November 18, 2013 - Issue Spotlight / COMMON CORE
Chair; New York State Senate Education Committee
Q: The implementation of Common Core standards has proven controversial. Why?
JF: There’s a major distinction between the standards and the curriculum, and the curriculum as it relates to implementation. These standards were developed by educational professionals all across the country. There’s a broad umbrella group called the Educational Conference Board that’s comprised of school administrators, principals, PTAs, school superintendents, school board members, and they are supportive of Common Core. But what they are frustrated by, and what everyone is frustrated by, is the implementation, and that is completely justifiable.
The implementation has not gone well—and, frankly, it’s not going well right now. We’ve had a series of five hearings, in Long Island, Syracuse, Buffalo, New York City and Albany, and we announced these in early summer before anyone was doing anything. These are formal hearings of the Senate Education Committee, and it’s a great opportunity to hear from a very broad cross section of people. The testimony is all online. We’ve got a good cross section of opinion: parents, administrators, school board members, not-for-profit experts on issues like privacy, people who have a very broad range of experience in academics, and there’s been no preconception other than to listen to what people have to say.
Q: What stands out as the key problem?
JF: There’s a very high level of frustration. A plan that was fundamentally well-intentioned has been very poorly executed, and it’s provided a major source of consternation for parents and students. This is not without its challenges. The academic rigor that’s attached to this is real. The phrase I’ve heard more of than not is that the style of teaching used to be more about doing things “a mile wide and an inch deep.” And now the emphasis is on how to do it an inch wide and a mile deep. And I believe that there is nothing—nothing—more important than having an effective teacher in front of a classroom. But if they don’t have the proper tools, that’s not fair to them, and that’s not fair to the student. That’s where the major shortcoming has been repeated time and time and time again.
Q: New York Is one of the first states to implement the actual Common Core tests. Is that an advantage or a disadvantage?
JF: It’s both, because you have to learn from your own experience, and in this case, from your own mistakes. If there were 10 other states that were ahead of us, we could look at some of the things and see where it went well and where it didn’t. But there is a sense that this has been rushed. It’s got some valuable underpinnings to it, but they’ve been lost in the sauce.