A Common Core forum held at Eastport-South Manor Tuesday night brought out scores of parents, educators and students who echoed a common refrain of disappointment, despair and anger over a curriculum they said stands to dim the light of learning in their children.
Although the speakers at the forum attended by New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John King.were, for the most part, restrained, at times, comments got so heated that Mark A. Nocero, superintendent of schools Eastport-South Manor, demanded respect and asked that attendees treat speakers as though they were guests in their own homes.
New York State Senator Ken LaValle asked that participants not "humiliate or ridicule" one another.
The forum dealt with four topics: curriculum, assessment and testing, Annual Professional Performance Review, or teacher assessment, and data privacy, plus a time for miscellaneous questions at the end.The overwhelming majority of speakers blasted the Core Curriculum.
"Setting up kids to fail is damaging to their self-esteem," said Rocky Point PTA co-president Kathleen Heggers. "How can you accurately rate progress if no one understands the rules and the game has changed mid-stream?"
Added Jan Achilich, director of special education at the Remsenburg-Speonk Union Free School District, added, "What you are doing is tantamount to physically throwing them into a rushing river without a life preserver."
The Blue Ribbon school, she said, where music and dance have long been celebrated, is "now a place where anxiety and stress shadow our days."
Concerns were raised about special education students who cannot keep up to a cookie-cutter standard.
Achilich asked King to reevaluate the current situation.Others blasted King.
Julie Lofstad of the Hampton Bays Mothers Association lashed into the commissioner. "Can you explain why our children aren't as important to you as Mattel?" she asked. The toy company, she said, recalled toys that were "potentially harmful. Why don't you recall the Common Core? Why aren't you willing to admit the Common Core is flawed, and needs to be fixed, or the program scrapped?"
She added, "Schools are no longer a refuge for our children. Our children are sick. They feel stupid. Why is it that our children are expendable to you?"
Speakers painted grim verbal pictures of students who are so terrified of math that the want to stop attending school forever; of former straight-A students now struggling to keep afloat; of children with special needs lashing out in frustration as they are forced to scale academic mountains higher than what they are able to navigate; of a nine-year-old who can't sleep and needs counseling due to stress over the new standards.
Mom Catherine Callagheen of Riverhead asked what impact the Common Core would have on young artists and athletes, and said the program threatened the community's innate diversity.
Westhampton Beach senior high school English teacher Bill Dawson, also the father of a first grader and preschooler, spoke of the critical role literacy plays in a child's future.Under the Common Core standards, he said, some students, including English language learners and English as a second language students, "will be left behind, and early." Special education students would also struggle, he said. Dawson asked King what opportunities for dialogue between the state, superintendents, and teachers for "long-term solutions" would exist.
Robert Sweeney, school board president at Mt. Sinai, said he has listened to parents, heard their voices.
"This is a program that breaks the children, not educates," he said. "It is destroying our children. Allow our teachers to teach, not be proctors."
"Shame on you," said Chris Tice of the Sag Harbor school board. "Please tell us specifically how you are going to fix this and give us a timeline."
King responded by saying there was a "great gap" between the evening's conversation and what is happening in classrooms that he's visited, where children are writing and reading more challenging texts — his words were met by a loud outcry from the audience.
The standards were adopted in 2010 and would be phased in over seven years.
"They won't be here in 2017 and neither will you," one audience member yelled.
King added that there needed to me more support for professional development and parents. He said curriculum decisions are made locally. "This is not intended to be a script," he said. "The challenge for every state is to figure out how to balance the urgency of trying to ensure kids have the skills they need with a reasonable pace of implementation. They're competing demands."
He disagreed that Common Core instructions was "less joyful" and said he saw kids happy in their classroom. "Joy and rigor in learning aren't opposites."
King added that assessment state tests are required by federal law and the only exams given in New York State beyond those are the history regents exam and global history. "I agree there has emerged a culture of testing more than we need or than is necessary to inform decision making. Our challenge is how to make assessments and be sure we have the minimum we need to inform good decision-making."
Moving ahead, King said, there could be a move to reduce field testing and reduce the number of questions and testing time on third to eighth grade assessments.
Cindy Morabito of Eastport-South Manor said while her own children were faring fairly well, she was concerned for children with disabilities. "You should not be cramming a square peg into a round hole and force all children to learn the same ways." Children with disabilities, she said, are faced with an internal struggle "that says, 'You'll never get this. You're stupid.'"
The group, she said, was more than just "ticked off mommies" and was, instead, a force to be reckoned with. "Are we not angry enough? Because we can get angrier. Are we not loud enough? Because we can and we will get louder. Please tell the people of New York you don't have a wallet where your heart should be — that money is not as important as our children, and that all children matter."
Mike Radday, superintendent of Westhampton Beach schools, said the "biggest misstep" was to rush the Common Core rollout and assessments to students who have not yet had adequate time to adapt. "We let our students down by setting them up for failure."
Students also voiced their concerns to King, saying the standards took away creative freedoms. Others said the Common Core should not start "halfway" for kids in middle school.
"Failure is not motivational," one student said. "It hurts."
Meanwhile, Kim Hardwich, principal of Clayton Huey Elementary School in Center Moriches, applauded the Common Core. "The children in my classrooms are smiling," she said. "I believe in standing up for what you believe in even if you stand alone."
King responded and said teachers still had the ability to decide on lessons and said the Common Core was developed with input from educators.
Discussion also centered on assessment and testing.
"Dreams, confidence and futures are being shattered," said Scott Guinther, RPTA representative who was representing Michael Friscia, president of the Rocky Point Teachers Association.
One suggestion was a moratorium for one year on testing for grades 3 through 8.
Kathleen Scholand, Mattituck schools math department coordinator, asked about accelerated math modules.
Jim Kinnier, Sag Harbor math teacher, said, "We teachers are in the backseat of a car that's lost."
The problem, he said, was not the philosophy of the Common Core, but the implementation.
Retired Terry Kalb of Shoreham-Wading River said she came to advocate for children, and that those with disabilities were struggling.
"This is illegal and it must stop," she said.
Teachers railed against the APPR.
"We are more than an APPR score," said Riverhead language arts teacher Mindy Benze.
And on data privacy while King said data was encrypted, others said they did not feel comfortable with the privacy issues and collection of data.
In conclusion, David Gamberg, superintendent of Southold Schools, said, "It is not the abandonment of the agenda I am calling for but the re-priortization of the components."