At issue is a new, voluntary curriculum in mathematics and English/language arts that New York purchased from private vendors and is offering for free online as each piece is completed. Also at issue are new tests that the state had designed to reflect the Common Core State Standards, and which are scheduled to be given for the first time next month.
New York is ahead of most states in its work to design detailed curricula and professional development for the common core and to build brand-new tests to reflect them. What's unfolding in the Empire State as a result of that work illustrates the way the common standards can pressure changes in the education landscape, and torque the tensions involved in a deep reworking of curriculum and instruction.
What happens in the publishing world, for instance, when a state demands total ownership over the curriculum materials it purchases so they can be available to all for free? And what happens when pivotal stakeholder groups disagree about the pace of change that best serves schoolchildren? Those questions sparked the two waves of concern that have arisen from New York's curriculum procurement and its assessment timeline.
The first came from the publishing world, whose biggest players snubbed the competitive procurement process because of unusual requirements that the materials be free of licensing restrictions that would interfere with New York's desire to make them available for free online. The second and current wave arises from the state teachers' union, which welcomes the curriculum itself, but believes that it's too soon to test students—and evaluate teachers—on it. Many pieces of the curriculum are posted on the state's common-core website, www.engageny.org, but it won't be complete until December 2014.
"We're giving the test before teaching the curriculum. That's not what you should do," said Maria Neira, the vice president for research and educational services for New York State United Teachers. "We're rushing to do it, instead of doing it right."