Common Core: New York group exposes flaws and stupidities in Common Core despite New York City and national AFT leaders' avoidance of the Common Core debate and their praise of so-called 'standards'

One month after a clean debate over the Common Core, New York parents and others have provided the nation with a comprehensive expose of the flaws at every level of the testing program that was still being fiercely defended by New York City union leaders Michael Mulgrew, Leroy Barr, and Leo Casey at last month's convention of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in Los Angeles. [Disclosure: This reporter was a Chicago Teachers Union delegate to the AFT convention, along with several others from Substance, and participated in the Common Core debate both in the "Education Issues" committee and on the convention floor].

New York State Education Commissioner John King (left) and State Board chair Mery Tisch (right) have been unable to stop the unraveling of the state's Common Core testing program once the full extent of the test mess became public on August 14, 2014. As has now been widely reported, both here at Substance and elsewhere (especially in Ed Notes), the leadership of the AFT and the the United Federation of Teachers hijacked the debate over Common Core. They did it by maneuvering the debate away from Common Core itself and forcing the convention to consider a meandering and sometimes incoherent resolution prepared by the national leadership in support of so-called "standards." Virtually all of the major speakers on behalf of the leadership's position during the convention were paid union staffers, while the opposition to the "standards" resolution was brought before the convention by rank-and-file teachers, most of whom came from Chicago.

The three New York City union leaders who spoke most forcefully in defense of Common Core both in committee and on the convention floor were Michael Mulgrew, Leroy Barnes, and Leo Casey. All are union staffers.

The CTU had provided the convention with a clean resolution in opposition to the Common Core. The resolution was killed in a committee stacked with delegates from New York whose script was to keep Common Core from ever coming to the convention floor for a full debate. The "Ed Issues" committee which killed the Common Core resolution from Chicago included an unprecedented 800 delegates (committees are generally relatively small), most of whom were handpicked to support the leadership's positions.

The victory on "standards" by Randi Weingarten and her faction within AFT, however, may have been a pyrric victory. Even in New York, the movement against Common Core gains teacher, parent, student and principal participants every day. According to the New York State Board of Education, during the 2014 testing cycle, 60,000 New York students opted out of the tests, compared with 10,000 a year earlier.

The growing controversy over test secrecy is also going to boil over. Contracts that states and other entities sign with the testing companies require secrecy rather than transparency. Apparently, despite a resolution passed by the AFT at its 2012 convention, this is OK with Randi Weingarten and Michael Mulgrew. As the parents and others quoted below note, the only way to evaluate Common Core and other high stakes tests is to provide full transparency after the tests have been administered and graded. Instead of signing multi-million dollar contracts with test companies that further remove transparency and continue to fetishize test secrecy, states and other entities can easily require that all tests be fully transparent following their administration and scoring. The only reason the tests remain secret is that state and local education officials agree to the secrecy clauses, thereby undermining democracy.

This is particularly poignant for me this month. Fourteen years ago, the Chicago Board of Education voted to fire me from my teaching job because I had published six of 22 "Pilot" CASE tests in order to show how ridiculous the expensive (more than one million dollar) Chicago program foisted on the city by Paul Vallas was. The Board not only fired me after a distinguished 28 year teaching career in Chicago's inner city schools, but saw to it that I was blacklisted from teaching in any public school in the region after the Board acted on Vallas's motion at its August 2014 meeting. The actions against me by Paul Vallas (now back in Illinois as a candidate for Lieutenant Governor) and Board President Gery Chico (currently President of the Illinois Board of Education) also include a federal "copyright infringement" lawsuit against me and Substance for more than $1 million. The "copyright infringement" part of the case was dropped by CPS after my attorneys and I made clear that we would go to a jury trial on the question of damages (our right under the Seventh Amendment) and CPS reduced its "damages" claim to zero dollars rather than face a jury trial at which the worthlessness of the CASE tests would become public. Vallas and Chico were able to fire me and end my teaching career, but they never tried to use their precious "copyrighted" CASE tests again, despite three years of public bellowing about the sanctity of their "copyright."

(I learned of the blacklist by trying to get jobs in several suburban high schools following the Board's August 2000 vote. After assuring me that my credentials to teach English were "impressive" (BA University of Chicago; studies under Robert Pinsky in poetry and Norman MacLean in literary criticism and Shakespeare), administrators at some of the Chicago area's most prestigious high schools refused to hire me. But those facts never made the CASE tests any less stupid. And now the same problems with secret stupid tests have been fetishized across the USA, as the press release from New York below shows.

Yet the debate continues to explode across the country as more and more people get a first hand experience of Common Core in reality.

Diane Ravitch reported on August 14, 2014:

New York released its 2014 test scores today [August 14, 2014]. The proportion of students reaching "proficiency" English was flat, and there was a small increase in math. Unfortunately, in both subjects, a large majority of students in grades 3-8 were "not proficient." As I have pointed out in earlier blogs, the Common Core tests in New York and elsewhere decided to adopt a very high bar for their definition of "proficiency." It is aligned with the definition of proficiency in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which represents solid academic achievement, NOT "grade level." There is only one state---Massachusetts--where as many as 50% of students have managed to reach proficiency on the NAEP. With such a high bar, the state knew that most students would be branded as failures, based on a grueling standardized test. With 64-68% of students "failing," these results are likely to fuel the New York parent revolt against high-stakes testing. What a terrible burden to place on young children.



