Friday, November 22, 2013

Common Core Controversy and Other Issues in Education

Issues around the Common Core Standards are generating a great deal of attention.  Here in Rochester there have recently been three large forums where people could ask and/or comment on the issues with our local members of the Board of Regents, with the Commissioner of Education, and with members of the Assembly Minority.  For the latter group I submitted written testimony which I am posting here as well. 

Testimony to the New York State Assembly
Memorial Art Gallery
Rochester, NY
November 20, 2013
Respectfully submitted by Jody Siegle, Executive Director
Monroe County School Boards Association
Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony to you.  My name is Jody Siegle and I am the Executive Director of the Monroe County School Boards Association, a non-profit organization that is made up of 21 school districts in Monroe County.  

You are here to gather information and opinions about the Common Core standards, which make up one of the anchors of the Regents Reform Agenda.

 The Common Core standards, the structure of the state exams, the new teacher and principal evaluation plans, and the about to be implemented inBloom data base have all become highly controversial.  In the 25 plus years of my involvement with public education in New York I have seen a succession of new state initiatives such as the Regents Action Plan, the New Compact for Learning, and Shared Decision Making, and also federal initiatives like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, each requiring major transitions in how schools operate.  But I have never seen the widespread frustration that has now evolved into the anger and turmoil that motivated this hearing today. 

 Ordering change is not the same as motivating it.  Someday the current situation should be studied as an example of how not to implement change.  The wisdom, experience, and values of school leaders, teachers, and parents have been ignored throughout this process and the resulting frustration should not be underestimated.  But I ask you to be very thoughtful in whatever action you take so that valuable ideas about learning contained within the Common Core standards are not discarded in a wholesale rejection because of their poor implementation. 

Each state and federal education initiative has the goal of raising student achievement, especially the outcomes in high need districts characterized by high dropout rates.  Even before the NCLB law required it, NYS required our schools to disaggregate student test data.  Analyzing subgroup performance revealed that certain groups of students clearly weren’t succeeding in school while other subgroups were doing very well.  That discovery led to some thoughtful planning at the local level but not higher up.  The state failed to ask why particular subgroups were struggling, and instead developed sweeping reforms for everyone that never addressed the real problems interfering with student progress. 

One problem too often overlooked and sometimes even denied is the impact of poverty.  Poverty is not an excuse but it is a fact and a factor in the lives of over 50% of the children in New York’s schools.  The effect of poverty is not the same for every child but data makes it clear that there is a causal relationship between poverty and poor student performance.  

I have attached MCSBA’s recently approved position paper to this testimony.  The paper calls out the state’s responsibilities for the wellbeing of students and families.  While the schools do not shirk from their responsibility for educating the state’s children, their work is complicated when children do not arrive at school ready to learn.  This can mean kindergarteners who lack language and were deprived of critical early stimulation for brain development or it may mean students who cannot concentrate because they are hungry, depressed, or frightened because of the uncertainty in their lives outside of school.  Schools have their role helping children but so does the state.  All the agencies that support children and families are under the direct responsibility of the governor, and those same agencies have seen major cuts in their budgets in recent years.

I believe, and our membership believes, that there won’t be any substantial progress on increasing student performance and the graduation rate in high need communities unless we address the impact of poverty on the lives of students.  The best standards in the world will not overcome the effect on a child of hunger or fear.  I urge you to read our position paper and keep it in mind as you consider making changes to solve the problems around the implementation of the Common Core standards.  

