Credit: Lillian Mongeau/EdSource Today
A student displays a geometric figure she built with straws during a Common Core-based math lesson in her 3rd grade classroom.

If there is a prime example of how one state mismanaged the implementation of the Common Core standards, triggering massive opposition, and how another did it deliberately, with a relatively smooth implementation and considerable public support, look no further than New York and California.

Unlike heavily Republican states where much of the opposition to the Common Core has emerged, New York and California have much in common. They both have large and diverse school populations (2.7 million students in New York, and 6.2 million in California). They are both heavily Democratic states. They both have progressive governors, with fathers who were iconic governors before them.   Both have large and powerful teacher’s unions.

But their experience with the Common Core standards — and how  Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Gov. Jerry Brown approached them — could not be more different, with potentially far-reaching consequences for the fate of one of the most significant education reforms affecting actual classroom instruction in the nation’s history.

Two weeks before Christmas, a blue ribbon task force appointed by Cuomo and headed by former AOL Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons issued a harshly critical report, charging that “numerous mistakes were made” in New York’s implementation of the Common Core. It recommended a “comprehensive review” of the more than 1,500 Common Core standards in English and math. Following the review, it called for “a modification, elimination, or creation of standards” in order to come up with “rigorous New York-specific standards.”

No such soul-searching is happening in California.

It now appears that New York moved too quickly to implement the Common Core. Cuomo went head to head against New York’s teachers unions, insisting on linking the scores of students on Common Core-aligned tests to teacher evaluations. New York was only the second state to do so. However, students took the tests before most teachers had a chance to fully implement the standards or had materials to support instruction, which they say contributed to lower test scores.

By contrast, Brown expressed deep skepticism about using standardized tests for accountability purposes. An ally of teachers unions on many but not all issues, he resisted pressures from the Obama administration to link test scores to teacher evaluations. That was a condition for applying for federal funds from the Race to the Top program, and for a waiver from some of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind law.

Today, the teachers unions in New York are implacably opposed to the Common Core standards — while the leadership of the California Teachers Association, representing most of the state’s teachers, are fully supportive. (An EdSource/CTA poll of California teachers found that only 12 percent opposed the standards, while an Education Next poll found 50 percent of teachers nationally opposed them.)

It is easy now to forget that as both states began implementing the Common Core, New York received high praise in some quarters for moving more aggressively.

Here’s one example from a 2012 report by the Oakland-based Education Trust-West, which noted that California didn’t begin implementing the standards until the 2012-13 academic year, while New York began during the 2011-12 academic year.

“Rather than build upon its history of leadership, California has lagged behind other states, leaving hundreds of districts and thousands of schools without meaningful support,” the report said. It charged that “California’s failure to provide low-income, Latino, African-American and English learner students access to high-quality, standards-based instruction will leave them even more unprepared for college and the workplace.”

In contrast to California, the Ed Trust-West report said, “other states more quickly aligned myriad policies related to the standards, created coherent systems of professional development, and initiated collaborations with other states to benefit from economies of scale. For example, the New York State Education Department made curriculum units, modules, and other educator resources available in the summer of 2012.”

It is impossible to know what the long-term impact of California’s implementation schedule will be. But what is clear is that the Common Core is firmly in place in California, enjoying the support of its teachers unions and the Legislature, with little opposition from parents.

Despite Gov. Brown’s critiques of excessive use of tests, only 1 percent of students opted out of the Smarter Balanced tests, according to the California Department of Education. Meanwhile, even as Gov. Cuomo insisted on using standardized tests to hold schools and teachers accountable, opposition to Common Core-aligned tests soared in New York, where an estimated 20 percent opted out.

Where there is opposition in California, it seems to be largely concentrated in high-income high schools like Palos Verdes High — in a community with a median household income of $167,000 — where more than half of the 460 high school juniors opted out of the tests. The opt-out rates at those schools is based not so much on opposition to the Common Core standards per se, but on academic priorities. Taking the Smarter Balanced tests can cut into time students want to spend preparing for Advancement Placement and college entrance exams like the SATs, which have far more impact on their futures.

