Core Concerns

Local educators, parents and students gathered at Jamestown High School on Monday in support of a nationwide effort to “reclaim the promise of public education,” a promise they believe is being undermined by the rocky implementation of Common Core standards.

“Students, parents and educators are reeling from the hastily implemented sea of changes that threaten public education,” said Tara Hall, vice president of the Jamestown Teachers Association. “In New York state, these include the chronic underfunding of public schools … an obsession with testing, lack of support for teaching and insufficient staffing.”

Reed insisted that fair funding, a three-year moratorium for “high-stakes” testing and a renewed focus on teaching-not testing-were the proper steps to take.

“We are urging the Board of Regents, Commissioner (John) King and the leaders in Albany to accelerate support to schools and make sure Common Core standards are implemented properly,” Hall said.

Other speakers echoed Reed’s call for change, including Joanne Dean, a parent activist, and Cheryl Jones, a Jamestown paraprofessional, both of whom discussed the anxiety felt by students due to Common Core.

“The Common Core learning standards are the most significant increase in student expectations that New York schools have ever faced,” Dean said. “It’s not so wonderful that our students have to sit through so much testing during the school year. It appears the focus is being moved away from teaching our kids to be critical thinkers … (but rather) bubble-test takers.”

Jones reiterated this, claiming that “testing, testing and more testing will only result in more students quitting, quitting and more quitting.”

Cameron Hurst, a 10th grader at Jamestown High School, turned the tables by speaking of the anxiety felt by teachers.

“The tension in schools right now among teachers is terrible and Common Core does nothing to solve that,” Hurst said. “These high-stakes evaluations in which teachers must jump through a ring of fire are just anxiety producers. I don’t believe there will be any improvement in students’ educational outcome.”

Such indictments are no doubt in sharp contrast to State Education Commissioner King’s comments last week, during a visit to three public schools in Jamestown.

King, along with Robert Bennett, NYS Board of Regents chancellor emeritus, witnessed a group of eighth-graders at Persell writing their own lesson plans, third-graders at Fletcher progressing through lessons in Greek mythology and math, a third-grade teacher team meeting at Fletcher and the AV department at Jamestown High School – from where morning announcements and commercials are filmed and broadcast.

The result of the classroom visits were referenced by King and Bennett during a press conference in which they said they were encouraged by what they saw.

“All of it was applied knowledge and ties in with what the Common Core learning standards are all about,” Bennett said, noting that a better name for the Common Core is the 21st Century Learning Standards. “It is not a curriculum, it is a set of very specific standards of learning that a child is expected to have all the way from pre-K through 12th grade in order to prepare them for a career and college.”

“I very much enjoyed my visit to Jamestown schools today,” King said. “We had the opportunity to be in classrooms where students are engaged and excited about the rigorous learning that they’re doing around the Common Core. We had the opportunity to see students building their math problem-solving skills, and students doing critical thinking in their ELA instruction. That was very nice to see.”