New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has slowly been backing away from the controversial Common Core education standards.
The issue was surprisingly potent in what will likely be the only New York gubernatorial debate featuring the incumbent. Republican challenger Rob Astorino is well behind in the polls, and used the debate to seek out any potential weakness for Cuomo. One of Astorino’s strongest lines of attack was against Common Core, which he attempted to label “Cuomo’s Common Core” and described as an “unmitigated disaster” ceding control of the state’s schools to the federal government.
While Cuomo has endorsed Common Core in the past, Wednesday night showed a governor now eager to disassociate himself with the controversial standards. Rather than defend Common Core or take any ownership of its implementation within the state, Cuomo instead chose to minimize his own role. Common Core’s implementation, he said, had nothing to do with him.
“Cuomo’s Common Core? I had nothing to do with Common Core. Common Core is established by the Board of Regents, which is established by the legislature,” the governor said. He then went further, arguing that he’d been working to roll the standards back.
“The only thing I did do with Common Core was I stopped the grading of Common Core,” Cuomo said, referring to a recent bill he signed which delays using Common Core-aligned standardized tests to evaluate teachers for two additional years. The situation, he said, was one of “too much testing, too little learning.”
While Cuomo’s statements were designed to distance himself from the controversial standards, they also left him a great deal of wiggle room, as Cuomo said nothing about whether he would support or oppose a legislative effort to modify or repeal the standards themselves.
Nevertheless, they signal a growing unwillingness to defend the standards even by a supposed backer in one of America’s most liberal states. And it wasn’t the first time.
A new campaign ad launched Monday to tout the governor’s education record includes a variety of promises for how Cuomo will act going forward. Alongside pledges to invest $2 billion in education technology and improve teacher quality, Cuomo also addresses New York’s controversial new Common Core-based exams, which have raised ire from some teachers and parents over their difficulty and an alleged lack of readiness for them.
In the ad, the governor solemnly pledges “not to use Common Core scores for at least five years, and then only if our children are ready.”
The statement gives additional ground to opponents of new multistate standardized tests being crafted by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). New York’s trial runs with the tests have been marked by complaints the tests are too difficult and riddled with technical hiccups. These issues have led to calls for test scores to not be used to evaluate teachers for at least a few years. Even Bill Gates, whose Gates Foundation is a major backer of Common Core and PARCC, has said a two-year delay would be advisable. By backing a five-year wait, Cuomo is giving significantly more ground to Common Core critics. Over the summer, Cuomo backed legislation limiting the tests’ use in evaluations for the next two years. Now, his new promise offers the possibility that PARCC could be excised from New York teacher evaluations almost indefinitely.
While in the grand scheme of education debates the concession may seem like a minor one, it has foes of Common Core smelling blood in the water.
“Governor Cuomo’s campaign ad is a devastating blow to Common Core implementation in New York and to the PARCC consortia nationally,” Jamie Gass, director of the Center for School Reform at the anti-Common Core Pioneer Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “This also occurs while nationwide polls are running against Common Core and the PARCC already has been hemorrhaging member states.”
The concession to slow down the rollout of Common Core carries more weight when it comes from Cuomo, who is from the bloc of centrist Democrats who are generally among the strongest supporters of the standards.
Cuomo has already defeated a primary challenge on the left from Zephyr Teachout, who ran a campaign centered a pledge to stop Common Core.
Wednesday’s debate included not just the two major party nominees but also the Libertarian and Green candidates, who each chose to blast Common Core as well. Green candidate Howie Hawkins demonstrated that Common Core opposition is emanating from the political left as well as the right, as he condemned Common Core for encouraging too much standardized testing. Libertarian Michael McDermott, meanwhile, drew laughs when he labeled Common Core an “abomination” and said he had started doing his 9-year-old daughter’s homework because she “just didn’t get it.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t get it either,” he said.
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