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SPRING VALLEY — On any given day, you can find
Andrea Coddett and her seven-member team dis-
persed throughout the East Ramapo school district,
texting ideas to one another, emailing teachers with
questions and meeting principals for working
Coddett was hired two years ago as assistant su-
perintendent for K-12 curriculum and instruction, a
job that combines duties once shared by two people.
As East Ramapo has worked over the past two
years on a top-to-bottom curriculum overhaul that
about 75 percent of the administrative and support
staff that normally would be responsible for manag-
ing the transition.
“When you have diminished capacity, you work
through lunch, you work in the evenings, you work
on the weekends,” Coddett said. “It’s definitely a
(time-management) balancing act. Some days, you
balance better than others.”
outdated materials and equipment — and a Board of
Education distracted by controversial litigation and
often at odds with the public — have all made the
transition to a Common Core-driven curriculum a
struggle, teachers and administrators said. But de-
spite the widespread frustration in the district — or
perhaps because of it — Coddett says she goes to
work each day with a “glass half-full” attitude.
“We are a high-needs, low-resource district, and
that’s our reality. And we have to operate within the
parameter of that reality,” she said.
Among the positive things educators have found
while facing the challenges head-on: Common Core
standards are comparable to those in East Ramapo’s
accelerated coursework, so the shift exposes all stu-
dents — not just advanced-level students — to a rig-
orous curriculum. “Students whom you may not
have thought could handle certain tasks are actually
managing them,” Coddett said.
Above, East Ramapo’s Andrea Coddett, assistant
superintendent for K-12 curriculum and instruction,
left, and Eldorado Elementary Principal Astrid Johnson.
TANIA SAVAYAN/THE JOURNAL NEWS
battles to enact
By Mareesa Nicosia
CORTLANDT — As Cynthia Hugo’s third-grade class
at Lakeland’s Lincoln-Titus Elementary School pre-
pared to tackle a math problem, she made sure they
remembered her instructions.
“What is the purpose of close reading?” Hugo said.
“It helps you see what you have to do to solve the
problem,” Veronica said.
“Read for the gist, read for the big idea, read a
problem sentence by sentence,” Hugo told her class.
“Every sentence will give us a clue.”
After the students solved the word problem —
which involved not only processing the information
but weeding out extraneous sentences — Hugo mar-
veled at the progress the kids had made since Septem-
ber with the new Common Core standards.
“It’s not just about computation anymore. The
problem solving is much more intense, with many
steps, extra information, and really involves critical
thinking,” Hugo said. “What I like about it is that read-
ing and math are not separate entities anymore. They
While the third-graders seemed to grasp the com-
plex concepts with relative ease, Chris Ruggiero, the
K-12 math curriculum director for the Lakeland dis-
trict, said it was an uphill climb for the higher grades.
“Very often the modules will say, ‘The student will
remember from second grade ...’ — no, they won’t,”
Ruggiero said, “because they did not experience the
Common Core in second grade.”
And that has translated to greater tension among
parents, students and teachers, he said.
“The progression of K-12 math in Common Core is
beautifully designed, at least in a theoretical sense,
but it’s the way it’s being implemented that presents
challenges,” Ruggiero said. “K-1 has been an easier
transition. Had the implementation been phased in, K,
1, 2 and so on, there would have been little or no com-
Youngest fare best;
older students forced
to play catch-up
By Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy
the Scarsdale school district is paying minimal atten-
tion to the standards.
Officials for one of the nation’s most highly regard-
dards and found the differences are not great. As a re-
sult, Scarsdale schools will continue pursuing their
own lofty goals while tweaking only a few curricula.
“The Common Core is basically validating what
we’re doing,” said Lynne Shain, assistant superinten-
dent for instruction.
Scarsdale long has emphasized critical thinking,
creativity and problem solving from early grades,
good thing is that it sets a higher bar for districts that
may have underestimated what kids can do,” she said.
