Joseph McDonald, a professor of English education at NYU Steinhardt, (pictured far left) was the moderator for Friday morning's NYU Steinhardt Education Policy Breakfast Series. Pictured from left to right: Randi Weingarten (president, American Federation of Teachers), James Cibulka (president, National Council for Accreditation of Teaching Education), Okhee Lee (professor of teaching and learning at NYU Steinhardt) and Ramon Gonzalez (principal of M.S. 223).
PHOTO: Megan Quitter
Joseph McDonald, a professor at NYU Steinhardt, (pictured far left) moderated Friday morning’s NYU Steinhardt Education Policy Breakfast Series Common Core discussion. From left to right: Randi Weingarten (American Federation of Teachers president); James Cibulka (president, National Council for Accreditation of Teaching Education); Okhee Lee (NYU Steinhardt professor) and Ramon Gonzalez (M.S. 223 principal).

Principal Ramon Gonzalez has been a principal for ten years, but this week, he said, he’s experienced a lot of firsts.

“I’ve had my first experience of students vomiting on a test. After we cleaned off the test, we had to call testing security to make sure it was still valid,” he said. “I have to tell you, I was happy to submit that test to the testing authorities.”

Gonzalez, the principal of M.S. 223 in the South Bronx, joined education policy makers at an NYU Steinhardt breakfast meeting Friday morning to talk about the Common Core learning standards. Some presenters talked about standards’ role and development, but Gonzalez focused on his frustration with implementing the new standards and the shock that students and teachers faced this week when they saw the first Common Core-aligned state exams.

“They didn’t know it would be a test of endurance. They thought it would be a test about what they knew,” he said. Teachers were visibly upset by the test’s length, he said, and some students cried because of the exams.

Gonzalez began implementing the Common Core at his school two years ago and started a summer “bridge” program last year to give students more time to adjust to the higher standards. He said he supports the more rigorous standards but thinks important other issues, such as how to teach to the standards and assess them, were not carefully thought out.

He also said the way the standards are written is so dense that he had to hire consultants to help explain what they mean.

“I wonder who was at that table, who wrote the standards, because it sure wasn’t folks like me,” he said.

Another panelist, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, also supports the standards but has been vocal in her criticism of New York’s implementation of the Common Core.

“What has happened here is we have the cart before the horse,” she said. “How do you put $350 million of federal money into assessment development and not put any money directly into preparing teachers to do this?”

Her question was met with applause as she went on to single out New York and Kentucky — the first two states to tie their exams to the Common Core — as doing the worst job of implementing the standards.

“Frankly, no one in business would ever do this if they were rolling out a new product,” she said. “No one would just say to employees, ‘Just do it.’ No one would say to customers, ‘Oh, by the way it’s really not gonna work the first time.'”

Weingarten said she would release a survey of AFT members’ opinions on the Common Core next week. That survey included an extra-large sample of New York teachers.

During the question and answer period, former State Education Commissioner David Steiner defended his successor, John King, and King’s implementation of the Common Core. Steiner listed some steps the state took under King’s leadership to try to help teachers better understand the new standards, such as creating free Common Core curriculum materials and training educators during multiple summer sessions.

“My concern is the effort is never enough,” Steiner said. “Are we going to lose the reform because we can never do enough? I urge us for the sake of underprivileged children … not to let this go because we haven’t done enough.”

For now, principals such as Gonzalez have to figure out how to get their anxious students through the next week of testing, this time in math.

“I don’t think we really understood how stamina was going to play  a role in this test,” he said. He added, “I wasn’t expecting to deal with all the emotions. That surprised me.”