Teachers’ union calls Common Core rollout ‘botched,’ ‘mishandled’

Mark Waxenberg, the executive director of the Connecticut Education Assoication.

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / The CT Mirror

Mark Waxenberg, the executive director of the Connecticut Education Association.

When it comes to the implementation of Common Core in Connecticut, “botched” and “mishandled” are among the words the state’s largest teachers’ union uses to describe the rollout.

“These goals which we want to achieve are falling out of reach and out of reality due to the implementation,” said Sheila Cohen, an elementary school teacher in Orange and the president of the 43,000-teacher Connecticut Education Association.

The union is pointing to a survey of 1,452 Connecticut teachers done earlier this month in which 55 percent gave implementation a score of five or lower on a 10-point scale.

“More than half of our schools and teachers give it a failing grade,” said Mark Waxenberg, the union’s executive director and a retired math teacher from East Hartford. “Give us time…It’s a botched implementation of national mastery test in the state of Connecticut.”

But Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said earlier this week there are no plans to slow down implementation.

“We are implementing Common Core,” the governor’s education chief told legislators on the Appropriations Committee. “We are definitively moving forward.”

The commissioner Wednesday announced the department is hosting a daylong “Common Core Fest” in July to facilitate training for hundreds of Connecticut teachers on Common Core. To date, the State Department of Education has provided training on Common Core to more than 1,500 teachers from nearly every school district.

The State Board of Education adopted the standards in 2010, but the backlash has become increasingly apparent in recent months. Next school year, every student will be required to take a new standardized test linked to Common Core. Teacher evaluations will also begin using the tests within the next two school years.

“No Connecticut teachers were involved in the creation of these standards,” Waxenberg told reporters during a press conference at the state Capitol complex.

The legislature’s Education Committee is set to hold an informational hearing for invited guests to share details about Common Core on Friday, but some Republican legislators have been unhappy that parents, students and teachers will not be given the opportunity to describe their first-hand experiences.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, announced Wednesday that he had bypassed the Democratic co-chairs’ decision not to hold a public hearing on a bill that would delay Common Core indefinitely by taking advantage of a little-used legislative rule that allows the minority party to force a hearing by gathering 51 signatures of legislators.

“We have heard from hundreds of thousands of parents,” Cafero said during an impromptu press conference. “We as a legislature have a right to be aware” of what’s going on.

But Education Committee Co-Chairman Andy Fleischmann, a Democrat from West Hartford, said during an interview that the standards have been around for years, and that it’s inappropriate for lawmakers to debate repealing them during a short legislative session.

“It’s not like this Common Core suddenly descended out of the sky,” he said.

On repealing the standards while they are being implemented in many schools, Fleischmann said, “It just doesn’t seem to me as a deliberative process.”

Aware of the rising tide against the standards, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislative leaders last month set up a panel to explore how implementation is going and to determine what needs to be done to ensure a smooth rollout.

“It is a very heavy lift to implement the Common Core, and we have the greatest respect for the hard work our teachers are doing to prepare our youngsters to be college and career ready. We hear these concerns and share the desire to get Common Core implementation right,” they wrote in a Jan. 28 letter. “In the next two weeks, I will establish a Common Core State Standards working group that will include teachers and other educators from across the state to make recommendations on Common Core implementation.”

That committee has not yet met, no date has been set for its first meeting, and no members have been appointed, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office said.

“We are in agreement that there’s no time to waste and we are actively working on it,” said Samaia Hernandez, adding the panel will be appointed in the next week.

Several national and one state survey have reported that teachers support the standards. A survey conducted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation of 279 teachers in Connecticut last July reported that nearly three-quarters are “enthusiastic about the implementation” of Common Core.

Leaders of the state union say their survey also shows heavy support for Common Core in theory (64 percent), but that the problem is with the actual implementation and the plan to begin testing students next year on the standards.

“Teachers are calling for a moratorium,” Waxenberg said. “Teachers are not saying we don’t want standards, what we’re saying is give us time to digest what we are being asked to do, to make sure we can get this done right before children are being judged improperly.”

Pryor, the state’s education commissioner, said during an interview Wednesday that the union’s concerns are “valid and justified” and that the tests aligned with Common Core have already been scaled back. For the current school year, districts were given the option of administering the Common Core Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests or the tests students have been taking for years. The department also decided not to require districts to use the results of the standardized tests when evaluating teachers this school year. The department wants to further delay using those results in evaluating teachers again next year, but needs federal approval.

“The SBAC assessments are being delivered in a low-stakes environment,” Pryor said. “We have fought for flexibility and have delivered it.”

Melodie Peters, the president of the state’s other teachers’ union, AFT-Connecticut, called the changes made thus far a “much-needed course correction.”

“We have been and continue to welcome the workgroups the governor is establishing to study implementation of the Common Core State Standards. We have long said that all stakeholders need to understand how these standards should work before we make them count,” she said.

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