In New York, Cuomo and Astorino Spar on Common Core

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As the November 4th election creeps closer, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and opponent Rob Astorino are making their stances on Common Core well-known to the electorate.

The federal standards have been a cause of great concern with parents in the state, many of whom have taken to venting their frustrations over the rocky roll-out in meetings, by signing petitions, and through social media campaigns.  Thousands of parents have chosen to opt their children out of taking the more stringent exams.

“Teachers are very frustrated,” said Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association. “This is a dilemma. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of them did not vote, which is tragic because … how you bring about change in a democracy is through the ballot box.”

Education policy in the state comes from the 17-member state board of Regents who are appointed by the Legislature.  However, the governor and lawmakers are the ones to pass the state budget that includes funding for education.  Currently, education spending is at $21.8 billion in the state.

The state adopted the Common Core standards in 2010 after gaining a $700 million federal Race to the Top education grant under then-Governor David Paterson.  Cuomo came into office the following year, and the first round of testing under the new standards began shortly after that in 2013.

A drop in scoring was seen following the first round of new testing, with only 33.1% of third through eighth graders passing the English Language Arts exam that year compared to 55.1% under the previous exam.  The drop caused increased anger among parents and students, who began to make their opposition to the standards publicly known.

In the meantime, Cuomo has continued to publicly support the standards, which are designed to help students prepare for college and life beyond through an emphasis on problem-solving skills rather than simple memorization.  He even helped pass legislation that would not allow schools to place students in certain classes based solely on Common Core test results through this academic year.

He is also involved in a bill that would prevent teachers from being reprimanded based only on their student’s test scores, although he has not signed it yet.

According to Cuomo, more still needs to be done to link test results with school funding, stating in a new education-based TV ad that he wants “not to use Common Core scores for at least five years, and then only if our children are ready.”

“We’re now saying to the public education system: You have to perform, and you’re not just going to get funded for process,” Cuomo told reporters Wednesday in Albany. “You’re going to get funded for performance. That is a big deal, and that is a big shift when you’ve had a public monopoly since its existence.”

Opponent Rob Astorino, on the other hand, is showing his support for the parents who oppose the standards.  He recently submitted thousands of petition signatures in order to create the “Stop Common Core” ballot line for the upcoming election.

Astorino said he will put an end to the Common Core standards, replacing them with state-developed standards, although he has not said what those will be.

“Now we know what we’re getting into (with Common Core): a true experiment, an experiment where we may not get the answers for 10 or 15 years to see if it ever worked,” Astorino said when he unveiled his education plan last month. “And in the meantime, we’re subjecting a generation of kids to something they can never get back.”

Astorino would also like to see a change in how the state Board of Regents members and the state education commissioner are selected.

Currently, a majority vote is required of the 213 state lawmakers to place board members for a five-year term.  However, Democrats hold the majority at the moment, so they are able to place board members without the Republican vote.

Astorino would like to see the board hold 13 members, all of whom would be selected by voters, and have the education commissioner selected by the governor and then agreed upon by the Regents.  The Regents are currently the only ones involved in choosing the commissioner.

A recent poll from Siena College found 18% of New York voters believe education to be the top priority at this year’s election, trailing behind taxes (25%) and jobs (29%).