King hears Common Core critics


Associated Press

ALBANY -- State Education Commissioner John King Jr. told an audience of parents and teachers on Thursday that New York is not going to delay the new Common Core standards, but is open to making changes going forward.

The new standards, developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, have been adopted by most states and the District of Columbia despite some criticism that they are tantamount to a national curriculum.

King spoke at a forum in Albany, his first since an earlier series of planned appearances was canceled after he was shouted down at a meeting in Poughkeepsie on Oct. 10. He didn't encounter any similar disruption Thursday and got polite applause at the end of the event in an auditorium filled with about 600 parents, students and teachers.

But only one person among the nearly 70 speakers voiced support for the new curriculum. Most of them were educators from the Capital Region; many said they have school-age children; and a couple were students. Two speakers called for King to resign.

Many criticized the testing that comes with the new curriculum and some called for an end to the assessments of teachers linked to the test results.

"Our teachers are demoralized. We need to humanize education. It's not learning anymore. We're basically telling our young people to process information," said Bhawin Suchak, a teacher at The Free School in Albany, an inner-city, multicultural school. "I don't think that's what being a teacher is about. Being a teacher is about creativity, human connection, and learning to think outside the box."

Principal Tim Farley of Ichabod Crane Middle School in Valatie was the most vocal, criticizing the teacher ratings and calling for an immediate end to testing.

"I'm sick and tired of watching my kids cry," he said.

Bill Sherman, director of operations at Troy Prep Elementary School, was the lone supporter.

"They (students) wonder if we have enough standards," Sherman said. "I ask you ... to stay strong. We need this."

King also tried to reassure the audience.

"We should have as much assessment as we need and not more," he said. "We don't need more testing. We're very sensitive. The core curriculum is not about tests. A key opportunity for a young learner is for their teachers to be their guides to the world."

King said the new curriculum was not intended to be a script and should be adaptable to local needs. He also said the education department can do a better job communicating with its constituents.

"It is clear that it is not well understood," King said. "Every district, every school, needs to evaluate what makes sense. We are committed to making adjustments."

State officials said the Poughkeepsie forum was disrupted by special interests seeking to manipulate the meeting, while the parents and teachers challenging the commissioner said King simply refused to listen to their comments. King canceled other scheduled forums before announcing a new round of 12 starting in Albany and four that will be shown on public television.

The others will be in Rochester, Westchester, Schroon Lake, Binghamton, Amherst, Syracuse, and Jamestown, along with two each in Suffolk and Nassau Counties.

Under a new format, the meetings are being moderated by local state legislators, beginning with Rep. Patricia Fahy, an Albany-area Democrat.