Federal, state officials care little for parents' concerns


The evening of Nov. 13 was clearly a difficult one for New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John King and Chancellor Meryl Tisch.

Although, it was not like they hadn’t heard it all before. Opponents of the way the state has rolled out the Common Core standards demand to be heard, and they are not taking any prisoners — especially among the enemy, the New York State Department of Education.

The two state officials sat alone at a table on the auditorium stage at Mineola High, listening intently – some say without hearing a word — as teachers, administrators and parents, many of them both school staff and parents — 47 in all — spoke out about the state’s roll-out of what has popularly come to be called the Common Core.

While all of them approved of the Common Core standards, but not one of those 47 people said that they approved of the way the state has introduced the program to local school districts.

I was standing to the right of the stage, speaking with participants after they had spoken to King and Tisch from the podium below where they were sitting.

One after another walked away shaking their head and many had the same comment: “They didn’t hear a word that I said.”

Apparently, the uncaring, unhearing feeling extends to the federal educational bureaucracy as well.

Speaking to state school superintendents about the complaints about the rollout of the Common Core standards and testing program, the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, said “It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from sort of, white, suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary. You’ve bet your house and where you live and everything on ‘my child’s going to be prepared.’ That can be a punch in the stomach.

So, the problem with the rollout is not with the educational officials who fouled up, but with the parents, who don’t understand what is going on.

And so with King, many of whom’s answers to questions about common core and the issues surrounding it — testing, privacy rights, teacher evaluation — were greeted with groans, jeers, laughs, shouts and demands 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, a national initiative that aims to have kids college- or career-ready 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 teachers who say they haven't had adequate time to prepare kids for the new tests. At the same time, parents complain that their children are being tested too often and too early.

That most of those present in the Mineola High School auditorium for the forum, sponsored by State Sen. Jack Martins (Rep. – Mineola), opposed the state’s roll out was an indication of how strongly school people feel about the issue.

A recent poll by a respected company found that 45 percent of New Yorkers were confident that the Common Core standards would better prepare students, with 49 percent not confident. That is not exactly a rousing endorsement for a program that the state is pushing hard to sell as one that will ensure that students who graduate public schools will be ready for either college or a career.

The survey also said that 52 percent of voters think there is too much testing in public schools.

And while 34 percent think the Common Core standards are too demanding, 27 percent said they are not demanding enough, and 23 percent said they are about right.

"On the implementation of Common Core standards in public schools, New Yorkers are as divided as a physical education class that just broke up into teams," said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg. "There's no consensus at all on whether the standards are too demanding, not demanding enough or just right."

If the participants at the forums held on Long Island over the last two weeks is any measurement, however, there is a consensus on the state’s implementation of the program and that overwhelming consensus is that the state has screwed the pooch — rolling out the program so badly and so without feeling for kids or parents that King and Tisch should be taken off the field and replaced by somebody who listens, somebody who cares.

The state’s PTA has called for a one-year moratorium on both the roll-out and the testing programs to give schools a chance to catch up in both curriculum and material to address that curriculum. The association that represents Nassau County principals agrees.

They are right, as were the parents, superintendents, teachers and students who stood face to face with Tisch and King and told the two that they are wrong to continue the draconian program without taking a deep breath and without fixing the apparently broken program.