In the end, the Legislature acted wisely. Despite the furor over the Common Core learning standards, despite a flawed system for appointing members of the state Board of Regents, despite the teachers unions’ manufactured nausea over evaluations, lawmakers last week reappointed all three Regents who wanted another term. The Regent who withdrew at the 11th hour was replaced.
This was important for a couple of reasons, one of which is that the Common Core represents an urgent recalibration of expectations for students in New York and other states that have adopted it.
The second is that adoption of the Common Core was a local responsibility. Someone might want to argue that the Regents and the State Education Department could have done a better job of helping districts to adapt, but that’s not an argument for replacing Regents who support the Common Core with others who might want to weaken it.
Indeed, many school districts have thrived under the new standards, including the Western New York districts of Sweet Home, Amherst and Jamestown. This is no impossible task. What is more, if American students are to thrive in an increasingly competitive world, it is an inevitable one.
Change is often difficult and sometimes threatening. That certainly was the case as New York began testing to the standards of the Common Core last year. Grades across the state plummeted – as they did in Kentucky, which also began testing last year – and it was a rude awakening. Parents panicked and blamed Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. and the Regents who hired him.
More to the point, though, was the fact that the test results were also used in the new system of teacher evaluations. While they accounted for only 18 percent of the final evaluation, teachers unions don’t want their members evaluated at all. They think taxpayers should pour billions of dollars into education with no system for determining how effectively their tax money is being used.
This is a time to hold fast and, in the end, that’s what the Legislature did. It took some doing. The system for appointing Regents requires a majority of the combined members of the Assembly and Senate, a strange arrangement. Typically, that leaves it up to the Democrats in the Assembly to make the call, but this year, with only 99 Democrats seated, they fell eight votes short.
In the end, it took some Senate Democrats to do the job, since Republican members chose instead to play to the frustration and anger of voters.
They dressed up their objections in the system used to appoint Regents and while that system really should be reformed – to the extent that it can be without further politicizing education – this wasn’t about process. It was about gaining votes in November at the expense of students whose lives will ultimately be enriched by the Common Core.
It came out well in the end, but that was thanks to Democrats who stood firm. They did right by New York’s students.