Still, officials are bewildered by New York’s high-
speed implementation and concerned about whether
new high school Regents exams may contain unpleas-
ant surprises. Cindy Parrott, mathematics chairwom-
teachers could review more than 3,000 pages of online
lesson plans released by the state, many in the middle
of the year. Also, she said, state materials for the new
high-level statistics, while leaving out integral topics
such as rational expressions and equations.
“My guess is it is much more for political purposes
Superintendent Michael McGill said Common Core
has laudable goals but is too prescriptive. English/lan-
guage arts standards need not downplay literature, he
said, to promote analytical reading of nonfiction. And
that they foster full curricula, not standards.
“We understand the impulse to see quality raised
everyone do the same thing the same way,” he said.
“Standardization can drive out creativity and innova-
tion, which are what make education outstanding.”
Below, Lynne Shain, Scarsdale assistant
superintendent for instruction, discusses the Common
Core at the her office. PETER CARR/THE JOURNAL NEWS
By Gary Stern
Cynthia Hugo goes over some math problems with her third-grade class at Lincoln-Titus Elementary School in
Crompond. FRANK BECERRA JR./THE JOURNAL NEWS
One might wonder whether Chancel-
lor Merryl Tisch and state Education
Commissioner John King, in their heart
of hearts, ever wish they would have tak-
en a different approach to reforming
New York’s public schools.
They have kept relatively stiff upper
lips through two years of ringing criti-
cism. But surely they have come to real-
ize that many of their constituents —
teachers, parents, administrators, even
some students — do not appreciate the
state’s “Heads up!” approach to change.
Things could have been different.
Three colleagues (Mareesa Nicosia, Swapna Ven-
ugopal Ramaswamy and Randi Weiner) and I visited
eight local districts to see what they make of Common
Core. We tried to choose districts with different re-
am not saying everyone loves them. Educators all have
personal critiques of where Common Core is weak or
inconsistent or unclear. But we got the sense that edu-
in need of tweaks and revisions. Some even believe the
standards will raise the quality of public education.
Some critics will not want to hear this. There are
those who insist the standards are not educationally
sound, are the creation of one agenda or another, and
need to be scratched. But, from educators who are liv-
ing with it Monday to Friday, we did not hear any calls
for flushing the Common Core.
But emotions surge when educators talk about how
the state introduced Common Core and related pro-
grams such as new testing, the new teacher-evaluation
system and a continuing series of lengthy, hard-to-
adapt online lesson plans. Many want to move forward
but can’t believe how much time they spend keeping up
with the state’s adjustments, dictates and deadlines.
One thing we heard in several districts is that the
state should have rolled out Common Core in the lower
grades. Instead, administrators and teachers constant-
ly have to plug holes for students who missed out on
Common Core instruction in their earlier grades. They
resent having to guess whether students will be pre-
pared for new state tests that help determine student
“proficiency” and teachers’ own grades.
State legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are mak-
ing noise about pausing the Common Core rollout and
re-assessing the various state reforms. But it’s unclear
whether anything will be done to satisfy educators.
Our school districts wish the state had left room for
them to adapt Common Core to their needs, meaning
their weaknesses and their strengths. Most have not
been sold on the need to reduce local autonomy, even if
they are comfortable with having shared standards.
Educators told us they feel handcuffed by a rushed,
politically driven, top-down reform scheme that will
not aid schools and students as much as it could have.
They still are hoping the state will listen.
Twitter: @GarySternNY. Gary Stern can be reached at
Educators have plenty of advice to offer on Common Core
Go to lohud.com to see a
variety of videos to
report on the
Keep up with education news in
the Lower Hudson Valley,
including a weekly column and
featured students and educators,
on the Hall Monitor blog,
For continuing online coverage
of the Common Core,
go to http://
lohud.com The Journal News R Sunday, March 9, 2014 3A
4A Sunday, March 9, 2014 A The Journal News lohud.com
What is the Common Core?
It is a series of grade-by-grade standards for
English/language arts and math — what
students should know at high school gradua-
tion, at the end of 11th grade, at the end of
10th grade — all the way down to kindergar-
Who created it?
