By James M. Sampson
Too many Buffalo students are falling behind. Less than half are graduating, and only 9 percent of those who do are prepared for college-level work. To confront this crisis, we need to set high standards and hold ourselves accountable to them. That’s why states from every region collaborated to create the Common Core, and that’s why I applaud Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. for standing strong as we implement it.
Unfortunately, the leadership at New York State United Teachers is trying to derail that progress in an effort to stop the governor’s new evaluation system. The union claims to support Common Core, but measuring results is meaningless if the state is prohibited from doing anything about them.
Under the governor’s plan, teachers are evaluated on a number of factors, including observation, student feedback and, yes, student achievement compared to benchmarks. Although test scores make up only about 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, NYSUT has made clear that until that number is zero, it won’t accept any change to our system, no matter how prudent the reform, no matter how large the problem.
Buffalo’s parents know that there is a dangerous disconnect between what students are learning in school and what they will need to know in college and on the job. Unlike the old benchmarks that relied on rote learning and memorization, Common Core standards are based on critical thinking and problem-solving skills. These new standards value what parents want our schools to do: prepare our kids for college and the 21st century economy.
But despite the fact that less than half the students at Erie Community College are ready for college-level work on day one, NYSUT is throwing all of its might behind stopping these critical reforms. It’s telling parents that King is unsympathetic to the challenges of implementing the Common Core, and that he’s to blame for why the task ahead of us is so hard. King is the leader we need to achieve this critical mission. We need to listen to his call to roll up our sleeves and do the work to prepare teachers and children. We should not listen to the union-organized hecklers who want to throw obstacles in King’s path.
The union’s call for a three-year moratorium on using the new standards to evaluate teachers would be a step in the wrong direction. That’s the kind of thinking that has kept the bar too low for too long. With only 9 percent of Buffalo students hitting language arts standards and only 12 percent in math, we know that we have to demand more of our district and of ourselves.
We need to stand with the governor and King, not the special interests dedicated to the status quo. Change is never easy, but we are failing our students if we shrink from this moment.
James M. Sampson represents the West District on the Buffalo School Board.