More information contact:

Eric Mihelbergel (716) 553-1123;

Lisa Rudley (917) 414-9190;

NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE)

Parents and Educators Reject the Tests, the Scores and Corporate Agenda of NYSED & Pearson

Today Commissioner John King and Chancellor Merryl Tisch released the test scores of the state exams in 3-8th grades, showing that, more than 68% of the state’s students were judged not proficient in English Language Arts (ELA) and more than 64% not proficient in Math. The overall results were largely flat with little to no change year over year with only small gains and drops for specific demographic groups.

Members of the New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), a coalition of more than 50 parent and educator advocacy groups, challenge the quality of the tests, the accuracy of the scores, and the motives of those who have manufactured these results. This past spring, NYSAPE estimated that at least 44,000 students had opted out of the state exams; today the Commissioner admitted that the number was as large as 60,000 compared to 10,000 in 2013.

As the growing problems with New York's excessive and speculative testing reforms are exposed, parents across the state are outraged and calling for an overhaul at the state education department.

Lisa Rudley, Westchester county public school parent and founding member of NYSAPE said, “Though Commissioner John King assured us that the new Common Core state tests would be a much better reflection of the skills students will need for ‘college and career’ success with the release of 50% of the questions last week, we learned what educators were forbidden by law from telling us: these were flawed tests, riddled with vague questions, inappropriate reading passages and multiple product placements. In its new Pearson contract signed amidst a financial crisis, NYSED doubled annual spending on testing and even worse, eliminated the transparency of the previous McGraw-Hill contract. Where is the management from NYSED and the oversight from the Board of Regents?"

Dr. Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School on Long Island said, "Considering the more than $28 million taxpayer investment in curriculum modules, this paltry increase in scores is one more indication of the ineffectiveness of State Education Department's reforms, and the inappropriateness of the Common Core tests. Parents should take heart in knowing that the ‘college readiness‘ proficiency scores have no connection with reality. My high school and many other well-resourced high schools in NY have proven records of preparing students for college success that are no way connected to the state's newest measure of proficiency."

Eric Mihelbergel, Erie County public school parent and founding member of NYSAPE said, "If the released questions are this bad, you have to wonder how much worse the other half were. I have no confidence in the results released today. Parents now demand new leadership for a Board of Regents and Commissioner of Education who repeatedly fail to adequately respond to their legitimate concerns.”

“Many of the multiple choice questions required up to five steps and compelled 8 year olds to flip back forth between numbered paragraphs. The question becomes more of a measure of attention, memory and test taking skills rather than their deep understanding of a text. The commissioner has stated that education should not be about test prep, but these tricky assessments all but ensure that test prep will continue -- to the detriment of real learning,” said Bianca Tanis, an Ulster County public school parent and special education teacher.

Jeanette Deutermann, Nassau County public school parent and founder of Long Opt Out said, “This past spring, 55,000 to 60,000 New York State students were spared from yet another year of test scores that were designed to show a large majority of failures. The number of opt outs will steadily grow until NYSED takes the concerns of parents seriously and makes the necessary changes to our children's excessive high stakes testing regimen. High stakes testing and the Regents Agenda have hijacked our classrooms, and every day more parents become aware of how they too must protect their children from these harmful policies.”

Jessica McNair, Oneida County public school parent and educator notes, "Until the NYSED acknowledges that these developmentally inappropriate exams take time away from instruction, cost taxpayers, and set kids up to fail -- in an attempt to perpetuate the false narrative of Governor Cuomo’s ‘death penalty’ for schools -- parents will continue to refuse to allow their children to participate in these state tests.”

“The test content was not sufficiently disclosed and there was no quality assurance or mechanism for parents or educators to obtain valuable feedback. The bottom line is that students are getting hurt, money is being wasted and precious time is being spent on high stakes testing at the expense of more meaningful instruction. The system surrounding the NYS testing program is dysfunctional to say the least,” said Anna Shah, Dutchess County public school parent.

Fred Smith, a test specialist formerly with the NYC Department of Education (DOE) stated, “The State Education Department took a half-step by releasing 50 percent of the English and math questions from the April 2014 exams. It was a half-step not just because it falls halfway short of full disclosure, but also because SED fails to provide data at its disposal that would enable objective evaluation of the questions, each of which is a brick in the wall of the testing program.”

“Like many other parents, I see how flawed the tests are as a measure of learning, and fear for all those millions of students who are told, unjustly, and at an early age, they aren’t ‘college and career ready’. These tests which ask our children to prove the existence of Big Foot and expose them to numerous and inappropriate product placements are the furthest from rigor one could imagine. I question the motives of the bureaucrats and the testing companies who are forcing these inappropriate exams onto our children – to try to prove to the public that our schools and children are failing, so they can better pursue their privatization agenda and the outsourcing of education into corporate hands,” said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters.



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