The National Governors Association and the
Council of Chief State School Officers initiat-
ed the project so states would have access
to “internationally competitive” school
benchmarks. The Gates Foundation played a
major role by promising $170 million to
create the standards. Achieve Inc., a non-
profit group run by corporate leaders and
governors, oversaw development of the
standards in 2009 and released them in
2010. Educators were involved, but not
enough for many critics.
Is Common Core a national
Well, 45 states and the District of Columbia
voluntarily adopted Common Core in 2010.
But the Obama administration’s strong
endorsement of it (and dangling of Race to
the Top funds for states that complied) gave
the initiative a national feel. The close
involvement of national foundations and
publishing companies has deepened this
As Fran Shea read “Pit Did!” to her class, she
stopped to ask for the definition of a noun.
“It’s a person, place or thing,” Amanda said.
“And what’s a verb?” Shea said.
A bunch of hands shot up.
“It’s an action word,” Peter said.
Welcome to the new kindergarten classroom, now
aligned with Common Core standards.
Over the next few months, the 5-year-olds at Ful-
mar Road Elementary School also will learn about
subjects and predicates.
Last year, before the new standards were rolled
out, the kids were required to know 29 words on sight
by the end of the year. This year, they need to master
“It’s a lot more academic now,” Shea said. “My kids
are more knowledgeable, but I feel there is not as
much time to do the fun stuff.”
priate is a concern many parents and teachers have
shared during public forums on the Common Core
across the state.
“I just worry that it might take fun away from
school,” Shea said.
Aaron Trummer, director of curriculum for the dis-
trict, said he views the new standards as a building
“If you see Common Core as an apple, it used to be in
teachers encouraged them to take a bit of it to get to the
core,” he said.
“But what it is now is the teacher starts with the core
and has students add pieces to it to create the largest
apple possible. What still remains is the core, the core
of skills, and the core of concepts for every child to be
successful,” he said.
One thing for which Shea is thankful: Mahopac
switched to full-day kindergarten this academic year.
“It would have been a lot more difficult to do this in
⁄2 hours,” said Shea, who has taught kindergarten for
23 years. “Whether you have full-day or half-day kin-
dergarten, the expectations are the same.”
Kindergarten teacher Fran Shea works with students Lexie Castrataro, 6, Laela Roche, 5, and Claira Chung, 5, at Fulmar
Road Elementary School in Mahopac on Jan. 15. JOE LARESE/THE JOURNAL NEWS
Educators fear students will lose the fun
By Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy
The same reading standards are posted in English
and Spanish in Alice E. Grady School’s dual-language
third-grade classrooms, but the student exercises in
each language aren’t equal.
That’s because the Spanish versions don’t exist in
and they won’t for at least another year. So Elmsford
co-teachers Debbie Barbosa and Tracy Sanchez have
cobbled together a Spanish curriculum that mimics
equally skilled in both languages.
the new rigor but say the scripted modules don’t let
them do what they know works for their students,
about half of whom are native Spanish speakers.
ish), because that’s where they are,” Barbosa said.
“We anticipated these hiccups, but these are lan-
guage-sensitive children, they have been taught to fo-
cus on language. You don’t want to get away from
(what has worked in the past) and try something that
may not have the same level of success.”
Another frustration is the one-size-fits-all assump-
tions of the modules, which don’t seem to take into ac-
“We teach them ... things the parents never
learned. They ask, ‘Where’s the value? Why do they
need to use algebra now?’ They need the children to
explain the lesson so they could figure it out; we get
the emails (asking us) to talk to the children who cried
last night with their frustration,” Barbosa said.
The module lessons “assume that children cook in
the kitchen with their parents, that they wear a watch,
an analog watch, and that they handle money,” she
said. “There’s a lot of assumptions.”
Sanchez, who came to teaching as a second career,
said she is finding it difficult to give up all initiative in
order to follow the modules.
“Even as a new teacher, I feel I need to make it my
own, to deliver it in a way the children would under-
stand because it’s in a different language,” she said.
