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Looking ahead

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The public argument over the Common Core standards ignores the challenge that is humbling New York’s public education system.

The state has been renowned for its history of delivering quality education to students, especially those who earn regents diplomas. However, the country and New York of late have fallen behind the rest of the educated world. American students are only average on reading and science skills and below average in mathematics.

The alarming news in American education has been the inability of students to master the elements of mathematics and science required to hold jobs in the competitive marketplace developing in the face of worldwide economic competition. In New York State, the investment in creating a world-class center of computer chip development and manufacturing north of Albany is hampered by the inability of the workforce in eastern New York to exhibit the required math skills to perform the high-paying jobs.

Students from the Far East and Canada have passed by American students who flounder in classes taught with outdated and to an extent irrelevant curriculums.

The New York State Education Department has responded to the bleak news from overseas and the job market by adopting federal requirements to create an educational system that meets the needs of the marketplace. Part of that is a rigorous testing regimen to validate that progress is being made in the classroom.

As with any change, the first thing anyone hears are objections. And there is plenty of political flak from parents who have had a difficult time accepting that their children scored poorly when they took the new tests, from teachers who are being asked to perform at a higher level and from headline-seeking politicians who are looking for any way to continue to ignore the reality of what is happening in New York classrooms.

Here in the north country, St. Lawrence County school districts are terribly stressed. Several district superintendents have warned their boards that the districts face educational bankruptcy. The county has lost nearly 40 percent of its enrollment over the last 33 years.

One small district has one English teacher and one math teacher in its high school, meaning students are exposed to the same teacher for every math class for four years. Hardly a stimulating environment no matter how well the teacher performs.

The debate over the declining opportunity for high school students in St. Lawrence County has gone on frustratingly too long. And as the schools atrophy, school boards reject initiatives to discuss merger or creation of shared high schools.

The county is hampered by the fact it has three senators and five representatives in the Assembly. There is no single champion for the students in the county in Albany. Parents seem content to accept the status quo; property owners fear even higher school taxes; and traditionalists worry about old athletic rivalries.

The issue is complicated by a debate over the Common Core. This masks the base issue that we have an educational system that does not perform very competitively, leaving students unprepared for college or the demanding workplace.

Look at the public opposition to the Common Core at a meeting last week in Lowville. Teachers hired to prepare students for graduation lined up and told the four Republican assemblymen that, “I liken it to throwing spaghetti against the wall. Some of it will stick, but most of it won’t,” one teacher told the panel.

Wait a minute! Given the documented student performance for the last several years, the old curriculum is not leaving much sticking to the minds of students.

The State Education Department is attempting to bring about change to benefit students who will have to compete for precious jobs or college seats. It is not time to change direction or declare a moratorium on change. It is not time to blame the change on Democrats as Assemblymen Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, did in Lowville last week.

We have students eager to learn but they are caught in failing schools with a curriculum designed for students of several generations ago. What these Assembly members and Senators who are responsible to the next generation of St. Lawrence County students need to accomplish is to support a platform for reform that will allow shared high schools under the auspices of the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services.

More public hearings to allow people to vent about their inability to deal with change just wastes time. Today’s students need a quality education that prepares them for tomorrow. The implementation of the Common Core is a good first step.

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