Sunday, December 13, 2015

the Governor’s Common Core Task Force Ignores Receivership

After a ten week “review” of the Common Core Learning Standards, curriculum and tests, which according to the final report included “exhaustive outreach….two public sessions with testimony....nine listening sessions with open public testimony; a virtual student engagement…. outreach to hundreds of educators, parents, students…and other stakeholders and a survey of other states’ reviews”, the Governor’s Common Core Task Force released a Report on December 10th with their findings and recommendations.

Overall the Task Force concluded that “New York must have rigorous, high quality education standards to improve the education of all of our students and hold schools and districts accountable for students’ success.”  However, as a result of their comprehensive review and analysis the primary findings were   summarized in this pronouncement:   "The implementation of the Common Core in New York was rushed and flawed. Teachers stepped into their classrooms in the 2012-2013 school year unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the new standards, without curriculum resources to teach students, and forced to administer new high-stakes standardized tests that were designed by a corporation instead of educators."

The Report offers a series of recommendations, grouped by what is defined as major issues that created barriers in the “adoption and implementation of the Common Core Standards.”  None of this new-found insight or recommendations are cutting edge as they echo problems with the Common Core that parents, educators and other stakeholders have been citing over the last three years.  I found the Task Force’s conclusions and recommendations on the use of Common Core aligned testing with special student populations of particular interest.  In an over-due official acknowledgment  that the “one size fits all” standardized testing system is unfair and in need of an over-haul, the Task Force recommends more “flexibility for assessments of Students with Disabilities” and the elimination of “double testing for English Language Learners”.  Advocates have long cited the inequity of requiring these students to take the same tests as all other students.

But the final and perhaps most significant recommendation proposes that “the results from assessments aligned to the current Common Core Standards, as well as the updated standards, shall only be advisory and not be used to evaluate the performance of individual teachers or students.”  The Task Force does not detail how this recommendation will be implemented but does offer a time frame.  They suggest that a reasonable period to formulate and evaluate new standards and tests would be five years, until the 2019-20 school year.

Like the 800 pound gorilla in the room, the Report ignores another “high stakes test” dependent variable:  Receivership.  The Report is silent on how Recommendation 21 would address the use of  assessments in the accountability matrix that determines “persistently struggling” and “struggling” schools.  The Report is also silent on how these findings will impact School Districts (mostly urban) which had Receivership imposed this year, in part with the use of the test data gathered from the Common Core aligned tests.

The Common Core fiasco offers a persuasive example of the problems resulting from; a rush to implement a high stakes program, lack of transparency and inclusion, failure to engage educators in the development of the standards, ignoring research data and turning a deaf ear to earnest feedback and proposed solutions.  In fact the Common Core protests mirror objections and offer valid comparisons to the development and roll out of Receivership.  However, before continuing with this analysis, a look at Buffalo illustrates why the last recommendation of the Task Force provides a compelling justification for a review and analysis of the rationale, role of standardized tests and documented benefits of “receivership” as currently being implemented.

Buffalo has 25 Receivership Schools; 5 “persistently struggling” which have one year to show “demonstrable improvement” and 20 “struggling” which have 2 years.  A few statistics about Buffalo’s five “persistently struggling schools”, euphemistically dubbed the “high 5” by our Superintendent Receiver, offer a picture of these schools and their populations that demonstrate reasons for further discussion of the Task Force proposals regarding special student populations.  The demographics of these schools, especially those of the two population groups cited by the Task Force are as follows:

% of Students with Disabilities – 11.9%, 20.9%, 17.5%, 25% and 24.5%
% of English Language Learners - 40.5%, 14%, 31.6%, 7.4% and 7.2%

For additional perspective, a review of District wide demographics for these indicators reveals that of 34,000 students, 20% are Students with Disabilities, 14% are English Language Learners.   The over-representation of these groups in the “persistently struggling” schools should evoke a call for a serious dialog between the District, the NY State Education Department, the Buffalo Board of Education, educators, parents and other stakeholders.  

Unlike the Common Core Standards, Receivership is the result of legislation enacted by the Legislature with the support of the Governor.  Hastily enacted, the law was passed with little input or feedback from educators, parents or other educational and community stakeholders.  The mechanics of receivership were left to the NYSED to devise.  The law went into effect July 1, 2015 and NYSED has scrambled to develop policies, protocols and a framework to implement the law, while also educating Receivership districts on the law’s impact.  In this rush to implementation, SED has ignored “lessons learned” from the Common Core experience of building a plane while flying it.  Other glaring examples of SED’s failure to plan can be found in the lack of research and data on successful receivership districts and the Commissioner’s determination to impose her dictates on teachers and to empower the Receiver.

The Task Force called for a moratorium on the use of high states tests to evaluate teachers, recommended that there be a revisit to testing itself to better meet the needs of a diverse student population and proposed that the children not suffer any harm "from the tests previously administrated; all of which have implications for Receivership.  Since this Task Force has concluded its work, it’s time to impanel a new group tasked with the work of reviewing, researching,  inviting public comment/feedback and coming to terms with the inequity of Receivership and its impact on 144 schools across the state.


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