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Educators assess pre-K, Common Core implementation

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s annual budget offered educators the promise of full-day prekindergarten and acknowledged the fears and anxiety about the implementation of the Common Core.

The executive budget calls for a two-year projected formula growth of 7 percent with $1.3 billion in general support, $75 million for performance programs, including teacher bonuses and technology improvements and $460 million for pre-K and after-school programs.

Jack J. Boak, superintendent of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services, said it would be wonderful to see full-day pre-K implemented across the state and to have increased aid to New York’s 700 school districts, but he said the “devil will be in the details.”

“There is a plan and they recognize the importance of early education,” Mr. Boak said. “It sounds like, just as he has done in past budgets, he is giving money but targeting how the schools can use it instead of increasing funds to how the school districts see fit.”

Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, released a statement in response to the budget saying that after four years, the governor has failed to address the massive inequality in education between rich and poor schools.

“The governor likes to say that money does not matter in education, but we have a massive inequality in school spending,” Mr. Easton wrote. “The high spending in wealthy schools translates into marvelous educational programs and outstanding student results, but it does nothing to help students in high-needs districts. For that matter the governor’s budget would do nothing to help students in needy schools as they will be forced to make more classroom cuts.”

LaFargeville Superintendent Travis W. Hoover said though the governor called for funding for high-needs schools, it is hard to identify which schools could benefit.

“LaFargeville has 47 percent of students getting free or reduced lunches and at the same time our district is ranked in the 10 percent richest districts. It depends on where the data comes from how the schools are ranked,” Mr. Hoover said.

The possibility of full-day pre-K has inspired more questions from school administrators, such as how to make the program fit in their school, and how long funding will last.

“For the last 10 years, we’ve had half-day pre-K and I’m not sure how it would work for the district,” said Rick T. Moore, superintendent of Belleville Henderson Central School.

Mr. Moore said he thinks it might help out families who have to provide half-day child care for their children, but factoring in lunch time and nap time, it could be only an additional hour of instruction.

“I think what they are trying to do is great, but I think what New York state is doing is trying to make a one-size-fit-all approach to education,” Mr. Hoover said. “If he’s really going to fund it completely and permanently, that is good news.”

Sackets Harbor Central School Superintendent Frederick E. Hall said that though he would like to see how the details are worked out, the goal of full-day pre-K is a very positive one.

“I think the message is excellent, but we need to be cautious; I don’t want to add an expense of the district if we’d have to cut other programs,” Mr. Hall said. “Clearly I heard him say the state will pay for it and we’ll hold him accountable to that.”

In his speech, Gov. Cuomo addressed what many educators felt was the “elephant in the room” over the past year, the implementation of the Common Core. Gov. Cuomo said that while he supports the teaching of Common Core curriculum, “management of it by the Board of Regents has been flawed,” and he promised to assemble a panel to come up with corrective action.

“We will end the anxiety parents, teachers and students are feeling all across this state,” Gov. Cuomo said.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said in a statement, “To date, I have heard from hundreds of individuals who are concerned about Common Core and I was pleased to hear Governor Cuomo recognize that it’s time to take action on the implementation of this new curriculum. I’m hopeful that the panel of education experts and legislative leaders proposed by the Governor to discuss issues surrounding the Common Core will help to address the concerns of parents and educators.”

Mr. Boak said he understands a lot of the anxiety over how the program has been implemented, but the way it has been administered is based on the Race to the Top standards outlined in the government’s guidelines.

“It could have gone a little smoother; there could have been more staff development, but I don’t think the state had a choice,” Mr. Boak said. “We’re starting to see it take root now, but we all could use a little more time to see the program reach its potential.”

Mr. Moore said a lot of the anxiety surrounding the new testing comes from the fact that educators and parents alike realize some students’ intelligence can’t be measured by tests.

“I agree it might have been too much, too fast,” Mr. Moore said. “I think a lot of the teachers and administrators feel bad for the students when we put more tests in front of them. There are kids who no matter what just don’t test well, but they are still smart kids.”

Mr. Hall said raising the standards of learning is something he likes, but he can understand the implementation of the program was ridden with anxiety for people across the board.

“The governor listened to his constituents,” Mr. Hall said. “It’s good news someone will look at these requirements. I think it’s the first time he’s really talked about it.”

Mr. Hall said anything to increase the quality of education should be tried for the continued growth of students.

“We need to maintain meaningful curriculum for our kids to succeed. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Common Core was a complete disaster, but once everyone has more experience with it I think the Common Core will reach its full potential.”

What many people were hoping to hear was the elimination of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, something Mr. Cuomo has been mute about in the days since his State of the State address up until Tuesday’s budget presentation.

“The state now has at least a $500 million surplus. That and the personal income tax change calculated for schools would be half the lift for the total eradication of the Gap Elimination Adjustment. The legislature, as it did last year, must add significantly to that amount,” Rick Timbs, executive director of Statewide School Finance Consortium, wrote. “If New York’s budget gap has been eliminated, the state MUST repay what it owes to our schools.”

Mr. Timbs wrote that New York school districts have collectively lost $8.4 billion in state aid since the GEA was implemented in the 2009-10 school year.

“The GEA was supposed to be a temporary fix — a remedy until there was no gap in the state budget. Now that the gap is gone, it’s time to get rid of the adjustment.”

Mr. Hall said now that the state’s budget has been introduced, it is the starting point for districts to form their own budget.

“So piecemeal we’re now at the release of the governor’s budget and it’s really the starting point where our deliberations begin,” he said.

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