Will Cuomo retreat from the Common Core?
ALBANY—The state Legislature's united push Tuesday for a delay in implementing the Common Core standards creates a dilemma for Governor Andrew Cuomo.
If the Democratic governor supports state lawmakers' push for a moratorium, he'll essentially disarm his teacher and principal evaluation system, which he has touted as a crowning achievement of his administration.
But if he blocks the proposal, he risks angering some parents who have rallied against the Common Core and the powerful teachers' unions during an election year.
Cuomo will be among the last officials to declare a position on Common Core since its flawed rollout in New York. State education officials have dug in, declaring their intention to proceed with the planned implementation of the more challenging new curriculum. Meanwhile, though, a diverse array of interest groups have found common cause in opposing the standards: the teachers union has withdrawn support from the Common Core as implemented, as have lawmakers, as have an eclectic mix of outside groups.
Cuomo's position, for now, is resolutely noncommittal.
“Common Core is an issue about which there has been a lot of dialogue,” Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa said in a statement Tuesday that both affirms the standards and distances the administration from its rocky rollout.
The proposed moratorium on its implementation is “premature,” DeRosa said, adding that the governor would wait for recommendations from a panel he has yet to assemble and that critics have called unnecessary and untimely.
“The Governor believes there are two issues—Common Core and teacher evaluations—and they must be analyzed separately,” she concluded.
They are in fact separate issues, but the teachers' union has effectively played on public unease with one to drive home its own opposition to the other.
The lawmakers, concerned with a backlash not just from the teachers but in some cases from vocal parent-constituents, appear to have followed the union's lead: The moratorium, which has been a major legislative priority of New York State United Teachers, would essentially hold harmless teachers, principals and students from low test scores on Common Core-aligned exams for two years. It requires changing the state law that mandates educator evaluations, legislation that Cuomo championed in 2012.
After schools failed to comply with an unenforceable evaluation law for years, Cuomo tied the adoption of state-approved evaluation plans to an increase in state funding. As a result, nearly all of the state's 700 school districts implemented the evaluations. A handful, including New York City, missed the deadline and lost the money.
Cuomo has repeatedly touted the strategy as an example of his administration's ability to effectively overhaul government where there has historically been bureaucratic resistance to change.
Senate Education Committee Chair John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, told Capital on Tuesday that lawmakers will attempt to negotiate with Cuomo on the moratorium during the budget process.
“These are weighty, important issues, and reflecting upon what it means to students more than anyone else, we have a lot of work to do,” Flanagan said. “We expect and look forward to working with the governor, and there's no reason they can't all be taken up in the context of the budget.”
Cuomo and lawmakers typically roll seemingly unrelated legislative proposals into overall budget negotiations. Last year, the budget included a change to Cuomo's controversial gun-control law, the SAFE Act.
NYSUT applauded lawmakers' call for the moratorium in a statement Tuesday.
“The leadership has clearly heard the concerned parents and educators who support high standards but know that a moratorium on the use of standardized tests in high-stakes decisions is essential until the State Education Department makes major corrections to its failed implementation plan,” president Richard Iannuzzi said in the statement.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his Democratic conference are likely allies for NYSUT's priorities. But as the Common Core has been grouped with other controversial issues by opponents serving a variety of larger political agendas, the union has also been joined by libertarians and even conservative Republicans in opposition.
The fact that opposition to the Common Core is so widespread is emblematic of the poor marketing that has surrounded the standards. Major education stakeholder groups across the country argue the higher standards are necessary to prepare students for college and the modern global workplace. But opponents often associate the standards with other contentious issues, namely teacher evaluations, testing and student-data collection.
And yet, even with the growing opposition, the timing of the Legislature's statement was somewhat surprising. Silver had said he would wait for the Board of Regents to propose changes to the implementation before forcing legislative action, and a subcommittee of the policy-making panel is due back with a report next week.
Flanagan advanced a legislative package in his chamber that aims to improve implementation without the moratorium, but he told Capital earlier this month that other senators in his conference wanted to go further. The Senate's statement Tuesday hedged its push for the moratorium as action lawmakers will take “unless the Board of Regents acts to alleviate the concerns of parents, teachers and other educators”—a phrase that's different from the Assembly's otherwise nearly identical position.
Meanwhile, education commissioner John King and Board of Regents Merryl Tisch continue to support the standards and the evaluations.
In a statement Tuesday, they pledged to recommend changes next week that would address parents' and teachers' concerns while moving forward with implementation and adhering to the state evaluation law.
“Next week, at the February Board of Regents meeting, the work group will present to the P-12 committee of the Board a series of possible options that reflect the input the Board has received from legislators and the public to make thoughtful adjustments to Common Core implementation,” they said in a joint statement.