In an interview with EdSource last year, then-CTA president Dean Vogel said that California’s go-slow approach made sense in order to get teachers on board. In some other states, he said, “teachers are being handed curriculum that they’ve never seen before, that they’ve had no hand in putting together. .. And they’re saying, ‘Well, the Common Core is no different than all the nonsense that I’ve had shoved down my throat.’”  

The difference in California?

“The governor and the governor’s staff, the State Board of Education, the state superintendent of public instruction, the legislative leadership, the teachers unions… all of these different groups are pretty much all on the same page, that we’ve got to go slowly,” Vogel said.

One sign of teacher embrace of the Common Core was the creation of the CTA-backed Instructional Leadership Corps consisting of 160 carefully selected lead teachers who help train other teachers in implementation of the new standards.

In New York, on the other hand, things have steadily unravelled.

Nearly two years ago, New York State United Teachers called for a moratorium on using Common Core-aligned tests to evaluate teachers, and demanded the removal of then-State Education Commissioner John King Jr. — who just succeeded Arne Duncan as acting U.S. secretary of education.

Legislative leaders also called for a moratorium on using the tests for teacher evaluation purposes or for promoting students to the next grade.

Last month’s report by the task force headed by Parsons essentially affirmed their criticisms, and raised serious doubts about the Common Core’s future in the state. Cuomo had earlier called for the panel to make recommendations for a “total reboot” of the standards.

The task force concluded that “the implementation of the Common Core standards and the rollout of the associated curricula and tests in New York were rushed and improperly implemented. The result has been disruption and unneeded anxiety in our schools and for students, parents and educators.”

In California, the state continues to move forward with Common Core implementation.

In his 2016-17 budget published last week, Gov. Brown proposed giving school districts an additional $1.2 billion in discretionary funds they could spend on the Common Core — on top of $2.4 billion in discretionary dollars awarded over the past two years for Common Core-related activities.

Not that Common Core implementation in California has been without challenges, and many remain.

Despite California’s relatively slow pace, the state began testing students on the Common Core before many districts had a chance to fully implement the standards, and before appropriate curriculum materials were available. But unlike in New York, test scores won’t be used to assess how schools in California are doing at least for another year. After that, students’  scores will only be one of several elements that will be used to judge school performance.

Other challenges include providing enough professional development to teachers so they can implement the standards effectively, using the results of the Smarter Balanced tests to inform classroom instruction as promised, and to ensure that the new standards actually translate into improved academic performance.

There has also been criticism that billions of discretionary state dollars will be spent with no assurance that any of the money will actually support implementation of the standards and without any way to track how it was spent.

For now, California can focus its energies and resources on trying to make sure the Common Core standards deliver on their promises, rather than trying to defend them against attacks from unhappy parents, teachers and lawmakers. That is New York’s burden.

 

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  1. michael collins 3 months ago3 months ago

    I teach high school math in NY. One of the things that is completely ignored in this mess is that the exams are completely invalid. If a student gets 30% of the material correct, the grade becomes a 65. Students receiving grades in the 70's aren't much better off. Essentially, students are being promoted to the next level even though they have learned hardly anything. Every year in my classes I have the typical distribution of … Read More

    I teach high school math in NY. One of the things that is completely ignored in this mess is that the exams are completely invalid. If a student gets 30% of the material correct, the grade becomes a 65. Students receiving grades in the 70’s aren’t much better off. Essentially, students are being promoted to the next level even though they have learned hardly anything.

    Every year in my classes I have the typical distribution of grades. Almost everyone passes the class, and the grades usually run from the low 70’s to the high 90’s. On the Regent’s Exams, however, there is no correlation between grades students earn in class, with what they earn on the Regent’s. I have seen students that did very well all year fail the Regent’s, while low performing students in class pass the Regent’s. For the most part though, there is a big pile of grades between 70-78. The questions on these exams are so sophisticated, that putting them on a college exam would not be inappropriate.

    I hate being a cog in the machine that is short-changing children on their education.

