No retreat from improving education

In calling for a moratorium on the implementation of clearer and more stringent academic standards in our public schools, Republican leaders in the state General Assembly sought to exploit for political advantage the understandable anxieties of parents and teachers. The legislature should soundly reject their call to embrace educational mediocrity.

The politics are clear enough. Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, a Fairfield Republican, is running for governor. Unfortunately for him, a recent Quinnipiac poll showed his candidacy remains a well-kept secret, with 3 percent of Republicans pointing to him as their preferred candidate.

Sen. McKinney has tried to gain some attention in calling for the resignation of Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor. The justification appears to be that the ambitious education reform initiatives sought by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and endorsed by the legislature have not rolled out flawlessly in the first two years of implementation.

Essentially, in attacking education reform efforts, Sen. McKinney sees an opportunity to try to undercut one of Malloy's major achievements. Over in the House, Sen. McKinney's partner in political opportunity, Minority Leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk, arranged last Wednesday's Education Committee public hearing on the bill that would block implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

There is a relatively small but deeply dedicated and vocal group who oppose Common Core and see all sorts of conspiratorial and nefarious motives behind its implementation. They turned out for the hearing, which lasted 12 hours. The truth is, Common Core is about improving education, not selling standardized tests or indoctrinating students, a couple of the leading conspiracy theories.

Connecticut is among 45 states to adopt the Common Core standards for mathematics and English. The more stringent standards will challenge teachers and students, requiring critical and analytical thought. They provide uniform benchmarks intended to ensure that students who graduate from the nation's high schools are ready for higher education and the technologically challenging jobs that will gain increasing prominence in the global economy.

Connecticut, and America, cannot shrink from this challenge.

Claims that the standards will hamstring teachers and stifle teaching creativity do not hold up to scrutiny. No curriculum is mandated and inventiveness should be encouraged in finding ways to inspire students in pursuit of meeting the standards.

"By having fewer, but clearer and higher standards, teachers can go deeper with their lessons and do what they do best - make learning come to life for kids," said New Haven Superintendent Garth Harries at Wednesday's hearing.

Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, testified at the hearing that school districts across the state are well along in implementing the new standards.

Melodie Peters, a former state senator from our region and now president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, testified that the union agrees with the superintendents that Common Core should move forward.

In the last few weeks, The Day Editorial Board met with representatives of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and with the educational reform advocacy groups ConnCan and Connecticut Council for Education Reform. All called for moving forward with the standards.

Understandable are concerns about the new standardized Smarter Balanced Test, which aligns with the Common Core goals. Frankly, our students aren't ready for the tests that start next week. But this is a baseline test, to see where students stand, and the results will not be tied to teacher evaluations, school performance ratings or individual student records.

The Malloy administration recognizes there have been problems in trying to do so much, so fast. Gov. Malloy recently signed an executive order creating a 25-member task force of teachers, administrators, school board members and parents to "examine gaps in existing Common Core implementation at the school, district and state level, and identify opportunities to share best practices across schools and school districts."

It must report by June 30, in time to implement improvements for the following school year. Members include teacher Bruce Yarnall of Stonington and Groton Assistant Superintendent Sean McKenna.

We finish and concur with another statement by New Haven Superintendent Harries: "Any roll-back of Common Core is a step back for our kids."

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