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Cosentino: A political retreat, not policy reform, on Common Core

If one needs to measure whether the 2014-2015 New York state budget, approved just before the April 1 deadline, was an "election year budget," one need look no further than the so called "reforms" made regarding implementing the Common Core.

While he once may have been the strongest advocate for implementing the Common Core in the Empire State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was quick to "reform" it, when it was looking more and more like a political liability that could cost him votes in November.

Less a reform than a strategic political retreat, the budget deal puts in place some changes that critics of the testing and evaluation program have been advocating for some time. Cuomo did not seem willing to budge until recently. What may have changed his view?

Cuomo does not often have a political tin ear — the gun control SAFE Act being the possible exception — when it comes to policy development and implementation. He easily grasps populist themes that can pay political dividends or garner money for the state. You can see this in his moves with the Regional Economic Development Councils and creating state-sanctioned casinos. When he could rally the state to apply for $700 million for Race to the Top funding from Washington that would require signing off on the themes of the Federal Department of Education's Common Core Standards, there seemed to be no hesitation.

Despite protests by opponents of the Common Core of testing students and to use the results to evaluate teacher performance, as part of the compliance requirements from Washington, Cuomo and Education Commissioner John King were full speed ahead in their approach. But in an election year, when racking up a victory and, more importantly, a sizable victory are the priority, the cracks created by Common Core critics couldn't be discounted or bulldozed over.

At first it was some upstate Republican legislators issuing pointed criticisms of the Common Core and the implementation strategy. Then parents piled on, some unhappy that time was being taken from classroom time to shift to testing preparation — many deciding that their children would opt out of taking the tests. In the end it looks like over 5 percent of New York's students, more downstate than upstate, opted out of the tests. Piling on was the 600,000-strong New York State United Teachers union criticizing the use of results in teacher evaluations and possible dismissals. Topping it off may have been criticism from Cuomo's likely Republican opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who had his children opt out of the tests and is using the popular sentiment against Common Core as a plank to run against Cuomo.

With all that, Cuomo has since moved away from possibly linking, at this time, test results to teacher evaluations, possibly to secure the NYSUT endorsement. It does leave one big fiscal problem for the governor:  Albany may not be able to keep the $700 million it received from Washington, if it doesn't comply with Common Core requirements. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan can go after states for non compliance, and it sounds as if he is looking for some examples. For Cuomo, that is an issue he can only hope is raised after Election Day.

Cosentino is a former mayor of Auburn and can be contacted at


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