What About Fair Play?

Common Core and rule change in the middle of the game

Part 4 of a 4 Part Series

BY CHERYL SLAVIN

urlImagine yourself deeply engrossed in the longest game of Monopoly in your life, busily buying and selling properties with all the élan of the most distinguished real estate tycoons when suddenly at your door there appears a representative from Milton Bradley to tell you that the rules have changed and you now need double the number of houses to build a hotel. Or consider this scenario: in the middle of an AFC playoff game, with the Super Bowl on the line, the NFL suddenly stops play to inform all interested parties that there has been a rule change and pass interference is a thing of the past, touch-backs don’t exist anymore and there is a completely new, if not yet fully fleshed-out, definition of “breaking the plane.”

Outcry? You bet. Pushback, protest, even riots? To be expected. We have all been raised with the concept of good sportsmanship, to learn the rules and play by the rules and expect the rules to be fair and consistent. We are outraged by the thought of rules changing mid-game.

Yet, rule change in the middle of the game is exactly what has occurred as a result of New York State’s rush to implement the Common Core Standards it adopted in 2010.

“No one could really argue that we needed to raise our state standards in order to become globally competitive,” says Sean Michel, Superintendent of the Chester Union Free School District. “But the poor roll-out has produced needless misconceptions, stress and frustrations for our students, families and teachers.”

New York State proceeded to implement the standards at a faster rate than almost any other state; it rolled out the standards during the 2012-2013 year and is one of only two states so far (the other is Kentucky) to have already realigned its statewide Grades 3-8 assessments to the new standards. The result: a dismal drop of almost 30 percentage points in schools’ performance across the state. Teachers and administrators quite simply had not had the time—let alone the financial resources—to prepare themselves or their students to work within the new educational concepts.

The impact is especially harsh on older students. High schoolers who have completed eight to ten years of education under one set of rules must now perform and demonstrate mastery under a different set. In an absurd attempt to mitigate the obvious disadvantage to students in the upper grades who had been preparing for state Regents exams under the old rules, the DEC permitted students to take both the new and the old algebra and English Regents and then chose the higher of the two grades. Somehow the students end up paying twice for the poor planning of those who supposedly had their best interests at heart.

Lack of state preparation still plagues Common Core implementation.

“We’re still trying to catch up,” says Harry Leonardatos, principal at Clarkstown North High School. “The state is continuing to roll out learning modules long after the school year has started. We still don’t have them all.”

As for teachers, the impact of the botched rollout seems particularly cruel. For the first time, their professional evaluations are linked to their students’ performances on the assessment tests. But without proper preparation, the teachers cannot adequately prepare their students. Teachers now must make a difficult choice: teach their subject and risk a poor evaluation, or teach to the test in order to survive professionally.

“The roll-out was too fast,” Michel explains. “Our professionals need time to work with and adjust to the new curriculum and learn the new standards before they are to be held accountable to them.”

“Quite simply,” says Leonardatos, “the implementation was poor policy poorly planned. If I had presented this plan in a public policy course, I would have gotten an ‘F.’”

Both educators, as well as others, point to the lack of a pilot period designed to test the effectiveness of the new standards as well as afford all parties the opportunity to really learn them and use them appropriately. But even now, when they express their concerns and frustrations to the state officials, they have been told to accept the new norm as a “leadership challenge.” Meanwhile, teachers and students will continue to pay for that challenge with their grades, evaluations, loss of morale and increase in stress and anxiety. Such is the case when the rules are changed in the middle of the game.