BY BOBSON WONG
Dr. John King, who recently announced that he will be leaving his post as New York State’s Commissioner of Education at the end of the year, leaves behind an important legacy. Most importantly, he should be commended for supporting the Common Core Standards. As a high school math teacher, I have found that my students do better in lessons that meet the standards. In a Common Core lesson, students develop a simple mathematical model that connects abstract expression with concrete concepts like area. They not only can explain why the model works but also apply it to solve more complicated problems that they could not have solved just by using a rule. Unfortunately, the State has done a poor job so far of implementing the new standards. King’s successor should focus on three goals to fulfill the Common Core’s potential.
First, the next Commissioner needs to provide high-quality resources to help educators teach the Common Core successfully. While the material published on EngageNY, the State’s official Common Core website, is easily accessible, it contains vaguely worded problems and unrealistic expectations. The next Commissioner should find seasoned classroom teachers to revise the material on EngageNY so that it reflects the reality of what happens in our classrooms every day. The new Commissioner should encourage teacher leaders to facilitate professional development for other teachers.
Second, the next Commissioner must ensure that state assessments accurately reflect the high expectations embedded in the Common Core. The State has sent a mixed message about the new standards. On the one hand, we are urged to have high expectations for our students by encouraging them to think critically. On the other hand, state tests require students to know little content. In math, for example, students need to get only 35% of the Algebra Regents exam correct in order to pass the test. This low bar hurts students by moving them along into higher-level courses when they have failed to master lower-level material. Current classroom teachers should play an active role in writing assessments that match what our students can and should know.
Finally, the next Education Commissioner has to involve teachers not just in the implementation but also in the overall planning to make sure that the State’s educational goals are realistic. The New York State United Teachers union recently won a grant to recommend changes to the State’s implementation of the Common Core and the new assessments. While this is a promising start, the State is not required to make any of the proposed changes. The Commissioner needs to listen to the proposed changes from teachers since they are the ones who have the experience of working with our students.
Bobson Wong has taught high school math in New York City public schools for 10 years, currently teaching at Bayside High School. He is a recipient of the Math for America Master Teacher Fellowship and the New York Educator Voice Fellowship.