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Assemblymen hear Common Core concerns at forum in Lowville

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LOWVILLE — A quartet of Republican Assemblymen got an earful Tuesday from teachers, parents and administrators about the state’s new Common Core curriculum.

“We became teachers to help our students succeed, but this is not promoting success,” Copenhagen Central School English teacher Lori M. Griffin told a panel of state lawmakers during an education forum at Lowville Academy and Central School sponsored by the Assembly’s minority conference.

“I’ve never in my 30 years of teaching felt so frustrated,” added Debbie Dermady, an elementary teacher with the Thousand Islands Central School District.

Mrs. Dermady added that the teacher evaluation system is flawed, that some elementary reading material about bombings and wars is particularly inappropriate for children of soldiers and that it is difficult to see positive results on the Common Core implementation.

“They aren’t listening to us,” she said of state education officials. “We can only hope they will listen to you.”

Members of the panel — local Assemblymen Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, and Marc W. Butler, R-Newport, and a pair of Assembly Education Committee members from Long Island, Edward P. Ra, R-Franklin Square, and Al Graf, R-Holbrook — said they have been hearing similar sentiments at similar sessions elsewhere in the state and will take any concerns back to Albany when the new session commences in mid-January.

“It’s unfortunate we’ve gotten to this point without your voices being heard,” said Mr. Ra, the ranking minority member on the Education Committee.

Mr. Graf, who holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from SUNY Plattsburgh and has taught in an alternative education program, said he is concerned that the so-called “cookie-cutter” curriculum is hamper learning.

“I liken it to throwing spaghetti against the wall,” he said. “Some of it will stick but most of it won’t.”

The assemblymen also noted that most Board of Regents members do not having backgrounds in education. Mr. Blankenbush said he has voted no on every candidate for those posts because he typically gets their resumes only about an hour in advance. Those posts are essentially selected by Assembly Democratic leadership, as they have enough votes for passage, he said.

Several speakers at the two-hour session said they support higher standards in education. However, they raised a variety of issues they have with current initiatives, including apparent spelling and factual errors on some Common Core lessons, lack of funding or time for training prior to implementation, apparent devaluing of vocational training, lack of flexibility for special needs students, erosion of local control of curriculum development and high-stakes tests that are upsetting students.

Lowville Academy third grade teacher Susan J. Rubenzahl read a letter one of her students last year wrote to Gov. Andrew N. Cuomo with concerns about the extensive standardized testing, along with a responding letter that didn’t really address her issues. “I’ve never seen a more defeated child,” she said.

Multiple speakers suggested that state leaders abandon or at least slow down implementation of the new standards, possibly through a three-year moratorium as proposed by the New York State United Teachers, and the lawmakers agreed.

“The implementation of this was a disaster,” Mr. Graf said.

Several speakers also expressed concern that information that is being compiled on students may not end up being confidential and later be used against them and that early-elementary lessons on early Mesopotamian civilization and various religions are not appropriate for such young students.

Mickey D. Dietrich, a Tug Hill Commission employee and parent of an elementary student, said many Common Core materials he has seen appear to have never been proofed and some of the math lessons are difficult to understand for even he and his wife, both of whom hold Master’s degrees.

“It’s abuse — abuse of our children and destroying our future,” said area foreign language teacher Pamela Watson.

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