September 2013 ushered in not only a new school year but new curricula across Newark Public Schools. These changes come on the heels of official Common Core implementation throughout classrooms in September 2012. In just one more year’s time, the first standardized tests aligned to Common Core will be administered.
But are we ready? A group of New Jersey legislators wants to slow down the process, delaying the use of any test until a thorough report is issued. With all the other fast-tracked changes occurring in NPS—namely the closing, consolidation, and selling of schools; new curriculum implementation; new teacher and administrator evaluation systems; the abolishment of essential staff positions like attendance counselors—the passing of this bill may teach the district administration how to put change in perspective.
A senator from southern New Jersey and four assembly members from northern New Jersey introduced a bill (S2973) in September which calls for the creation of a Common Core State Standards Evaluation Task Force. There will be nineteen members, seemingly to represent stakeholders of differing interests. Members will be appointed on recommendations from the two state unions (NJEA and NJAFT), the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, and the New Jersey School Boards Association. Four parents of students enrolled in a New Jersey public school will be members, and four experts in mathematics and language arts literacy instruction and curriculum will be members. Two members each of the two legislative branches will sit on the task force, as well as the Commissioner of Education. The final member of the task force will be a representative of a nonpublic school located in New Jersey.
The task force has ambitious goals to be accomplished in six months:
- describe the actions taken by the State to date to implement the common core state standards and outline a timeline of any subsequent actions to be taken;
- compare the common core state standards for English language arts and mathematics to the core curriculum content standards in language arts literacy and mathematics that existed prior to the adoption of the common core state standards;
- estimate the full cost for school districts to implement the common core state standards, including those costs already incurred by districts and those to be incurred in the future;
- analyze students’ performance on the State assessments prior to the 2012-2013 school year and in the 2012-2013 and subsequent school years (the analysis shall assess changes in the achievement gap between different racial and ethnic groups and different economic groups); and
- study and evaluate the issue of student and family personal data mining and a student’s right to privacy.
At least four public hearings held in different regions of the state must also occur for the purpose of gathering information regarding the implementation of the common core state standards, the mining of student and family data, and student privacy rights. No assessment connected to the Common Core—PARCC or otherwise—will be able to be administered prior to the issuance of the final report.
It is worthy to note that an identical bill was introduced in November in the New York State Assembly. And other states have taken commensurate actions to delay implementation of Core-aligned tests and/or use of the tests to make high-stakes decisions, including Massachusetts, Florida, Rhode Island, Indiana, Ohio, Arizona, and Louisiana. Critiques of Common Core at this stage of the initiative are overwhelmingly about the lack of time given to enable a deep understanding of the standards. Teaching materials still need to be developed. Current high school students have only had these standards in their classes for a couple of years. Any Core-aligned test would be developed with the assumption that these students have mastered all of the preceding grades’ standards, making the test unfair and invalid.
Critics are also concerned about the elimination of local control of their public education systems. Parents in South Carolina protesting Common Core by participating in a “National Don’t Send Your Child to School Day” rally cited this as a worry. And a bill in Congress, introduced just two weeks ago, wants “to ensure that decisions by the Secretary of Education to award grants or other assistance to States or local educational agencies are not contingent upon the adoption of specific educational curricula.”
Back on the home front, Melissa Tomlinson, an NJEA rank and file member, started a petition on change.org with the purpose of gathering signatures in support of S2973 and urging NJEA leadership to conduct its own evaluation of the path of current education policy initiated with the adoption of the Common Core. Of all of the individuals the petition was addressed to, only Executive Director Ed Richardson has responded on the website. He acknowledged that NJEA was in full support of the legislation and would “be targeting our efforts after the new legislature convenes in mid-January.”
Actions like requesting signatures for a petition are often the impetus for a groundswell of organized, democratic participation in the public policy arena. If nothing else, S2973 will provide us information as to how to move forward in providing educational equity in the state of New Jersey.