A list of cognate words hangs in the Spanish side of a third-grade English/Spanish bilingual class Jan. 28 at Alice E. Grady School in Elmsford. The bilingual teachers often face a
challenge in teaching Common Core standards because few materials are available in Spanish. TANIA SAVAYAN/THE JOURNAL NEWS
Teachers find Core
By Randi Weiner
“Rigor might look like first-grade literacy (in
Spanish), because that’s where they are.”
lohud.com The Journal News A Sunday, March 9, 2014 5A
How is it changing education?
Common Core calls for spending more time
on fewer subjects. With ELA, there is a focus
on reading and writing nonfiction so stu-
dents can glean, fashion and manipulate
information and arguments. With math, the
focus moves from solving problems to
understanding underlying concepts. There is
an overall emphasis on students being
actively engaged during lessons.
Why is it so controversial?
Most criticism has been directed at the
speed of New York’s implementation and
these factors: the quick introduction of
tougher tests for grades three to eight; slow,
confusing development of online lesson
plans for teachers; the use of student test
scores to help grade teachers and princi-
pals; and the lack of materials and planning
for students with disabilities or limited
English proficiency. In the Lower Hudson
Valley, educators and parents have railed
against changes they say were unnecessary
for successful school systems.
What do educators think?
Reviews are mixed. Many educators think the
standards are pretty good — or, at least, that
they can work with them if given time and
materials. Some say the standards will raise
the quality of education over time. Among
chief complaints: Certain standards are
developmentally inappropriate for the early
grades, literature is de-emphasized and
algebra instruction is haphazard. Several
national studies have been split on whether
Common Core will improve student achieve-
This spring, New York will start to introduce
new high school Regents exams tied to
Common Core. There is a complex phase-in
period, during which students also can take
old Regents tests and use the higher grade.
The class of 2022 will be the first that must
pass all new tests with higher grades (about
75 in ELA and 80 in math). New York also is
developing Common Core-inspired standards
for social studies.
— Gary Stern
BLAUVELT — Administrators in South Orangetown,
a high-performing, low-needs district of about 3,400
students, say they’ve taken on the challenge of infus-
ing Common Core into their curriculum without let-
ting go of their professional autonomy.
“We are doing this with a two-pronged approach,”
soon-to-be-retiring Superintendent Kenneth Mitchell
said of South Orangetown’s philosophy. “We need to
meet these standards, (but) we need to comply with-
out being complicitous.”
Teachers spent the last several summers poring
over their curriculum to decide where and how to in-
tegrate the state’s rigorous new learning standards.
Step by step, they matched elements from the mod-
ules and standards into existing material for all
“We’re able to really use the modules as a supple-
mental resource,” fourth-grade teacher Denise Cau-
nitz said. “So we’re still able to engage ... and motivate
the students, and pick and pull (from) the programs
we’re currently using and we’ve been using for all
these years, and that has worked, along with certain
things that do work well in the module.”
out the year, and educators say it’s been helpful in rec-
ognizing their own expertise when it came to ques-
tioning the content of a module and knowing what stu-
dents need — or don’t need — to help them achieve.
“In math, that common planning, that ability to de-
sign lessons together, is helping us to have a more co-
hesive approach and make sure that all students are
nifer Amos, Tappan Zee High School principal.
Principals and Brian Culot, assistant superinten-
dent for curriculum and instruction, visit classrooms
to observe, ferreting out what about Common Core
works and what doesn’t. Despite the group’s disap-
pointment with the state’s rapid implementation of
high-stakes tests and teacher evaluations, the process
reaffirmed for South Orangetown that one of its best
resources is its own teaching staff, Culot said.
(the modules),” Culot said. “We have a lot of experi-
of that. We have been very successful with our stu-
dents even though the assessments have been chang-
ing. (The teachers are) the experts ... and they know
that if they see something in a module that doesn’t
Far left, algebra students take notes in class at Tappan
Zee High in Orangeburg. JOE LARESE/THE JOURNAL NEWS
Left, fourth-graders use objects to help them divide
during a math class at Cottage Lane Elementary
School in Blauvelt. JOE LARESE/THE JOURNAL NEWS
Teachers shape how
Core is applied, and
toss what won’t work
By Mareesa Nicosia
In the Yonkers schools, a vast system of 26,000 di-
verse and often needy students, the Common Core is
widely seen as something to rally around.
