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New Jersey

You Too, Governor Cuomo?

I’ll say it straight out: I’m an Andrew Cuomo fan, particularly in regards to his education platform that includes higher standards, accountability, universal preschool and school choice expansion. But Cuomo’s recent reversal on the Common Core State Standards—de rigueur, apparently, among ambitious governors (see Chris Christie in New Jersey, Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, Mary Fallin in Oklahoma, Mike Pence in Indiana, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Bill Haslam in Tennessee and Nikki Haley in South Carolina)—is disappointing for this progressive leader as well as inconsistent with a call for an “Ambitious P-12 agenda to stop NY from falling behind.” I’m a former New Yorker but now I live in New Jersey where our governor, once impishly dad-dancing on Jimmy Fallon and signing autographs down the Shore, is reduced to praying that he makes second tier at the next GOP debate. Christie’s demise has many causes but one of them is his pandering reversal on the Common Core in order to placate tea-party conservatives and suburban local control adherents. So why is Cuomo taking cues from his diminished Republican colleagues? Simple. Such a move is politically expedient. New York adopted the Common Core five years ago, and they’re enormously controversial even if common sense educators like them: material from the New York Department of Education’s Common Core resource called EngageNY has been downloaded more than 20 million times. The standards have been erroneously conflated with the more controversial aligned assessments that are designed to enable stakeholders to evaluate state-to-state and district-to-district performance and hold schools accountable. Standards aren’t curricula or tests. The Common Core isn’t PARCC or Smarter Balanced or Pearson or even New York’s vendor, Questar. But this distinction gets lost when educationally sound issues get politicized by anti-testing suburban parents or zealous conservatives who cringe at perceived incursions to local control of their great schools. Add in teachers unions who resent efforts to link student growth to teacher evaluations and you have one of the most unlikely coalitions bent on hiding the truth about student readiness. Gov. Cuomo understands the distinction between standards and assessments and, in fairness, a press release from his office emphasizes that the new task force will examine implementation of the standards, not the standards themselves. Many observers believe that New York’s examination of the standards, just like Jersey’s, will have little impact on the content other than a rebranding. New York Common Core. Cuomo-Core. Christie-Core. Whatever. But elected officials, especially those who highlight their educational leadership, should be held to higher standards. They should lead, not follow; they should act progressively, not regressively. For example, Gov. Cuomo could address concerns about Common Core implementation by lowering the proportion of student growth data, now 50 percent, linked to teacher evaluations. That’s too high for a brand-new model of assessing classroom effectiveness, and Cuomo could certainly prevail on the Board of Regents to reduce that percentage to a more palatable 25 or 30 percent. He could invest more in training principals to distinguish teacher quality through observation. In fact, coming out of his reelection he directed the state board to enhance the evaluation system so that it more accurately distinguishes levels of effectiveness among classroom teachers. That’s the right place to focus. Instead, Cuomo’s Common Core flip-flop blemishes a stalwart education agenda and just makes him look weak. New Yorkers, especially their public school children, deserve better.  
Laura Waters writes about New Jersey education politics and policy for WHYY’s Newsworks and NJ Spotlight. She is a mother of four and has been a school board member in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, for 10 years. She blogs at New Jersey Left Behind.
Laura Waters
Laura Waters writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for all. She is based in New Jersey, where she and her husband have raised four children. She recently finished serving 12 years ...

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