Parents are banding together throughout the East End in an act of civil disobedience, intending to keep their children from taking April’s state exams, which were prepared under the new Common Core state education standards.
A consortium of parents groups, including the Hampton Bays Parents for Common SENSE Education, LI East Enders Against Common Core and Riverhead Parents Questioning Common Core, held a forum at Atlantis Marine World last night with educators who have joined their cause of changing the state’s mind on the education standards.
Common Core standards are being adopted across the country as a condition of grants received by the states from the federal Race to the Top program.
The standards, which have been rolled out by the state over the past two years, focus on critical thinking and English and math skills across the curriculum, but complexity of the implementation has left both students and teachers in a state of emotional shock, Stony Brook clinical social worker Mary Calamia told attendees at Wednesday night’s forum.
She said in the fall of 2012, when the standards began to be implemented, her phone began ringing off the hook. Usually, she said, a fair number of her patients come to her because they’re having problems at home or in relationships. But last year, most of her calls were about school.
“It all boiled back to the Common Core,” she said. “All I was hearing was, ‘I can’t take it anymore.’”
She said students who had previously thought they were doing well began wetting their beds and coming home with stress-related nosebleeds, eighth graders told her they wanted to drop out of school, and she’d even heard about a young lady who’d carved the word “stupid” into her wrist before a big test.
“This is off the charts,” she said. “We’re not competing with other nations. China has the highest youth suicide rate in the world. Office workers have a net outside their window to catch people who jump. Do we really want to compete with China?”
She urged parents to not send their children to take the tests.
“Common Core thrives on data,” she said. “If you starve it of the data, the monster dies.”
Jeanette Deutermann, an activist working to help parents opt out of the test, provided parents with resources and advice on how to go about informing districts they want their children to opt out of the tests, available online here and here.
North Fork State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, who just took office this month, was in the audience Wednesday. He said the testimony against Common Core was “resounding “at 11 listening forums held around New York by State Education Commissioner John King.
“They’re listening, finally,” said Mr. Palumbo, (R,C-New Suffolk), who urged attendees to take their cause to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is running for re-election this year.
“The way to get politicians to listen is to threaten them with their jobs,” he said.
Mr. Palumbo, who has a son in fourth grade and a daughter in first grade, said he takes the standards personally.
“When my six-year-old comes home from school crying, it makes me want to go out and fight somebody,” he said, to a round of applause from the audience.
Last week, Mr. Palumbo joined the New York State Assembly Minority Conference in unveiling the Apple Plan, which they said would roll back the Common Core requirements.
Perhaps the most chilling of Wednesday’s presentations was technology training specialist Brian Wasson’s discussion of the data mining done on students by the state as part of the Common Core.
He said the state’s data contractor, In Bloom, collects and stores 367 individual pieces of data on each student. But it’s not just that data that concerns him, but another database known as the New York State P20 Longitudinal Database, which gives each student an individual tracking number and then tracks them from Kindergarten for 20 years, all the way through their first four years of work post-college. That database, he said, is also connected to seven other state databases, including the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Taxation and Finance and the Office of Children and Family Services.
“New York has a very attractive database, and it will be a target for hackers,” he said, reminding audiences of how easily hackers managed to infiltrate the retail store Target during the Christmas shopping season. “And that’s all data on minors. It will be breached.”
Comsewogue School District Superintendent Joseph Rella, who said if his kids were still in school he wouldn’t let them take the new state tests, provided parents with a broad picture of their concerns. He spoke of the Masai people of Kenya, who, when they greet each other, always first ask: “How are the children? Are all of them well?”
“If the children are well, they have a healthy society,” he said.
He said educators in New York had no role in creating the standards that they must enforce, and they’ve been denied their first amendment rights to redress of their concerns by the state legislature when they question the standards. He said he believes something must be done to stop the Common Core before this April’s testing.
“We’re giving kids the message in third, fourth and fifth grade that they’re not college material,” he said. “How many years of a child’s life do we want to spend doing that?”