                                    #                      #                      #                      #

Here is the above mentioned MCSBA position paper.  It can also be downloaded at


In response to Governor Cuomo’s statements about underperforming schools, the MCSBA membership submits the following:

No government leader can freely criticize school performance as if it is someone else’s problem – Each agency of government has a role in the overall welfare of our communities and as a society we ALL have a collective interest in the success of every student as a learner and a productive citizen.
Children are shaped by their lives outside of school Children spend less than 15% of their time in school. The environmental factors that influence children outside of school cannot be ignored. These can include families in crisis, violent neighborhoods, lead poisoning, food insecurity, drugs and other substance abuse. Chronic absenteeism and poor school performance can be linked to each of these factors.
The high correlation between poor school performance, poverty and family stress is well documented The dropout rate for low-income high school students (the lower 20% of family incomes, which represents an annual income of $21,000 or less) is twice as high as the dropout rate for middle-income students and four times higher than for high income students. The City of Rochester has the sad distinction of having one of the highest child poverty rates in the nation.
The Governor has direct responsibility for the wellbeing of New York’s childrenAlthough the Board of Regents, which is appointed by the Legislature, oversees public education, ALL other agencies concerned with children fall under the leadership of the Governor. Some of these agencies include:
    • Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS)
    • Office of Persons with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD)
    • Department of Health (DOH)
    • Office of Mental Health (OMH)
    • Department of Correction
    • State University of New York
These agencies have been decimated by cuts and closures and by regionalizing offices. The trickle down effect of this has greatly diminished the ability of our local communities to provide critical supports to children and their families.

Boards of Education members are elected local officials who are directly accountable to their constituents for the public schools in their communities – The academic performance of children who live in poverty does not invalidate the right of citizens to elect their own representatives. The Governor’s proposal to remove locally elected boards violates the foundation of our democratic principles.

Although the Governor continually criticizes the high cost of public education in NYS, he has largely ignored education leaders’ pleas for mandate relief – Education leaders have provided evidence and testimony on what reliefs schools need to be more cost effective. This has fallen on deaf ears. In fact, the current education reform that was legislated after his promise for mandate relief has been extraordinarily costly to implement and has created many new mandates.

If the state is serious about improving student results, it must acknowledge and then act on its moral and constitutional obligations to help its neediest citizens arrive at school ready to learn.
220 Idlewood Road, Rochester, New York 14618- 585-328-1972-
Approved, October, 2013

Supporting Data

Research repeatedly proves that environmental factors influence child development, including the ability to learn. Research also identifies successful programs that can mitigate the negative effects of poverty, and which could be brought to scale to help needy children.* This is a state issue because New York communities like Rochester and Buffalo have some of the highest poverty rates in the nation.

Poverty’s impact varies across a continuum of needs so there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. In 2013 a family of four qualified for Reduced Price Lunch with an income of $43,567 while a child whose family lived on a single minimum wage salary would only have a family income of $15,080. A child living in the latter situation would need to cope with challenges and deprivations significantly different from a child living in the former situation.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has committed to advocating for addressing the health effects of poverty because: …Poverty can inhibit children’s ability to learn and contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Poverty is a contributing factor to toxic stress, which has been shown to disrupt the developing brain of infants and children and influence behavioral, educational, economic and health outcomes for years.
The AAP goals include:
    • Expanding access to affordable health care services.
    • Expanding access to basic needs such as food, housing and transportation.
    • Promoting positive early brain and child development and school readiness and success.
    • Supporting parents.
Governor Cuomo’s own New NYS Education Reform Commission Report, “Putting Students First Action Plan,” recognizes this relationship:
“Research shows that a child’s most formative years are during early childhood, at the very beginning stages of their formal education, and even prior. The education and guidance children receive during these years have a profound effect on their academic success at every subsequent stage. Unpreparedness in kindergarten permeates through the education pipeline, as these students are often the same ones who cannot read or do math at grade level, who drop out of high school, or who need remediation in college, if they even pursue a college degree.”

The report’s recommendations included:
    • Increase access to early educational opportunities by providing high quality full day pre-kindergarten for students in highest needs school districts.
    • Restructure schools by integrating social, health and other services through community schools to improve student performance. 
Only when our elected leaders begin to confront the facts around poverty and legislate meaningful support for child development will we truly be able to break the terrible cycle of poverty and school failure. Left unaddressed, poverty not only diminishes the potential of the children but also results in huge future losses to our economy.

*For information on successful programs that can help mitigate the impact of poverty check out The Children’s Agenda at and/or How Children Succeed by Paul Tough






No comments:

Post a Comment