It was clearly a difficult night for New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John King and Chancellor Meryl Tisch.
The two sat alone at a table on the auditorium stage at Mineola High School on Nov. 13, listening as some 47 teachers, administrators and parents, many of them both school staff members and parents, spoke out about the state’s rollout of the Common Core State Standards.
Not one of the 47 said they approved of the way the state has introduced the program to local school districts.
And many of King’s answers to questions about the issues surrounding it — testing, privacy rights, teacher evaluation — were greeted with groans, jeers, laughs and shouts from the audience.
As part of an agreement to receive extra federal funding from the Race to the Top initiative, New York, like most states, has instituted an extensive testing regimen based on the Common Core Standards, a national initiative that aims to prepare students for college and careers by the time they graduate from high school. Part of the plan involves using student test scores to help evaluate teacher performance.
That has angered many teachers, who say they haven’t had adequate time to prepare students for the new tests. At the same time, parents complain that their children are being tested too early and too often.
The forum in the 800-seat auditorium, which was sponsored and moderated by State Sen. Jack Martins, a Republican from Mineola, was invitation-only. Martins said he gave 50 tickets to each of the school districts in his senatorial district, and they in turn were given to school staff and administration. With each ticket came the right to ask a question. Questions had to be submitted in advance, and were reviewed by State Education Department officials. Martins was not allowed to see the questions in advance, his spokeswoman said.
Demonstrators from other school districts around the county, who did not have tickets, gathered outside the school. One of them was Michael Dolber, a teacher in the Bellmore-Merrick school district for more than 40 years and a union representative, who said that he and the others who joined him outside the building were concerned with education.
“Public education is a large issue,” Dolber said. “There are problems with how the state is handling the Common Core rollout. There are problems with children with special needs that amounts to child abuse. Kids are important, and the state is trying to privatize education, to give it to the big corporations.” That contention was a common thread in many of the testimonials given by those who asked questions of King and Tisch.
At a press conference in the school’s band room before the forum began, Martins said that there are several bills in the hopper in the State Legislature that would slow down the Common Core rollout. “It is clear that there are real problems with the Common Core program,” he said. “There are implications for special-needs students and for parents who want to ensure their children’s privacy. There are problems with over-testing. We are not going to abandon three million students.
“We are not going to step back from providing a better education,” Martins added. “We want to provide training for our teachers, and we want to give tests that actually test what kids have been taught. We agree with the state’s PTA that we have to slow down and take a year to ensure that the roll-out is realistic and does what it is designed to do.”
King, speaking to reporters, said he would not agree to slow the process. “Under the Common Core, students are getting the skills that they need for college and career,” he said. “To the extent that people want to stop the Common Core, I would say to them that we’re not going to do it. We’re not going to stop. We are committed.”