State politicians join Common Core debate

By CHRIS EBERHART

Democratic New York Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, second from right, and Sen. George Latimer, far right, joined Tuckahoe Superintendent Barbara Nuzzi and the Tuckahoe Board of Education on Jan. 16 to talk about Common Core. Photo/Chris Eberhart

Democratic New York Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, second from right, and Sen. George Latimer, far right, joined Tuckahoe Superintendent Barbara Nuzzi and the Tuckahoe Board of Education on Jan. 16 to talk about Common Core. Photo/Chris Eberhart

Public outcry against the implementation of the controversial Common Core Learning Standards and student data collection has become a booming voice throughout Westchester that has, according to critics, fallen on deaf ears. As a result, New York State’s elected officials are intervening.

Lisa Rudley, co-founder of New York Allies for Public Education, a parent advocate group, said parents continue to be brushed-off by the state Education Department after voicing their dissatisfaction with the way Common Core is being implemented as well as with the state’s collection and uploading of students’ personal, academic, disability and discipline information to the statewide data warehouse inBloom.

“We feel [the State Education Department] is ignoring the parents, and they’re treating our kids as guinea pigs for their educational experiment,” Rudley said. “They understand what the issues and what the criticisms are, but [Education Commissioner] John King continues to say everything is going great when it’s not.” State Sen. George Latimer, a Rye Democrat, spoke out against data collections during a workshop held by the Tuckahoe Union Free School District on Jan. 16.“When data is collected in this kind of fashion, it’s like gold. It’s gold. And it’s intrusive. But it can generate money and we can see the potential misuses of that information,” Latimer said.

While the criticisms against inBloom and the data collection are the loudest, critics of Common Core also argue against the excessive state testing for students that are tied to teacher evaluations—even though critics say teachers were never trained in how to teach the curriculum—and the cost of new technology, which is needed because the curriculum and the testing are done online.

Andreana Bellach, co-president of the Eastchester PTA council, echoed Rudley’s sentiment and said state politicians need to get involved.

“The bottom line is that parents need to be heard by the education commissioner and the Board of Regents,” Bellach said. “It is unfortunate that the commissioner of education has not found a solution that would safeguard student information. It is time for someone in Albany to do so.”

And there are some elected officials in Albany taking steps to combat Common Core.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, addressed Common Core concerns during his budget address on Jan. 21 by calling for a panel of education experts and members of the legislature to meet to discuss ways to improve its implementation.

“The way the Common Core has been managed by the board of regents is flawed,” Cuomo said. “There is too much uncertainty, confusion and anxiety.”

While Cuomo is calling for a panel to discuss Common Core, members of the state Legislature are also stepping in to try and resolve the issues.

“I think this is the single greatest issue in this legislative year,” Latimer said. “Before this, much of the conversation about Common Core has been in the communities and in the schools and has not been in the halls of the legislature.”

Now, finally, the debate seems to be moving in that direction.

Last year, Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, a Manhattan Democrat, proposed a student privacy bill in which parents would give consent in order for a local school district to release the student’s information to an outside entity such as inBloom. Essentially, O’Donnell said, it’s an opt-in proposal.

“I thought parents should have the right to decide if the information about their child should be given to a third party,” O’Donnell said. “If a child has an illness or a lot of absences, then you may not want that information out there.”

O’Donnell said the bill was passed last year in the Assembly and it will pass again this year. It remains to be seen whether the bill will ultimately pass in the state Senate, which is required in order for the bill to be signed into law by the governor.

But overall, legislators, like parents and educators, say they’re being ignored by the state Education Department.

In October 2013, Democratic Assembly members Amy Paulin, Thomas Abinanti and David Buchwald sent a letter to the Board of Regents asking to slow down the implementation process because Common Core “has the potential of doing more harm than good to both students and teachers.”

Paulin said she didn’t receive a response letter until Jan. 10 and the letter was “completely unsatisfactory.”

“It didn’t address any of the specific points we made,” Paulin said. “Slowing down the implementation [of Common Core] was the point of the letter, and that wasn’t addressed. There wasn’t even any mention of it.”

During the workshop in Tuckahoe, Latimer said the issue is getting to a point where legislators may have to step in to get the issues of Common Core resolved.

“If that’s [the State Education Department’s] response to legislators, then, if we have enough support, then we will legislate and you will be required to do certain things” Latimer said.

Latimer said he is in favor of a three-year moratorium to delay the implementation of Common Core, which includes the delay in the release of student data in inBloom, the online standardized tests and the corresponding teacher evaluations.

At the local level, Eastchester and Tuckahoe school districts dropped out of Race to the Topa $4.35 billion federal grant program created to spur educational renovationto avoid sending students’ data to inBloom, but the state Education Department is still requiring them to do so.

During the Jan. 16 workshop, Tuckahoe Superintendent Barbara Nuzzi said she and other superintendents in the area met with the state Education Department about student data collection and received no answers to their questions and concerns.

“The representatives from the state Education Department could not articulate answers to our questions,” Nuzzi said. “It was deplorable.”

Recently, the state Education Department said it will delay the release of the more than two million students’ data on inBloom until April because of “technical difficulties.”

Contact: christopher@hometwn.com