educators.He’s especially glad to learn about the “Zeldin Amendment” introduced by new East End Congressman Lee Zeldin that would ensure no district is penalized for failing to implement the controversial Common Core Curriculum.

“I’m all for raising the bar” on educational standards, Mr. Skuggevik said during a telephone interview in the wake of the March 5 snow storm that kept East End schools closed. “I’ll never be satisfied,” he said, explaining that as he monitors student progress he will always reset the bar higher.

But what’s critical to him is that the decision about where the bar should be set needs to be a local district decision, not something handed down from Washington or Albany.

“I certainly don’t need the government telling me where to set the bar,” Mr. Skuggevik said. “They create a mess and we have to live with it,” he said.

No Child Left Behind, enacted in 2001, with the intention of improving educational opportunities for all students became known as “No Child Left Untested” among critics. They complained of what they saw as constant federal intrusion into curriculum.

The Obama administration rolled out its Race to the Top program in 2009 meant to inspire better learning experiences. But it, too, ran into criticisms that the federal government was intruding into curriculum.

Neighboring Southold opted not to participate, with its Superintendent David Gamberg saying that he thought students in that district would achieve more through other means than complying with the requirements of Race to the Top.

As for Common Core, while some educators have since embraced it, most were critical at the outset of its quick rollout.

“They rushed through it and slammed it down our throats,” Mr. Skuggevik said.

Shelter Island students are learning material no one would have imagined them studying, not because of Common Core, but because inspired teachers are driving the process, the superintendent said.

Congressman Zeldin endorses that kind of thinking. In a telephone interview also during Thursday’s snowstorm, he said he was a state senator when the Common Core Curriculum was being rolled out.

COURTESY PHOTO | REPORTER FILE PHOTO Congressman Lee Zeldin is working to stop federal funds from being denied to districts that opt out of the Common Core Curriculum.

COURTESY PHOTO | REPORTER FILE PHOTO
Congressman Lee Zeldin is working to stop federal funds from being denied to districts that opt out of the Common Core Curriculum.

It was obvious there was no communication taking place between the State Education Department and local districts, Mr. Zeldin said.

He pushed a bill to try to slow the implementation of the Common Core Curriculum for three years and to allow local districts to opt out. But he was hobbled by concerns that any district that did so would see federal funding cut, regardless of any other action taken to improve educational standards.

“The implementation was horrendous,” he said about the Common Core rollout. His criticisms parallel those of educators who complained:

• Students were being tested on material they had not yet been taught.

• The Common Core Curriculum was often not age appropriate with 6-year-olds being asked to learn about such material as the development of the city of Babylon and the history of Mesopotamia.

• Students were being challenged to learn material their parents didn’t know so they couldn’t get help with homework.

• Testing students with disabilities on material some of them would need extra help to grasp and some would be unable to grasp was unfair in bringing down overall scores.

• Linking educators’ evaluations to test scores so rapidly meant good teachers could be penalized unfairly by students’ low scores that didn’t reflect either the students’ or teachers’ true abilities.

As a federal legislator, Mr. Zeldin is able to push against what has been the reality of cutting funding to those who chose other paths to improving educational standards because his amendment would prohibit feds from taking punitive action by denying funding.

His amendment was introduced without co-supporters because timing required he rush it to the floor when he learned that the full bill was about to be up for debate. But since he introduced it, many of his colleagues have told him they favor the amendment and he’s optimistic it will be added to the bill that he expects the House to pass and send to the Senate.

At the same time, Mr. Zeldin is working on a separate bill that would roll back standardized testing to levels it was at prior to the passage of the No child Left Behind legislation.

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