The standards present all sorts of trials for kids
from poverty, those with disabilities and those with
limited English skills — as well as for the teachers
and principals who have to prepare them for intimi-
dating state tests.
But educators say the standards set clear, K-to-12
goals for a system that badly needed them.
“We were fraught with inconsistencies,” said Mi-
chelle Yazurlo, principal of Palisade Preparatory
“Now we have a coherent approach to how stu-
dents should be educated,” said Edwin Quezada, as-
sistant superintendent of secondary instruction and
administration. “We are raising the bar for kids it
was not raised for.”
Many like the Common Core’s focus on literacy
and problem solving. On a recent morning at Patri-
including several with disabilities, studied division
by dividing up chips to tell “division stories.” To fig-
ure out how to divide16 crayons among four people,
students moved the chips into groups and used
terms such as “operation” and “quotient” to explain
A seventh-grade class studying patriots and loy-
alists during the American Revolution read an essay
by a “modern-day patriot,” the New York City ven-
dor who prevented a terrorist bombing in 2010. Stu-
dents answered questions in groups as they read,
then split into sides to debate the patriot and loyalist
Both lessons were active, with students having to
explain their thinking on the fly. “Now we’re more
focused on process than getting an answer,” Assis-
tant Principal Luke Schrade said.
The DiChiaro School has many students with spe-
that New York has not made accommodations for
students who will struggle, for a variety of reasons,
to hit state testing targets.
“This is a rigorous curriculum that does not meet
the needs of every child,” third-grade teacher Gia
“We want to raise the bar for every child, but our
school will take a hit if we don’t do well on state
tests,” Principal Pat Langan said. “It’s so unfortu-
Above left, Nicholas Naber teaches history to
seventh-graders at Patricia A. DiChiaro School in
Yonkers. RICKY FLORES/THE JOURNAL NEWS
system finds focus
via new standards
By Gary Stern
The Chappaqua school district has found itself
standing against the tide of state requirements that
insist local schools are not educating their children.
“The curriculum itself, Common Core standards,
already have,” Chappaqua Superintendent Lyn Mc-
Kay said. “For us, it’s not putting in a new curricu-
lum, it’s moving things around within the curricu-
lum, and sometimes we like that and sometimes it’s
not the way we like to see it.”
The district, which had among the highest scores
in the Lower Hudson Valley on 2013 standardized
tests based on Common Core learning standards,
last summer told its teachers to ignore the scripted
curriculum modules that have been posted on the
state Education Department’s EngageNY website.
One reason was to give the district time to see
where its own standards fell among the state’s re-
quirements; another was to double-check the mod-
ules for errors, which it has found, especially in the
The district feels strongly that it knows what its
students need and the best way to present informa-
tion, and it has the scores to back it up, said Eric
Byrne, assistant superintendent for curriculum and
instruction. Chappaqua is considered a training
ground for districts that need help, he said, and the
Administrators said they see no reason to reduce
education, including a balanced literacy program
that includes fiction, reading materials geared to
ability level and a lot of reading and writing of all
“If we’re going toensure public education isstan-
dard, it has to be a little less federal- and state-con-
trolled to allow districts to keep moving education
forward,” McKay said. “We feel so conflicted all the
time. Public education is not broken.”
There won’t be any rush to modify what Chappa-
qua administrators consider a system that works
“Our teachers do a very good job knowing who
their students are,” Byrne said. “We just want to
make sure that teachers don’t lose the ability to do
Above, Chappaqua Superintendent Lyn McKay and
Assistant Superintendent Eric Byrne talk about the
Common Core standards. JOE LARESE/THE JOURNAL NEWS
to fix a district that
has proven success
By Randi Weiner
“Our teachers do a very good job
knowing who their students are.
We just want to make sure that
teachers don’t lose the ability to
do that work.”
Chappaqua schools assistant superintendent