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City officials to ed commission: standards rollout needs funds

The city and other school districts desperately need additional funding if they are to raise academic standards, Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky said today.

Even though the city has done more to integrate new learning standards known as the Common Core than other districts and states, it cannot adequately train staff or buy the materials it needs with the resources it currently has, he said.

“We are bound to fall short if we raise the standards without investing in the support that educators need to meet this challenge,” he told the commission, according to his written statement.

The call for additional funding was one of three priorities that Polakow-Suransky outlined before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform commission today. The funding, he said, would be necessary to to purchase new books, software and other learning tools aligned to the Core, and help schools hire coaches to train teachers in the implementation of the Core. He also said the city needed more funds to develop a key piece of the new teacher evaluation system, rigorous assessments developed by the city for each grade level and subject area that would factor into teachers’ evaluations on top of many other criteria.

“As these assessments become more authentic there are real costs that come along with them,” Polakow-Suransky said. “None of this is funded.”

Polakow-Suransky was offering a solution to a problem that United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew told the commission had already arrived. Mulgrew said the Common Core rollout has already been hindered by the lack of robust materials aligned to the new standards that teachers can use in classrooms now.

“Millions of students will be tested on a curriculum that was never supplied to their teachers,” he told the commission. “[This is] a storm that is headed right at us.”

They were not the only officials to say the new standards necessitated more resources. Eloise Messineo, a former city principal who is now a leadership program director for the Council for School Supervisors and Administrators, said “principals desperately need more training about the new initiatives they are supposed to implement, such as tougher teacher evaluations. ”

“In absence of statewide effort …it would be unreasonable to assume that our schools are ready to implement upcoming education reforms,” Messineo said.

State education officials have been hard at work preparing new state tests that promise to be more rigorous than in the past. The city has spent $125 million in private and federal funds to create materials and train teachers, but that funding is soon to run out. But educators have been sounding the alarm that teachers have not been given the curriculum materials they need to to prepare their students, or enough time to adequately study the new standards.

Some teachers have already devoted hours to professional development around the standards and to the task of curriculum alignment, but education officials say some schools are much further along than others.

“When I write curriculum, it takes me hours and hours and hours of time each month and for it to be good, I need other people to look at it and give me feedback,” Stephen Lazar, a founding social studies teacher at Harvest Collegiate High School, said in an interview. “Teachers need time to do the work, they need time to get feedback from their colleagues, and they need time to reflect on how things went after they taught it so it can be better next year. And every teacher I know is working at 120% capacity already.”

Mulgrew told the commission that he would like to see the city and state offer teachers curriculum materials aligned to the Common Core that go beyond the detailed set of standards and sample work available on the state’s teacher website,

“Standards are not curricula,” he said. “The teachers don’t have the curricula to prepare students for these tests. We are setting the children and their teachers up for falling short of the mark.”

“The solution would be to get a curriculum down quickly,” Mulgrew told reporters. “I know the state is now working on one, but my area of greatest concerns is K through 5th grade math. But we’re a month and a half into the school year, that’s a lot of time.”

But Walcott said teachers have in fact received the support they need to prepare students for the new tests, and the city is working “very closely” with state officials to provide even more.

“We’re working with a variety of different stakeholders including the state very closely,” he said to reporters. “Teachers have gotten a lot of training around Common Core. It’s all of us working together to make sure the curriculum is in place, and I think New York City is way ahead.”

SED officials and teachers around the state have been creating sample curriculum materials aligned the the Core, and expect to have the majority of subjects and grade levels covered by the end of 2013. However, State Education Commissioner John King said the burden to create new curriculum materials actually falls primarily on the school districts, which have had a two year head start on the job.

“We are committed to build curriculum materials as a resources to districts. I see it as the state really investing in professional development and support for the districts,” King said. But ultimately, “The state’s role is to set standards and assessments. Curriculum decisions are local.”

Polakow-Suransky said in an interview that the city is “eagerly awaiting that resource, in addition to the work that we’ve been doing.”

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