Business groups fighting back in support of Common Core
ALBANY—Critics of the Common Core in New York have been winning the debate about the controversial education standards, but now they'll face a counterattack backed by a considerable investment.
High Achievement New York, a nonprofit coalition of mostly business groups, plans to launch a roughly $500,000 phone and digital advertising campaign over the next several weeks in an attempt to promote the controversial curriculum standards.
New York's business groups have long been among the state's most vocal supporters, arguing that a Common Core education will help close the skills gap that makes it difficult for companies to recruit qualified workers. Following a national trend, they're backing up their efforts with advertising and outreach campaigns.
“We want every child to have a chance at a great education, and that is why community leaders, educators and businesses have joined together to ensure that the high standards and dedication to excellence that the Common Core promotes make it into every classroom,” said Frank Thomas, the group's executive director.
The coalition last week released a series of teacher testimonial videos on its website and social media. In the coming weeks, the group will deploy robocalls, as well as banner and video ads on the web, in an effort to “change the perception about the Common Core and what it means,” Thomas told Capital.
The campaign is reflective of business groups' efforts on a national level. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups launched an advertising blitz in March in an effort to combat Tea Party notions that the Common Core is a federal power grab. That campaign also featured teacher testimonies.
The collective advertising campaign follows individual efforts from business lobbyists and chambers of commerce to educate other business owners about the standards.
The Business Council of New York State, which is a member of the coalition, has held informational sessions around the state, its president and C.E.O. Heather Briccetti said.
“Let's not get distracted by some of the arguments that are being raised in the pain of transition,” said Briccetti, summarizing her pitch to businesses about the Common Core. “Let's focus on having the confidence that when students graduate from high school, they are ready for college and career.”
John Ravitz, a former Republican assemblyman who is now executive vice president of the Business Council of Westchester County, said he believes the Common Core will help keep existing businesses in his area as well as attract new ones. Better schools would not only yield more highly skilled workers but also would draw potential employees who have children, he said.
He said businesses should play a primary role in boosting the Common Core.
"The more that we can link businesses in communities to school districts that are implementing the Common Core, and they can go into the classroom and see what's happening and talk to the teacher and the kids, that's going to be important," he said. "They are and need to be participating in this.”
Education commissioner John King is making the same pitch to business groups, seeking a rare ally in his fight for the Common Core. King has faced harsh criticism from teachers unions, lawmakers and some parents over the rollout of the standards in New York; critics argue education officials rushed the implementation and focused too much on high-stakes testing.
At a breakfast hosted by the Association for a Better New York on Wednesday, King said education leaders need the business community as a vocal partner.
“You can’t be silent in the face of deception,” King said, referring to anti-Common Core rhetoric. “You can’t stand on the sidelines while some call for a retreat to lower standards."
While most of the coalition members are business groups, including several chambers of commerce, the membership also includes advocacy groups that have been vocal in supporting the Common Core and other education reforms, including Educators4Excellence and StudentsFirstNY. The latter has been a major supporter of charter schools.
A spokesman for High Achievement New York would not disclose information about the nonprofit's finances. The spokesman said the bulk of the funding will be grants from philanthropic organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Helmsley Charitable Trust. The group has applied for grants and expects to recieve them.
These foundations have granted millions of dollars to organizations nationwide that aim to boost the standards, including a fellowship program at the State Board of Regents in which employees are developing Common Core-aligned curricula. Rich McKeon, director of Helmsley's education program, wouldn't say how much money the group applied for, arguing it was inappropriate to talk numbers before the request was approved by the charity's board.
McKeon said that Helmsley grants on an invitation-only basis, and it rarely invites an application that it doesn't approve.
“We think the role that High Achievement New York is playing is really one of convening all of the stakeholders … to really make sure that people are hearing not just from one side of this argument,” he said.