The anger of parents and teachers over the state’s Common Core Standards program and the testing that is its companion boiled to the surface on Oct. 15 at an Oceanside Board of Education meeting, with several trustees and parents excoriating John King, the state’s education commissioner, who earlier that day had canceled a public meeting in Garden City at which peopled were to be allowed to speak out on the new program.
In a prepared statement, King said that he could not host the Garden City meeting because “The disruptions caused by the special interests have deprived parents of the opportunity to listen, ask questions and offer comments. Essentially, dialogue has been curtailed.”
King’s opponents charged, however, that those “special interests” were largely teachers and parents who simply wanted to have their views on the controversial program heard. That King instead held a meeting in Oyster Bay for hand-picked teachers, administrators and parents did not mollify local parents and school officials.
“As a taxpayer, a voter and a parent,” said board Trustee Seth Blau, “I believe that it is a complete disgrace that King canceled the one opportunity that the teachers and parents of Nassau County had to voice their concerns and to tell the king that he isn’t wearing any clothes.
“As the chief education officer of the state,” Blau added, “he should be ashamed of himself.”
Blau called on the board to ask local elected officials to put a hold on the program. He also called on parents to contact King and other officials and express their views on the issue.
In response to the concerns of parents, the board and the district administration, a special board meeting will be held at the middle school on Nov. 4, at 7:30 p.m., to address parents’ questions and discuss what action the board can take.
Trustees told the audience that the board would investigate with its attorney the possibility of drawing up a resolution calling on the state to hold the program in abeyance until problems can be resolved.
A number of parents spoke on the subject. One was Mary Ann Troy, a reading teacher in Baldwin who has a first-grader at School #3. “The implementation of the Common Core is making my daily life difficult,” Troy said tearfully. “I grew up in Oceanside, graduated from the high school and then chose to raise my children here. I know that education begins at home, but the schools are not properly meeting the needs of their students because of the Common Core Standards and the testing program that comes with them. Every parent should know what is going on. There are horrific tragedies in the classroom because of the assessment program.”
That drew cheers from the auditorium crowd.
“We need our children to love school, to love learning,” Troy added. “Now they’re not loving school or learning, not connected to what they’re learning. Bubbling in a worksheet and circling pictures is not learning. What is taught is robotic, memorizing, learning to take tests. It is rote memorizing, not learning. We have to trust our teachers to educate our children.”
After the meeting, Troy clarified her remarks. “I’m sure that all of our teachers are doing what they believe is best for our students,” she said. “It’s the programs, not the teachers, that are at fault. I want to make that clear and ensure that nobody misconstrues my words.”
Linn Woods, the head of the district’s PTA council, told Troy that she and others should be careful about “making sweeping generalities.”
“I am sure that Ms. Troy did not mean to disparage the teachers in her son’s school,” she said. “Unless somebody is in the classroom each day to see what is going on, that person should not be an alarmist. There is nothing wrong with a ditto sheet that asks kids to circle a picture or a right answer. We’ve been doing that for 50 years.”
“The Common Core needs to be tweaked,” Woods added. “We’re not going to get King out of office or do away with the tests. We have to do what we rationally can do to make learning developmentally appropriate.”
Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Harrington said there is no way to opt out of the common core program, no method of refusal. “We do not have any options as a public agency,” she said. “We have to obey state law. We can advocate for change, but we are obligated to obey State Education Department rules. I would not disagree with the people who have spoken here tonight, but in every classroom we are implementing Common Core to the best of our ability and in the best interests of our students. We are advocating, but we can’t do any more.”