Two Republican candidates urged the public to quickly comment on a proposed U.S. Department of Education plan that would designate schools with at least a 5 percent opt-out rate from Common Core testing as in need of improvement.
Julie Killian, a Rye city councilwoman who is running for the 37th state Senate District seat, and Phil Oliva, a candidate in the 18th Congressional District covering Putnam County and portions of Dutchess and Orange counties, charged Friday afternoon that the agency has failed to publicize the comment period because there would be severe backlash by thousands of parents opposed to high stakes testing.
Comments on the new regulations to the Every Student Succeeds Act can be posted through Monday, Aug. 1 until 11:59 p.m. at www.regulations.gov. (Search for “Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act: Accountability and State Plans.”)
They said schools in Westchester and Putnam where most districts have exceeded the 5 percent opt-out threshold amid strenuous opposition to Common Core would have their reputations and resources diminished. The schools, many of which are high achieving, would be saddled with an unfair label. It is unknown whether there would be further sanctions against districts that exceed 5 percent.
Opt-out rates for the standardized state exams for students in grades 3-8 in Westchester and Putnam counties have hovered just above 20 percent the past two years since parents were given the choice, according to the state Education Department. That is close to the state average.
“This designation — in need of improvement — will be catastrophic for our schools,” said Killian, who held a press conference with Oliva outside the County Center in White Plains to alert the public about the expiring comment period. “It would damage our schools’ reputations and send property values plummeting. It would be harder to recruit teachers and provide the resources to give our kids a well-rounded education.”
Both candidates said regardless of where anyone stands on Common Core there should be opposition to new state and federal government mandates. Parents, teachers and local school officials should have the ability to make decisions about their schools, not the federal government, Oliva countered.
“Beyond the stigma and the loss of home value and depreciation, there’s also something else that runs with that – the loss of flexibility at the local level,” Oliva said. “There will be more intrusion at the federal level. This is a bad thing. Common Core is no good. We need high standards but we need them addressed from the bottom up, not the top down.”
Oliva said the secrecy surrounding the proposed regulation and the ensuing comment period is similar to how Secretary of Education John King operated when he was New York’s state education commissioner.
He and Killian said they were alerted to the proposed change in the past week and decided to speak out and warn the public. They have found few people who were aware of the proposal and comment period.
Killian said opposition to excessive testing cuts across all demographics and has support from Republicans and Democrats.
“Washington has egg on its face and they’re stopping at nothing to save face and forcing our kids into taking their tests,” she said.
Her opponent, incumbent state Sen. George Latimer (D-Rye), agreed that the issue is bipartisan. Latimer said he has long criticized King for forcing one-size-fits-all standards, particularly for high achieving school districts in Westchester that are challenged with the tax cap and face more mandates and dwindling funds.
“We need to have control at the local level,” Latimer said.