King should listen more on Common Core

October 17, 2013


Daily Gazette, Thursday, October 17, 2013

State Education Commissioner John King was treated roughly by teachers and parents at a town hall meeting held last week in Poughkeepsie to discuss the Common Core learning standards. He promptly cancelled four other town halls that were scheduled around the state, including one at Shenendehowa High School, saying the one in Poughkeepsie was “co-opted by special interests.” Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, a former school board member and mother of a current high school student, sent King a letter asking him to reconsider and hold those meetings. He should.

It’s not pleasant to be spoken over and shouted down, as a YouTube video shows King was in Poughkeepsie. For a productive dialogue, people need to really talk and listen to one another.

That was a problem in Poughkeepsie, and it was precipitated by and representative of a bigger problem with the Common Core itself. Teachers and parents, even those who support Common Core, feel that King and his Education Department aren’t giving them the time or resources to implement it properly. That frustration spilled out at the meeting, especially after King spoke for the first hour and then demanded the floor again to defend himself after someone complained that he’s making these major changes to the public school system while he sends his children to a private school.

We support the Common Core, which is a voluntary state-led effort (45 states have signed on) to bring clarity and consistency to what is expected of kids in their learning, regardless of where they live. It will deepen their understanding of subject matter and their critical thinking skills. And, eventually, it will help schools to assess student and teacher performance better, and help teachers to teach better.

However, the implementation has been forced and flawed. Teachers need more time to familiarize themselves and their students with this new way of thinking and get up to speed. Until then, there should be a moratorium on using standardized tests for student grades and teacher evaluations (perhaps not the three years that New York State United Teachers has called for, but at least a year or two). And it may be possible to have less of an emphasis on testing after that, while still teaching the Common Core.

But for these things to happen, King (who as a public official should be prepared to be held accountable and take some criticism) needs to do less talking and more listening. He should start by holding those scheduled meetings, with a format that gives people more time to speak — civilly if not quietly.