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Some of the most well-known names in Long Island’s anti-Regents Reform Agenda movement were in Merrick recently, discussing their views on new curricula, standardized tests, an evaluation system for teachers and principals, and student data-collection practices that debuted last year in schools statewide. A roomful of anxious and angry parents from Nassau and Suffolk counties turned up on a cold night, looking for solutions to what they perceive as the woes afflicting their children’s classrooms.
Lisa Katz, a North Merrick parent, and Jeanette Deutermann, a North Bellmore parent and the founder of the Facebook page “Long Island Opt-out Info,” organized the meeting, which took place in the golf course clubhouse at Merrick Road Park and was billed as a “community education forum.” Speakers included Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, frequent guest blogger for The Washington Post and the School Administrators Association of New York State’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year; Arnold Dodge, chairman of the Department of Educational Leadership and Administration at LIU Post, a former superintendent, principal and teacher and a Merrick parent; Joseph Rella, superintendent of the Comsewogue School District; Brian Wasson, a technology training specialist at St. Joseph’s College who has worked in a number of Long Island school districts; and Deutermann. About 60 people attended the meeting.
Katz, who introduced each speaker, said she booked the room in the Merrick Road Park clubhouse, which the Town of Hempstead allows community groups to use, and Deutermann booked the speakers. They promoted the forum via Facebook, word of mouth and fliers in mailboxes and public places in several Long Island communities, according to Katz.
The speakers voiced their criticisms of the Common Core Learning Standards, broad changes to school curricula that the Obama administration has pushed and 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted in recent years; new state assessment tests for third- to eighth-graders in math and English; the Annual Professional Performance Review system for teachers and principals, which is based in part on students’ test scores; and the collection of students’ information by inBloom, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that will house the data in the “cloud,” offsite servers connected via the Internet. New York and Kentucky were among the first states in the country to implement Common Core in 2012-13.
During the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, speakers detailed their complaints about these separate but interwoven parts of the State Education Department’s Regents Reform Agenda. Most agreed that the changes were not well thought out, were rushed in their implementation and were having a deleterious impact on students and teachers alike. Dodge called the state’s dictates “capricious.” Burris argued that they were not grounded in scientifically, statistically or pedagogically sound research. Deutermann said she had received hundreds of messages from parents across Long Island detailing their children’s signs of test stress or disgust with school. Wasson offered an insider’s perspective on school districts’ data collection and sharing practices, warning that they are not secure and that they go further than state officials have said in public statements.
Rella posed two questions to the audience. “How are your children doing?” he asked first.
The interjections came back: “Not too good.” “Very frustrated.” “Decent.”
“What are you going to do about it?” Rella asked next.
He and the other speakers urged parents to use all possible avenues to press state legislators and the Education Department to roll back the changes, from organizing phone, email, social media and letter-writing campaigns to ceasing donations to officials who support the Regents Reform Agenda. Deutermann called for more parents to refuse to allow their children to take Common Core-based assessment tests, arguing that through civil disobedience, the Regents Reform Agenda will fall apart.
“Long Island is leading this charge,” Deutermann said. “We are the epicenter of this whole movement to end high-stakes tests, to make those changes on the Common Core and data mining. And let me tell you, New York is the epicenter of the country with all this stuff, because we were the ones that pushed to start it first. Everybody else is watching us.”
State Education Commissioner John King Jr. recently wrote in a letter to parents, “We understand that implementation of the Common Core and teacher/principal evaluation in a time of limited resources has come with significant challenges. The Board of Regents and I knew we would encounter a good amount of concern …We want — and need — to hear from teachers, parents and students as these important changes in practice occur in classrooms, schools and communities across the state.
“We know that moving forward with the Common Core is essential,” King continued. “Study after study shows that our students lag behind in the knowledge and skills required for their future. The Common Core standards, designed by teachers and education experts from across the country — and shaped by many New York State educators — will help us do better.”