  2. Teresa Marano 3 months ago3 months ago

    I live in New York and yes my daughter did opt-out of these tests. Let's just cut to the chase. The tests are developmentally inappropriate. They are an attempt for corporations to make money at the expense of our children. Even though my daughter did not take the test, she spends the whole year being taught the standards. The goal of the testing throughout the year is to push through the … Read More

    I live in New York and yes my daughter did opt-out of these tests. Let’s just cut to the chase. The tests are developmentally inappropriate. They are an attempt for corporations to make money at the expense of our children.
    Even though my daughter did not take the test, she spends the whole year being taught the standards. The goal of the testing throughout the year is to push through the learning of subjects at levels much higher than the grade level of children taking these. This type of education is wasting our children’ s time. Just look at the test results in New York or California. They prove the lack of knowledge of these corporations with respect to education!
    I am so disgusted with this smoke screen to cover up the money that investors are hoping to make. Our children will not be used as lab rats no matter what amount of money Mr. Bill Gates and wife have invested.
    This is a national disgrace!

  3. Lcykwan 4 months ago4 months ago

    In San Francisco Unified, my older daughter in middle school had no math textbook for the past 2 years, in 6 & 7th grade. When I went to the school to talk to her counselor. I told him that my daughter's cousin (same grade level) in another East San Jose district had a common core Math textbook. Can I purchase one with my $. The ridiculous answer was that would not … Read More

    In San Francisco Unified, my older daughter in middle school had no math textbook for the past 2 years, in 6 & 7th grade. When I went to the school to talk to her counselor. I told him that my daughter’s cousin (same grade level) in another East San Jose district had a common core Math textbook. Can I purchase one with my $. The ridiculous answer was that would not be fair to other students. I guess be fair and be stupid together is the goal for SFUSD. And prior to Common Core, the district provided 2 math workbooks each school year to elementary students. Now all my younger one get is 2 booklets, each composed of 20 or so pages of photocopy stapled together.

  4. SD Parent 11 months ago11 months ago

    I suspect that CA hasn't revolted largely because there has been a PR campaign from the state to lower expectations for students ("Its a 'benchmark', it's the first time students took the test, it's the first time the teachers taught the subject...") The truth is that in 2015, CA students again performed below NY students on the NAEP in all grades and subjects. It is also worth noting that CA students performed worse in … Read More

    I suspect that CA hasn’t revolted largely because there has been a PR campaign from the state to lower expectations for students (“Its a ‘benchmark’, it’s the first time students took the test, it’s the first time the teachers taught the subject…”) The truth is that in 2015, CA students again performed below NY students on the NAEP in all grades and subjects. It is also worth noting that CA students performed worse in 2015 than they had in 2013 (the previous time they were tested). Apparently the CA public cares less that students here aren’t doing well.

    And for the record, there was very little in the way of Common Core resources at the state level in CA until the middle to end of the 2013-14 school year, which was too late for students. In fact, in our district, the central office folks told teachers to use the NY resources to model their Common Core teaching techniques!

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 11 months ago11 months ago

      SD: I noticed that California NAEP scores dipped slightly in math in 20015 (234 to 232 on NAEP’s scale), and reading scores were the same as in 2013.

  5. James H 11 months ago11 months ago

    The problem in NY is 30-40% of first time college students NEED remedial classes after graduating high school. This happens not just in the big city but in the suburbs. That is the rub. Middle class mom's do not like finding out their kids are not as smart as they thought. The remedial kids comprise a large part of the opt outs. The NYS algebra regents in Common core and the kids who have been … Read More

    The problem in NY is 30-40% of first time college students NEED remedial classes after graduating high school. This happens not just in the big city but in the suburbs. That is the rub. Middle class mom’s do not like finding out their kids are not as smart as they thought. The remedial kids comprise a large part of the opt outs. The NYS algebra regents in Common core and the kids who have been opting out have not done well on the algebra regents. Those that have taken the tests and gotten help have done well. The March 2016 SAT is common core, so is the PSAT right now, so is the NYS geometry regents and algebra 2 regents. The standards of the common core are a problem to the suburban parents whose kids are not mastering it. They want their kids trophy even though they do not deserve it. We have a trophy generation and the opt outs are ducking their heads into the sand.

