23 Aug 2014
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Social Worker, Parents Blast 'God-Awful' Common Core

Speakers at the forum said hope could be coming from Albany and urged parents to join forces and opt out of controversial testing.

Social Worker, Parents Blast 'God-Awful' Common Core
A group of irate professionals and parents came together in Riverhead Wednesday night for a panel discussion to explain how the controversial Common Core curriculum has been affecting Long Island's children — and the picture wasn't pretty.

On the agenda at the forum, "Our Kids Are Not Common: Their Education Shouldn't Be Either," which was held at the Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center in Riverhead Tuesday night, was a discussion about how high stakes testing, APPR, the Common Core, and sharing of personal data were affecting the educational experience.

The crowd was less than at previous forums, with about 40 in attendance.

Maria Calamia, a clinical social worker who has a private practice in Stony Brook, has testified to the New York State Assembly about the damage she believes children are suffering under the Common Core.

In October, Calamia said her phone started ringing, with scores of calls from parents upset about their kids' reactions to the Common Core.

One eighth grader, she said, was self-mutilating. "I heard about a girl who had carved the word 'stupid' into her wrist at the time of the eighth grade assessments last April," Calamia said.

Other children, as young as eight and nine years old, have been wetting their beds, getting nosebleeds from stress, complaining of stomachaches, asking to sleep in their parents' bed, and using drugs, all in relation to the school-centered stress they'd been experiencing under the new New York State-imposed curriculum, she said.

"One kid was hospitalized because he didn't want to take the math assessment test and was considered to be suicidal," she said. Another young person's suicide in Glen Cove, Calamia said, is believed to be related to the stress of the curriculum.

"This is serious business," Calamia said, adding that the Common Core standards are biologically inappropriate.

"Common Core expects everyone to learn the same thing, at the same pace," she said. "If we were robots, all manufactured by the same company, it would be one thing, but that's not the case. You'e asking eight-year-olds to do something they are biologically incapable of doing. It's like asking a fish to fly."

She added that Einstein had said, "If you judge a fish to fly by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing its stupid."

Next year, Calamia warned, the state will unroll Common Core science. "We're on the cutting edge of wrong," she said. "It's God-awful and it has to stop."

Hope is coming, Calamia said, in the form of legislation out of Albany, but first, parents have to get their kids through the current school year.

One way to fight back, she said, is by opting out of the testing. "Common Core thrives on data. If we starve it of the data, the monster dies."

Also, she said, parents have to reinforce a message that tests and schoolwork do not reflect who a child is; instead, focus on their strengths and interest in dance, instruments, painting, and in their kindness to their siblings. "There are many ways of being smart. Please convey that to your children."

Terry Kalb, a retired educator who advocates for children, said children with disabilities or those for whom English is a second language are being hit the hardest under the "one size fits all" curriculum.

"The Perfect Storm," Kalb said, is taking place in New York schools, where the two percent tax cap, coupled with cuts in programming and unfunded state mandates, as well as the Common Core and the rollout of high stakes testing to measure a teacher's performance, are creating an untenable situation.

"If you're autistic or just learning English, you're expected to do exactly the same as every other child at your grade level," she said. "And if children don't meet the expected goals, they and the teachers are failures. If you expect all children to achieve the all goals at the same time, paced in the same way, I don't call that equity, I call it ignorance and I call it arrogance. This is designed to fail kids."

In addition, diplomas no longer allow for alternative or vocational programs. "The vast majority of special education students won't get a diploma," she said.

Kalb said parents can opt out of the tests or insists that the refusal is built into the individualized education program, or IEP, of the special education student, to protect them from "abusive" testing.

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo said after 11 parent forums around the state, Albany is listening.

The forums, including one held at Eastport-South Manor and one at Mineola High School, have brought out hundreds of incensed parents and "ticked off mommies" demanding a change.

In the beginning, Palumbo said, "They were completely ignoring us. But lucky for us, it's an election year. The resounding message from the communities has really made a difference." Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State Education Commissioner John King, he said, "are listening."

Cuomo, Palumbo said, has responded and a three-year moratorium could be in sight, allowing for time to trash the current Common Core plan and "start from scratch."

The goal is to have the new legislation adopted by the New York State Assembly, where the Democrats have the majority, he said.

Palumbo, a parent, said, "When your six-year old daughter comes home crying, it's terrible. It makes me want to go fight someone. We need to get this done."

Palumbo urged residents to keep writing, calling and sending emails. "It's an election year. The best we can threaten most politicians with their jobs."

Brian Wasson, an educator in the Sachem school district and advocate for protection of student data, spoke about data collection; Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio expressed her concern for a student's privacy.

Wasson said his fight is with the volume of data being collected. "Data is powerful and it's worth money," he said. "Why is so much of this data personally identifiable?"

And, with data to be collected from the time a child is a newborn to its 20th year of life, Wasson said a workforce database is being compiled up to the first four years of a child's later employment. "The goal is literally to profile these kids."

Dr. Joseph Rella, superintendent of the Comsewogue School District, said the tests were designed to fail 70 percent of students.

He also suggested the long-term goal of the Common Core was to "dismantle" public school education and further alternative private, for-profit education. 

"Albany has created a toxic environment toward public education," he said.

The tests he said, are said predicate college success. "They are told they are not college material in the third, fourth and fifth grades. That message is unconscionable," Rella said. "Children are being hurt by this. We have to stop exposing our students to a horrible experiment."

Of the uprising to quash the Common Core, Rella said. "They did not count on you. They angered the mothers of New York State, God help them."

Jeanette Deutermann, founder of LI Opt Out Info on Facebook and co-founder of New York State Allies for Public Education, spoke about how parents can write a letter and demand that their children opt out.

"We are winning this fight," she said. "What we really want to see come back to our classes is that local control."

Deutermann said the "corporate takeover" of education was orchestrated in the media, with the public school system portrayed as failing. "It was hype and we bought it," she said. "They didn't count on us all learning what the situation really is."

Kids are set up to fail on fall tests, she said, so there is a growth score to improve upon over the year. Students who have never learned the language are being given first year assessments in Spanish.

"Kids are crying for two hours straight doing their homework, begging not to go to school," she said. "It's not normal. And these are not isolated cases. This is an epidemic."

Also staggering, she said, is the cost, with districts that are already slashing art, music and gym programs forced to pay between $500,000 and $1 million for the increased level of testing.

Parents who choose to have their kids to opt out will suffer no repercussions, Deutermann said; the tests for grades three to eight do not determine if a child gets into college and no schools have lost funding due to kids who opt out.

She also urged parents to keep the pressure on politicians. "We're not moving on until this is fixed," she said, adding that the goal is to appoint a new Board of Regents.

One Westhampton Beach mother, Mary Alice Rogers, said she met with her school's principal, and said she was given a "hard time" when suggesting the opt out option. "I was told, 'Tell your son he shouldn't really tell anybody'" about opting out, Rogers said. "She didn't know who she's dealing with. I posted it all over Facebook and the other moms contacted me; I told them how to opt out."

Local parent groups such as Hampton Bays Parents for Common Sense Education created the event "to help parents and taxpayers understand how flawed education reform is hurting our children, our schools and our communities," organizer Julie Lofstad said. She urged parents with questions to reach out. "You are not alone," she said.

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