Local Educators Voice Common Concerns Over Curricula

The “unwavering” support that NYS Education Commissioner John King has expressed for the Common Core Learning Standards received a lukewarm reception at Jamestown High School.

On Wednesday, a public information forum on the Common Core – co-hosted by Jamestown Public Schools and Jamestown Community College – received an attendance of approximately 1,000 individuals, most of whom expressed moderate to severe concerns over the controversial curricula.

“Frankly, I don’t think there is an alternative to (the Common Core),” King said in a press conference prior to the forum. “Those who argue for lower standards and that we should expect less from students, I frankly think that they are wrong and that their view risks undermining the long-term prosperity of our state and our country. We need to ensure that our students graduate ready to work at the next level, whether that be college or career, and the Common Core is the path to get there.”

An overwhelming majority of the forum’s 40 individual speakers, however, could not have disagreed more with this statement. The speakers – which consisted of students, parents, teachers and administrators from throughout Western New York – expressed disillusionment in a variety of categories such as testing, evaluations, implementation, data collection and the curriculum modules themselves.

“As the commissioner of New York state, the person given the important duty of being in charge of our children’s education, can you honestly look at all of us here tonight and tell us that this is the very best that we have to offer our children?” asked Crystal Haglund, a parent of two school-aged children and a speech pathologist at a local school district. “Will you continue to stand behind your opinion when we know that New York state adopted the Common Core standards before the final draft was complete? States that were already hurting for money, with huge cuts to education, were pretty much bribed with Race to the Top money. Why the rush? The standards should have been put out, and then reviewed and reviewed again before everyone signed up for them.”

Susan Young, a Jamestown resident and high school teacher at Southwestern Central School district, said she agrees with the premise of the Common Core but not its implementation.

“The path you choose for your children is not so very different from the path we want to choose for ours,” Young said regarding the enrollment of King’s daughters in a private Montessori school. “Here is what we tell you: the New York state approach to the Common Core, using prepackaged test-driven instruction modules and measuring success in standardized test scores, is not that path. We are educators, not factory workers.”

Karen Champoux, a parent of three school children, discussed the way in which the Common Core has negatively impacted the teaching and learning process.

“Good teachers strive to make their students feel encouraged, capable and curious,” Champoux said. “You, Commissioner King, have fabricated an environment of failure which has frustrated, discouraged and demoralized students and teachers, alike.”

In the midst of parent and teacher comments, it was statements made by students currently being instructed under the Common Core that resonated the most with the crowd. Cooper Harris, a fifth-grade student at Westfield Academy and Central School, candidly expressed his feelings on the Common Core to King himself.

“I sent you 20 emails and 20 letters, and you never responded,” Cooper said. “My letters were about how school was fun and creative in third grade and below, and then it turned into frustration and anger. Me and all of my friends feel this way. Computer lab used to be fun, and now every time I go there, we just take tests. In gym we take tests, in art we take tests and in computer lab we take tests.”

“I am a good student. I do well in school, and feel this anxiety,” he continued. “How do you think all of this testing is making the students who don’t do well in school feel? Last year, I received a 4 on the New York state tests, this year I received a 3. How do you think that made me feel? Because of all the anxiety, I opted out for this coming year. I know I’m smart, and I don’t need your tests.”

In spite of the backlash dominating the atmosphere of the forum, there were a handful of speakers who addressed King with a level of satisfaction at the progress of students in the Common Core.

“I can say that, from my little piece of New York state, your agenda has helped us to accomplish more,” said Kimberly Moritz, superintendent of Randolph Central School. “I appreciate your efforts. I think that the local decisions that you’ve given us, have helped us to pay attention and listen to our teachers. And I want you to know that there are problems, but it’s working for us.”

“I want you to know that my teachers, administrators and, especially, my students are working so hard and doing such a good job reaching higher standards because of the Common Core,” said Michelle Spasiano, superintendent of Franklinville Central School. “We’re on the right track, and you deserve some credit for that as well. I thank you for your vision, and your perseverance. I’m inspired daily by your courage, and by your determination on behalf of the students in New York state – especially mine.”