By Paul Riede | email@example.com
New York Education Commissioner John King told a crowd of about 200 people at an afternoon forum at Fayetteville-Manlius High School that while he may tinker around the edges, the Common Core academic standards are here to stay.
"The commitment to the standards is unwavering," he said, after most of the 35 speakers blasted either the standards themselves or the way King's education department has implemented them.
A few of the speakers suggested imposing a three-year moratorium on some of the high-stakes consequences of the testing connected to the Common Core, including teacher evaluations. King said he has no intention of slowing down.
"If the question is, 'Are the forums going to result in any retreat from the Common Core standards?' the firm, clear, simple answer is no," he said.
The forum was not as staid as the session King held before a live studio audience at WCNY-TV in Syracuse Nov. 7. There was loud cheering as speakers criticized many aspects of King's policies. But there were few of the catcalls and interruptions that occurred during some of King's Downstate forums.
The auditorium was far from full, and several speakers blasted King for scheduling the forum for 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., when most parents were at work and it was difficult for educators in other districts to get there on time. Many of the speakers and audience members were Fayetteville-Manlius teachers.
King said he will have appeared at about 20 forums, and that scheduling them was difficult. He said he was due at an 8 p.m. televised forum in Rochester tonight.
He was accompanied on the auditorium stage by Regent Tony Bottar, Sens. John DeFrancisco and David Valesky and Assemblymen Al Stirpe and Will Barclay. Assemblyman Gary Finch arrived late and sat in the front row. The elected officials remained largely silent throughout the forum.
Some of the harshest criticism of King came from Kevin Ahern, president of the Syracuse Teachers Association, who blasted the state's "flawed" tests and teacher evaluations.
"The overreliance on testing, the lack of adequate resources to the district and the demoralization and deprofessionalization of teachers are happening in our district right here and now," he said. "The impact on our district has been devastating and has forced an already struggling school district into crisis."
He asked when the state will hit "the pause button on this failed agenda."
F-M social studies teacher Mark McGuigan began his comments by telling the panel, "I think you're all delusional." He said the money being spent on testing and teacher evaluations could be spent in classrooms and on extra-curricular activities for children, which are being cut in many districts.
"A cost-benefit analysis says this should be scrapped," he said.
Victoria Balintfy, a sixth-grade teacher at F-M's Eagle Hill Middle School, got an extended round of cheers when she said teachers were wasting valuable time preparing the paperwork for their evaluations.
"It seems that all this time could be much better spent actually creating highly effective lessons..." she said. "In the criminal justice system, a person is innocent until proven guilty. In New York state, teachers are ineffective until proven otherwise."
Other speakers focused on the suggested curriculum modules the state put on its website, engageny.org, saying they are heavily scripted, riddled with errors, confusing and too fast-paced.
King responded that the modules were only guides for teachers to adapt to their own teaching styles and decisions.
"We have tremendous confidence in the materials," he said to some groans and laughter from the crowd.
"Go look at them!" one woman yelled.
Others said they were concerned that big corporations have gained too much influence on the state Education Department. They pointed out that the state was using inBloom, a privately funded non-profit, to house extensive data on all the state's children.
And they suggested the department was being driven by analysts from the Regents Research Fund, a corporately funded group the state has hired to help implement the Common Core.
King said the student data is encrypted and secure and that inBloom is barred from selling or marketing it. Bottar said the Regents agreed to hire the Regents Research Fund because they had "a huge hole" in their own budget and needed the extra help.
In the end, 35 of the 45 people who signed up to speak got to do so before time ran out. They brought up most of the same questions and criticisms that have been raised in King's other forums, and King gave the usual responses.
As he has in the past, he said several times that there is a national consensus around the Common Core standards -- that 45 states have adopted them. And he said now is the time to act, because students remain behind in international comparisons and many high school graduates must pay for remedial courses in college because they are so ill-prepared.
He said he and the Regents are already working on adjustments, including cutting the time of some exams, allowing eighth-graders to take just the algebra Regents exam and skip the state math test, and seeking to allow students with disabilities to take exams that are more appropriate for them.