    Replies

    • Michele R. 11 months ago11 months ago

      Parents are not refusing because their kids can’t “master” these crappy standards. They are protesting the federal over reach and corporate greed that is tied to the standards.

  6. Leonie 11 months ago11 months ago

    Is it true that CA kids have gone more than a year without any math textbooks? This seems like it could be very damaging to their learning.

    Replies

    • navigio 11 months ago11 months ago

      Yes and no. The state came out with a list of approved materials in 2014 I believe. Some of these are textbooks, some are online resources. Not all of these resources existed when the list was released, so districts could not immediately provide some of these new resources to their classrooms. However, there are other at least a couple ways I've seen districts approach this. One was to continue using existing textbooks. This is possible … Read More

      Yes and no.
      The state came out with a list of approved materials in 2014 I believe. Some of these are textbooks, some are online resources. Not all of these resources existed when the list was released, so districts could not immediately provide some of these new resources to their classrooms. However, there are other at least a couple ways I’ve seen districts approach this. One was to continue using existing textbooks. This is possible because there is a large overlap for math between the current and new standards. Then, where there isnt overlap, the solution was to augment that with other resources (engageny was a common one).
      Finally, some also used online resources. One I’ve come across especially this year for middle school is ALEKS. And of course, some districts also generated their own resources as they were able.
      I think a bigger problem than whether official textbooks happen to be immediately available is the fact that the public mostly simply assumes they are because no one bothers to highlight the fact that they are not. That obscures things to the point that most people dont even have the possibility of understanding what kind of instructional resources we are actually using.

    • Louis Freedberg 11 months ago11 months ago

      No, it is not true that California kids have gone more than a year without any math textbooks.

    • doug liser 11 months ago11 months ago

      In our CA district, no sign of math textbooks in middle school for at least a year. All on-line Pearson. The materials are horrible and have become a running a joke. The intro probability and stats section is so bad I have to wonder if the authors even understand the topic. Pick up a P.H. California textbook from 1999; it’s like a breath of fresh air. Sad we are doing this to the kids.

      • Don 11 months ago11 months ago

        Doug, here in SFUSD, math textbooks in middle school have been replaced with what the district calls the "School Pages", much of which comes from CPM Core Connections, but arranged differently and chosen in bits and pieces.The "Pages" provide NO modeling of problem solving. The entire approach - "here's an example, now you try it" - has been discarded. If a student has trouble arriving at the answer there's no where to turn to. I … Read More

        Doug, here in SFUSD, math textbooks in middle school have been replaced with what the district calls the “School Pages”, much of which comes from CPM Core Connections, but arranged differently and chosen in bits and pieces.The “Pages” provide NO modeling of problem solving. The entire approach – “here’s an example, now you try it” – has been discarded. If a student has trouble arriving at the answer there’s no where to turn to.

        I also question whether the approach is designed for different learning styles, an important consideration for instruction and especially when it is entirely dependent upon successful Differentiated Instruction. The School Pages have to be read like an ELA textbook with all problems presented as word problems. It is very language-rich. Algorithms are suppressed. Visual learners will have a hard time getting through this approach due to the lack of diagrammatic presentation.

        • ash 11 months ago11 months ago

          John F: I have asked her to clarify the phrase "no worked examples." Awaiting response. My kid's school hasn't settled on a curriculum yet, but they are trying out several. At the moment they're trying out CPM. Don's right about his descriptions of the program: no worked examples, though the problems in our book are easy. The kids are supposed to figure out everything with mixed-ability group work. Here's an example question … Read More

          John F: I have asked her to clarify the phrase “no worked examples.” Awaiting response.

          My kid’s school hasn’t settled on a curriculum yet, but they are trying out several. At the moment they’re trying out CPM. Don’s right about his descriptions of the program: no worked examples, though the problems in our book are easy. The kids are supposed to figure out everything with mixed-ability group work.

