On Tuesday, April 7, teachers, parents, students and activists from the New Paltz community and the New Paltz Central School District (NPCSD) rallied against new Common Core teaching standards and increased emphasis on standardized testing in K-12 education. These new policies are the result of New York State (NYS) legislation, specifically education reforms promoted and initiated by NYS Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo’s team unveiled a series of changes to Common Core on March 10 after Cuomo himself admitted that the original policy was “flawed” and “has resulted in frustration, anxiety and confusion for children and parents,” according to the governor’s online newsroom at ny.gov. Still, local educators and parents argued that these recommended changes are not adequate.
According to an article from the New Paltz Times, the rally was supported by the teacher’s union, the local PTA and local education activists. Ralliers told stories of “demoralized, over-tested kids” who continuously face overbearing workloads to prepare them for state-mandated Common Core exams and standardized tests.
New Paltz Board of Education President Brian Cournoyer said the rally went very well, citing the attendance of over 100 locals as a major factor in the ralliers’ favor. Cournoyer was a panelist and speaker at the event. Most of his remarks dealt with “chronic underfunding public schools are facing in New York and the damage it’s doing to education.”
“Our district has lost approximately $11 million in state aid over the last six years from the Gap Elimination Adjustment alone,” Cournoyer said. “We’ve had to cut approximately 50 full-time staff positions, including teachers, psychologists, aides and maintenance staff. This has led to larger class sizes and reduced services. To preserve our programs, we’ve had to expend our fund balance, which has led our district to be designated as fiscally stressed by the State Comptroller.”
Cournoyer explained that the new Common Core standards are “too rigid,” and that statewide ELA and math testing, which are designed to evaluate instructors, have “no value to student learning.”
“The whole system is flawed, and our students lose countless hours of learning time as a result,” Cournoyer said.
Many residents and parents of NPCSD students share his views, including Andrea Frank and Robyn Sheridan, who are both professors at SUNY New Paltz.
Frank, who is a professor in the photography department and the mother of a kindergartener in the NPCSD, said that she is not in support of the new Common Core teaching standards or emphasis on testing in NYS. She did not attend the rally.
Sheridan, a Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies professor, also has a young daughter who will be entering the NPCSD this coming fall. As an educator, Sheridan has issues with the fundamental model of education that Common Core feeds into and perpetuates.
According to Sheridan, Common Core places an over-emphasis on testing for overly-specific knowledge. These expectations stifle teachers and students and impose “very narrow and limited ideas of what is important to know” as well as how students should learn this information.
“This model renders unimportant any valuable and unique knowledge that [students] bring with them to school and actually privileges particular ways of knowing that not all students have access to,” Sheridan said.
Sheridan also cited the dangers of standardized testing. These exams, she said, are based almost entirely around rote memorization. Sheridan, who came from a low-income family and was tracked away from college during grade school, was “never a good test-taker.” Her test scores reinforced the notion that she was not smart enough for college or capable of handling the rigorous nature of college exams. She “felt like an imposter” during her higher education despite continuously making the Dean’s List at her university.
Sheridan also noted that her experiences are not unique and that this is a multi-faceted issue.
“I have noticed that some of my students have a very difficult time with critical thinking . . . [which] really stems from such a narrow and limited focus in the K-12 classroom,” Sheridan said. “And when we consider how schools are impacted by lack of funding, we really see how class and race play into how harmful [over-testing] is, [too].”
Sheridan said she did not attend the rally. Her decision was partly due to schedule conflicts and partly due to her issues with how the Common Core debate is framed. This discussion, Sheridan said, should “mark the connection between this model of education and the social consequences of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and other forms of institutionalized oppression.”
Regardless, Sheridan praised the ralliers and their struggle against “a depleted educational model.”
“There is no perfect activism or no perfect way to resist,” she said. “I commend the rally organizers and participants.”