Making Democracy Work

Education Action Committee Report

Education Committee Annual Report

The Education Committee invited Dr. Al Magid to present the Reading Is Fun program in January. The event drew an audience with varied backgrounds to hear about Dr. Magid's proposal to train volunteers in teaching reading readiness skills to parents of preschoolers.

The Committee has also been very interested in the new Common Core standards. Dr. Teresa Snyder, Superintendent of Voorheesville Central School District, and Ms. Christine Preisinger, of the College of St. Rose School of Education, led a fascinating discussion in February of how the Common Core standards are changing education. Participants questioned whether the standards are building critical thinking skills in our children, preparing them for the future and possibly causing stress in children and teachers.

Cheryl Nechamen, Chair

Where Will Common Core Take Us?

Educational reform with Common Core Standards for schools in New York State is not what is roiling education today. Rather it is the implementation of this major change, declared two experts at an educational forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Schenectady County February 12th.

Christine Preisinger, Coordinator of Field Supervision in the Department of Literacy and Special Education in the College of St. Rose in Albany, and Teresa Snyder, Ph.D., Superintendent of the Voorheesville Central School District, spoke at the forum. Both agreed that the hurried implementation of the Common Core Standards, testing of the new content and approach, the rollout of teacher evaluations and cutbacks in New York State funding of schools have created the current problems and turmoil in education in New York State.

Ms. Preisinger explained that "Common Core" consists of standards, assessment, and resources, not a curriculum. This reform was intended to better prepare graduates of New York State and 45 other states for either college or work after high school. Dr. Snyder did have some reservations about changes that have not been adequately researched and tested.

According to Ms. Preisinger, students will be reading more factual material rather than literature and be expected to comprehend and analyze it; more time will be spent on material that will need to be understood in depth. Students will learn more about sources and be able to make persuasive arguments based on factual information. The vocabulary and context will be important in learning material.

In math, students will be taught to dig deeper into concepts. Students will have to understand the concept not just reach the right answer and each grade will build on the foundation from the previous year.

Dr. Snyder said school districts such as hers, which has one of the highest high school graduation rates in the Capital Region, will develop materials for teaching to the new Common Core Standards but many school districts will not have the money or resources to develop their own materials. Materials available through the State Education Department and have been criticized for not being appropriate for the developmental age of the children in the grades at which they are aimed. In addition, children from poor socio-economic backgrounds will have difficulty with the vocabulary that is used. Dr. Snyder said the tests were designed for students to fail so as to show major improvements in future years. She gave examples of first graders being expected to understand about Mesopotamia and cuneiform writing.

Parents have been upset that their children are deemed to need "academic intervention" for deficiencies in their learning but teachers are not able to tell them where the children are weak. Schools were not provided with an analysis of the test items so they could teach children what they did not understand. The tests are owned by commercial companies so their content is considered proprietary.

Dr. Snyder says she favors education reform but fears this reform will be a failure and there will be a backlash against all reform efforts. She called for teachers to "reclaim their profession". There is no such thing as a "standardized child" and this new approach seems to be developed as if there were, according to Dr. Snyder.

Joan Elliott