          Here’s an example question from my 6th grader’s book: “Write four fractions that are equivalent to 1. Use a calculator to check.”

          Seriously. I feel like we’ve descended to the next level of h-e-l-l.

  7. Alana Abatecola 11 months ago11 months ago

    Common Core does what NCLB refused to do; it requires students to think. Our district's roll out has been quicker than a large number of others in our state, but our teachers in San Jose have risen to the challenge. That being said, the fact we have yet to adopt any textbook approved by the state and with a greater pressure on teachers to ensure our students are mastering the skills, while adding hundreds of … Read More

    Common Core does what NCLB refused to do; it requires students to think. Our district’s roll out has been quicker than a large number of others in our state, but our teachers in San Jose have risen to the challenge.
    That being said, the fact we have yet to adopt any textbook approved by the state and with a greater pressure on teachers to ensure our students are mastering the skills, while adding hundreds of hours in creating materials and grading said district assessments, has left a bitter taste in many mouths.
    I appreciate the positive impact the standards have on the students, but not what it has done to us teachers. And for the record, I teach English. Math is its own cluster bomb.

  8. Becky 11 months ago11 months ago

    As a teacher in California, I completely concur with Don’s comments. Common Core is just like NCLB…it sounds great, but the reality is just the opposite of what is espoused.

  9. doug liser 11 months ago11 months ago

    There is plenty of dislike of CCSS in California from parents, especially as mentioned in the article from high-performing suburban neighborhoods. It's more than the testing. The math curriculum is 1-2 years dumbed-down. Parents in our district outside of San Francisco showed up with pitchforks and torches to the informational meetings. I believe the reason Jerry Brown hasn't seen a broader rebellion is that few parents really pay attention to the work their children are bringing … Read More

    There is plenty of dislike of CCSS in California from parents, especially as mentioned in the article from high-performing suburban neighborhoods. It’s more than the testing. The math curriculum is 1-2 years dumbed-down. Parents in our district outside of San Francisco showed up with pitchforks and torches to the informational meetings.

    I believe the reason Jerry Brown hasn’t seen a broader rebellion is that few parents really pay attention to the work their children are bringing home and understand enough about math curriculum to realize that their kids are going to be heavily disadvantaged.

    We’re watching Massachusetts very carefully as I believe the state is on a path to fully unwind PARCC and eventually all of CCSS after showing no tangible results for years.

  10. Don 11 months ago11 months ago

    This article doesn't mention that much of the animus in NY surrounding CCSS comes from a dislike by teachers and parents of the standards themselves, regardless of the quality of the implementation which, by the way, hasn't been stellar in California either. While some of the NY revolt is union related, such as the link between testing and teacher evaluations, many educators have expressed alarm with the standards' abject lack of developmental … Read More

    This article doesn’t mention that much of the animus in NY surrounding CCSS comes from a dislike by teachers and parents of the standards themselves, regardless of the quality of the implementation which, by the way, hasn’t been stellar in California either. While some of the NY revolt is union related, such as the link between testing and teacher evaluations, many educators have expressed alarm with the standards’ abject lack of developmental appropriateness and with the loss of focus on literature, to name two. But there are many more critiques such as the failure of the math standards meet the promised international benchmarks or to provide a reasonable path to Calculus. All across the nation students and teachers have struggled with a insufficiency of instructional materials, such as here in SF.

    If indeed California’s implementation is better based upon less public revolt, that would be by serendipity. We just happened to have more severe education cuts during the early years of the decade that slowed down our implementation. That stymied the implementation of the instructional components, the professional development, the technology and other instructional materials. Nevertheless, the assessments were hastily developed, implemented and administered and they certainly were not a paradigm of careful and moderation as should they be. That is nothing about which to commend Governor Brown.

    Now Massachusetts has dropped out for many of the same reasons as New York. The standards are unpopular. If they weren’t unpopular the politicians would be backing out.

    It may not be that California is ahead of the curve but behind it.

    Replies

    • Don 11 months ago11 months ago

      Correction: If they were not unpopular the politicians would NOT be backing out.