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NYS Education Department releases new learning standards

Lissa Harris and Scott Brinton
Oyster Bay Guardian

The New York State Education Department recently released a new draft for English and math learning standards for public comment, according to Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

The move follows four years of parents’ protests about the Common Core State Standards that were adopted by New York in 2012. More than 200,000 parents opted their children out of grades three to eight English and math state exams across the state in 2015. That led Gov. Andrew Cuomo to empanel a task force that year to offer recommendations to overhaul Common Core.

That process began last spring, ending this September, with a draft of new standards. Two committees comprising 130 educators and parents recommended changing 60 percent of the English and 55 percent of the math standards. The State Education Department is now accepting public comments on the draft standards through Nov. 4.

“Learning standards form the very framework of our educational system, so it’s critical that we get this right for all of our students,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa. “As we work to support teachers in implementing these new learning standards, we will place a particular emphasis on educating English language learners, students with disabilities and other special populations.”

Elia thanked the committee for proposing “meaningful changes,” which she believes will improve the state’s learning standards.

“Dedicated teachers, parents and educators from across the state put in countless hours to develop these new draft standards,” Elia said. “Teachers will be able to use these standards as a basis for developing their curricula and lesson plans to meet the needs of students in their classrooms.”

The changes, she added, reflected what she’d been hearing this year from parents, teachers and administrators. Elia hopes to receive feedback from educators and parents so she can provide the NYSED with the needed guidance to “develop the best learning standards to prepare New York’s children for their futures.”

The new draft standards meet the 2015 legislative requirement that the standards be reassessed with stakeholders’ input. Teachers and parents, she noted, have had a voice throughout the revision process “and their input drove the recommended changes to the learning standards.”

But not all parents are confident that the new draft standards will address the issues that propelled the protests in the first place.

Maureen Liantonio, of Locust Valley, who has children in public school, doesn’t believe that the revisions are enough.

“It’s a shame we’re even still discussing this mess,” she lamented. “The changes to the standards were minimal — playing with the verbiage, clarifying terms, etc. All they have managed to do is create a testing-based education for our children, which costs the district money in testing mandates and lines the pockets of the testing companies.”

NYSED’s announcement of the new draft standards comes in tandem with the federal government’s announcement that the Department of Education will be funneling millions in grant money to support charter schools.

Charter schools are publicly funded independent schools at which the board of education is appointed rather than elected. Charters do not charge tuition and are not subject to the same state and federal oversight rules as their public counterparts.

The federal grant program, which started in 1995, has helped fund the startup of over 2,500 charter schools in the last decade. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2013-14 school year approximately 2.5 million students were enrolled in charter schools. In the last decade there has been a 300 percent increase in enrollment at charter schools, whereas public school enrollment has seen a decline.

Charter school operators, as well as the schools themselves, are slated to receive $245 million in grant money from the DOE. They are often touted as the answer to income inequality in certain public school districts because parents can choose the school their children will attend right in their own neighborhoods.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. made a case for the value of charter schools in a Sept. 28 press release. “Ensuring that all students have access to an academically challenging and engaging education is critical to preparing them for college and career success,” King said.

State Senate Education Committee Chairman Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) supports the federal government’s grants for charter schools. “For many students across the country, charter schools play a critical role,” he explained. “In our state, that is especially true in New York City. These federal funds will help open up an educational choice for some families who believe their child would thrive in a charter school environment.”

Marcellino has always supported charters, believing they have a place in the state’s educational system, but he also believes they “must never infringe on the educational experience of the students in Long Island’s public schools.”

Opponents of charter schools have often said that the lack of oversight at the institutions is problematic and that a school run by appointed, rather than elected, officials does not reflect the true needs of a community. And struggling public schools tend to decline further when faced with the competition of charter schools within their districts.

There is also some disagreement over whether charter schools are truly beneficial. The NAACP recently placed a moratorium on charter schools based on a study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, which found that “charter schools are more racially isolated than traditional public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan area in the nation.”

Additionally, charter schools are often accused of fraud and mismanagement of funds — in particular, inflating their enrollment numbers in order to obtain more funding and instituting discriminatory admissions policies.

The increase in funding for charter schools, coupled with the controversial roll-out of the state’s Common Core standards in 2009, and now the new draft standards, has led some to think these actions could be the death knell for public schools across the nation.

“Public schools on Long Island are facing significant financial burdens,“ said Jim Gaughran, the Democratic candidate for Senate. “It’s irresponsible to further divert education funds that could be used for the benefit of every public school student to charter schools.”