…. [M]y resistance to the common core standards is disconnected from its content. The document, itself, is of far less concern to me than its genesis and its prospects…. [I]t is critical to consider where they emerged from and where they are leading.¹

Julie Gorlewski, Associate Professor,
Secondary Education Department, SUNY New Paltz

* * * * * * *

Now that New York Governor Cuomo and Education Commissioner Elia have said they are going to review the high-stakes test assault on the children of New York in the face of the massive parent-driven testing opt-out movement, it is time to consider some deeper issues.

They include the following:

◆ Education as a cultural activity has a unique and vital function to fulfill in society that is distinct from and equally important as those of business and politics. The purpose of P-12 education is to provide children with the opportunity to develop their mental, physical, ethical, emotional, social, and volitional capacities, and to develop a lifelong love of learning as preparation for all aspects of life.²
◆ The field of education must no longer be subjected to colluding federal and state politicians and agencies, CEOs, and philanthropists. The continuation of such subjugation will lead to the further degradation of P-12 education.
◆ Experienced teachers with recognized abilities and insights need to initiate and have a decisive role in education policy and renewal.
◆ The Opt-Out movement in New York State has demonstrated the power of parents as citizens saying “No” to corporate and politically generated education policies. The movement is now a force to be reckoned with, as demonstrated by the apparent back peddling of Governor Cuomo, Education Commissioner Elia, and Regents Chancellor Tisch on the botched rollout of Common Core standards.
◆ The number of families refusing to allow their children to take the Common Core- aligned state tests has reached a tipping point.³ The upcoming year presents an unprecedented window of opportunity to reimagine and to take steps toward an education system that is educator-led and freed from corporate and federal influence.
◆ The oversight of education should now be “reserved to the people” as provided for in the U.S. Constitution, rather than being transferred de-facto from the states to the federal government through federal funding programs.
◆ A People’s Commission, predominantly teachers and parents, should be convened to conduct a comprehensive review of Common Core learning standards and tests.

The Situation in New York State

The whole Common Core reform effort in New York, backed by the federal government, leading US corporate CEOs, and major foundations, will be severely crippled if New York parents just say “No” long enough, and not give in to the sure-to-come token changes that will allow the current power structure to remain in place. The coming year may be the best opportunity ever, to not only change the implementation of education policies but to work for systemic change in how and by whom education policy is created in New York State. Because New York is the epicenter of the opt-out movement, what happens here will have a powerful effect on the rest of the country.

The Vital Role of Education in Culture and Society  

Modern society has three main sectors or systems: (4)

Cultural, which nurtures the full development of individual capacities and social relations in order for people to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives through various activities, including education, science, art, religion and other belief practices, and sharing common traditions and languages;

Political, which provides for common safety, security, civil guidelines for human interaction, and the upholding of agreements, privacy, and property rights; and

Economic, which provides for the physical needs for human beings to live and be active.

While each sector has unique dynamics, operating principles, and a vital function to fulfill in society, they are all interdependent and mutually supportive when functioning properly and focused on their own tasks.

However, if one system declines or becomes corrupted, or if one transgresses into another, the other sectors and society will suffer also. Social illness occurs. Consider how the business realm uses its economic power to impose its priorities and needs on our democratic, educational, and judicial institutions to the detriment of individual freedom, human rights, and the environment.  In education today, teachers and schools are facing a double transgression when moneyed interest groups use the coercive power of the federal and state governments to create education policy.

Governor Cuomo’s Commission to Overhaul the Common Core Program

Governor Cuomo announced recently that he will create a special commission to conduct a “comprehensive review” of the entire Common Core program, including the curriculum, standards, and tests. He blames the State Education Department (SED) for the flawed implementation of the Common Core roll-out. And rather than ask SED officials to fix a problem they supposedly created, Cuomo plans to create a new education law that “revamps the system.” It is important to note that Cuomo convened a similar 11-member commission, including one teacher and one parent, little more than a year ago in 2014. Obviously, its recommendations did little to assuage the parent-led opt-out revolt, and many in the opt-out movement believe that the new commission will be nothing other than a ploy to stymie its continued growth.

Another Way

If we agree that education is a cultural activity, these conclusions follow: Governor Cuomo should not be the person to convene the special commission to review Common Core. He and the legislature passed the laws that the Department of Education and the Board of Regents were charged with implementing: the laws that teachers, parents, and students have to suffer through. Governor Cuomo and the legislature should be the ones who are held accountable for the unproductive and harmful chaos that has been created by Common Core.

Educators and parents could convene their own “People’s Commission” to conduct a review of the Common Core debacle and draft its own proposals for revamping the education system. The results of such a “People’s Commission” could be announced around the same time as Cuomo announces the results of his special commission. This would provide the public with diverse perspectives to consider.

Forming a review commission conducted by the People is provided for by the U.S. Constitution. Our Constitution is one of delegated powers, and according to the Tenth Amendment, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The state has clearly demonstrated its incompetence in reforming education. It is time for the People, meaning active educators who are recognized for their experience, training, insight, and capacities, and who are in direct contact with parents and students to take up this activity.

 

1 From Diane Ravitch’s blog dated March 24, 2014, at
http://dianeravitch.net/2014/03/24/the-fatal-flaw-of-the-common-core-standards/ .
2 As taken from the Avalon Initiative flyer.
3 The number children who did not take the state exams was about 220,000, or 20% of all students who were supposed to.
4 Some authors and organizations who refer to this threefold characterization of society are David Korten, Otto Scharmer, Rudolf Steiner, and ICA Canada. Another trinity of terms used to characterize the main sectors of society is economy, government, and civil society, made popular by Jean L. Cohen and Andrew Arato in Civil Society and Political Theory, published by MIT Press in 1992.

 

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