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Education bill with Zeldin amendment to ‘allow states to opt out of Common Core’ passes Congress

An amendment to a federal education bill that will allow states to opt out of the Common Core standards has been approved by Congress, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who introduced the amendment, announced in a press release last night.

Zeldin’s amendment would allow states to opt out of Common Core standards, without risking the loss of federal funding, the congressman said. It will bring the control of education decisions back to the state and local level, he said.

He called it “a huge legislative victory for states seeking to withdraw from Common Core.”

“One of the biggest arguments against the repeal of Common Core in New York State has been that New York would lose out on several hundred million, if not billions, of federal dollars,” the congressman said in the press release announcing the bill’s passage. “The Zeldin Amendment is the single most effective way for the federal government to permit New York and other states to withdraw from Common Core without fear that there will be any loss of federal funding as a result,” he said.

Zeldin said “Common Core is not the answer” to higher educational standards. “Another important aspect in the fight to improve our education system is restoring local control and flexibility to our parents and local educators,” he said.

“We must shift the focus in our classrooms from testing to teaching, to ensure our children never lose their love of learning. As a father, and a Representative for Long Island, one of my top priorities in Congress will always be to seek solutions to strengthen our nation’s education system.”

Zeldin’s introduced the amendment to the Student Success Act (H.R. 5), which passed the House of Representatives on July 8, 2015. The amendment was included in the final conference agreement between the Senate and House. The final legislation passed the House yesterday, and will be sent to the president’s desk to be signed into law, according to Zeldin’s press release.

The Student Success Act is the House version of a bill that renews the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which has not been renewed since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was signed by President George W. Bush in 2001. The Senate passed its own version on July 16, the Every Child Achieves Act. A conference committee bill — a negotiated reconciliation of the differences between the two — was passed yesterday.

Zeldin’s amendment reads as follows:

(a) In General.–Nothing in this Act shall be construed
to prohibit a State from withdrawing from the Common Core
State Standards or any other specific standards.
(b) Prohibition.–No officer or employee of the Federal
Government shall, directly or indirectly, through grants,
contracts or other cooperative agreements, through waiver
granted under section 6401 or through any other authority,
take any action against a State that exercises its rights
under subsection (a).”

Opponents of the amendment, which ultimately passed 373 to 57, argued that the federal government does not set standards or curriculum and does not force states to adopt Common Core by tying federal funding to it. They called that “a misperception” because Common Core is “driven by” the states.

Common Core standards were released in 2010. The New York State Education Department told schools to start implementing the new standards during the 2011-12 school year. New York students started taking Common Core tests in spring 2013 – two years ahead most other states. When the test results came in, the percentage of students passing the reading and math tests fell by more than 20 points.

There has been an outcry from teachers, teachers’ unions and parents over the adoption and implementation of Common Core standards, coupled with the simultaneous implementation in New York of a new teacher evaluation system, which based 20 percent of teachers’ assessment ratings on their students’ test scores. New York then made it harder for teachers to be rated “effective” and made it harder for teachers without effective ratings to get tenure.

Parents and teachers began advocating that students exercise their rights to opt-out of state assessment tests. The opt-out movement grew and this year, more than 200,000 students — 20 percent of students statewide — boycotted the state math and English Language Arts exams.

Republican lawmakers have faulted the Cuomo administration’s implementation of Common Core and some, like North Fork Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, have called on the State Education Department to hit the pause button on implementation of the standards and the new teacher evaluation system.

In September, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his conclusion that “the Common Core program in New York is not working, and must be fixed.” He called for “a comprehensive review of the implementation of the Common Core Standards, curriculum, guidance and tests in order to address local concerns.”

The New York Times reported last week that the governor is ready to reverse course and reduce the role of test scores in teacher evaluations.  But administration officials told the Times say the governor is still waiting for the recommendations of the task force he empaneled in September.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.