ALBANY – Under growing pressure from rank-and-file lawmakers, who themselves are feeling heat from parents and teachers, the Legislature’s most powerful Democrat today called for a two-year delay in implementing the state’s new Common Core standardized test curriculum.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver also did not rule out using this spring’s budget or other legislation to delay Common Core if the Board of Regents does not quickly put the brakes on the controversial testing program used to evaluate both teachers and students.
The call for a two-year Common Core moratorium by Silver is a powerful statement since it is the Democrats in control of the Assembly, purely by virtue of their numbers, who select the Regents. Previously, Silver had deferred making specific proposals to resolve the Common Core problems, which were the subject of hearings across the state last year that featured angry parents and teachers. He had said he was awaiting recommendations from a special committee formed by the Regents.
But Silver and Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan have been under growing pressure from Assembly Democrats, which boiled over in a closed-door conference Monday afternoon at the Capitol, according to sources who attended the gathering.
By this morning, Silver and Nolan were out with a written statement calling for a two-year delay before test results from the Common Core program can be used to evaluate teachers, students and principals.
Hours later, Silver was joined by the leaders of the State Senate in putting pressure on the Board of Regents to act next week when the panel – which sets education policy – convenes in Albany.
“The speaker has appointed all the Board of Regents over the years, so their mishandling of the problem is his problem,” said Senate co-leader Dean Skelos, a Nassau County Republican. “But what we’re saying … is if the Board of Regents do not come out with changes or actions to rectify the problems that exist right now, then they should do a moratorium or we will then do what we have to do legislatively.”
Skelos, talking to a couple of reporters after meeting behind closed doors with Senate Republicans, said a two-year moratorium “would be sufficient.”
“We want to make sure that we do have higher standards in New York State … but we also want to make sure kids, our teachers and our parents are educated so that testing actually means something,” Skelos said.
The intensifying political pressure did not push Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch or state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. to take any concrete steps today. Instead, in a joint, two-paragraph written statement, Tisch and King merely repeated past statements that they are working to improve the implementation of the Common Core program. They said a committee of the board will present “possible options” for the program next week for the full board to consider.
The ratcheting up of the pressure on the Regents comes as four members of the panel are seeing their terms expire. Twenty-two people have applied for those four openings, a number unprecedented for a usually secretive process in which Regents are essentially chosen in advance by Assembly leaders with advice from lawmakers before a full vote is taken by a joint session of the Assembly and Senate.
Silver said no one is saying the Common Core program has to be scrapped.
“You can’t propose an entirely new curriculum and entirely new set of standards and say, ‘Here it is, teach to it and we’re evaluating everybody based on this.’ There has to be a period of implementation. There has to be a time where people get adjusted to it. There has to be a time where schools develop the teaching methods and curriculum around the Common Core, and that’s what’s lacking here,” Silver said in an interview with a handful of reporters outside his Capitol office.
The administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, however, urged taking a more measured approach. Cuomo recently proposed creation of a task force to study the issue and make a report before the end of the session in June, an idea key lawmakers dismissed as too late and not needed, given how much studying has been afforded the issue.
Melissa DeRosa, a Cuomo spokeswoman, said in a statement that the governor believes the way the Common Core program has been managed by the Regents is flawed. “The governor believes there are two issues – Common Core and teacher evaluations – and they must be analyzed separately. It would be premature to consider any moratorium before the panel is allowed to do its work,’’ she said.
Lawmakers said the message by Silver is a direct hit on the Regents and comes after parents and school officials across the state have bombarded legislative offices demanding action.
“It shows the Assembly is not satisfied with the product that we’re getting out of the Board of Regents. We’re the hiring agent. We put them in place, and we’re telling them loud and clearly, ‘We’re not happy with the job you’re doing,’ ” said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat.
Critics say the Regents began the new testing curriculum without first training teachers and administrators, and that students are suddenly being judged on a whole new set of rules that could set back their educational careers. Ryan blamed the Regents and Commissioner King for “not listening” to the criticism and for portraying those raising concerns as being uninterested in raising the educational standards in New York’s 700 public school districts.
Ryan said the program includes testing rules that make no sense, such as requiring non-English speaking students to take tests in English.
“If we’re going to up the ante on the school children, then we need to make sure the schools are ready for this to happen. Kids can’t be ready unless the teachers are, the principals are and the superintendents are, and two years will give them breathing room where we can start implementing it,” Ryan said.
Silver also said the state Education Department should delay working with inBloom, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that has developed a database on students that critics say is not secure. Silver said besides security issues there is also the “highly inappropriate” potential that the student information will be sold for commercial purposes.
Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, said the Regents have been warned to act.
“We told them in committee meetings, we told them privately, that either you do it or we’re going to do it for you, and I don’t think we’re in any real different position than the Assembly,” Flanagan said in an interview today.