Educators, parents challenge state education commissioner

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Asked how he can resist the complaints of teachers, administrators and district staff, committed educators with years of experience, King said that they are “misguided” and that there is a lot of misinformation about Common Core. “We know that the program has to be adjusted, tweaked,” he said. “Every new program needs adjustment. We are in a seven-year process, and we are not going to slow it down. The pace of the introduction is reasonable.”

The forum addressed four topics: Common Core; the Annual Professional Performance Review program, in which teacher evaluations are tied closely to student achievement; the right of parents to “opt out” of the testing program; and student privacy rights. While it was scheduled to run from 4 to 6:30 p.m., it did not end until after 7, with people still firing questions and demands at King.

“My child studied for the state tests, and he cried every night,” Antonia Dimaggio of Franklin Square, a parent of a student at the John Street School, told King. “There was no enjoyment in going to school. He was simply overwhelmed by the constant practice tests. I’m all for my child being challenged, but I can’t even help him with his homework anymore. I try and help him do his math and he tells me that they don’t do it that way anymore. What do we gain by frustrating students and taking away the joy of learning?”

When King said that shared her concerns, there was laughter in the audience. “We know there is too much test prep, but that is directed from the districts, not from the state,” he said. “We want to engage in instruction, not just assessment, and we know that we have work to do in that area. We have to ensure instruction in all the subjects — social studies, science, foreign language.”

His answer drew calls from the audience that time for those subjects had been cut to make way for extra instruction in reading and mathematics, as well as test prep.

This has been shoved down our throat,” one participant told him. “We’re in the real world, and nobody in the state has thought of the kids. We’re not ready for the tests, and the kids are demoralized and losing self-esteem. You should have started this program in kindergarten and then moved it up one grade at a time instead of jumping into the deep water with both feet.”

A woman who identified herself as a parent and a high school and college math teacher told King, “Our educational system is not broken and we don’t have to fix it. A large percentage of our students go on to college. Our job should be to get our students, especially in the lower grades, to think creatively, to be curious and to love learning. We’re not doing that. Instead we use scripted lessons, with students spending lots of time filling in boxes. They hate to come to school.”

King denied that Common Core lessons are scripted. “That is not true that the teachers have to follow a scripted lesson,” he said. “The decision on how to use the material we provide must be local.”

That answer drew catcalls and boos — and that was the way most of the session went.

Martens said that the bills awaiting consideration in Albany would follow the recommendations of the state’s PTA to stop the process for a year to provide time to get it right. King, however, said that the state is not ready to do that.

“We are moving ahead with what the children need,” he said. “There are too many of our students who need remediation when they get to college, and that is not acceptable. We owe it to the students to move forward.”

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