Sometimes reality can overwhelm rhetoric, and that appears to be the case with a recent set of statewide public forums planned by State Education Commissioner John King. King intended to use the forums to provide more information about the rigorous new Common Core curriculum.
But after a disastrous first meeting (see YouTube video below), King abruptly cancelled the rest of the forums. King began the first presentation at Spackenkill High School in Poughkeepsie. When he finished, the microphone was turned over to parents and teachers for what was supposed to be a question and answer period.
Instead, King was roundly scolded and shouted down by an angry and emotional audience. King blamed the disruption on “special interest” groups, which is a strange way of referring to a room full of concerned teachers and parents.
What’s particularly odd is how unprepared King was to handle something that was fairly predictable. The Common Core has been highly controversial in many states, including New York. Though King's office warned of a dramatic drop in test scores earlier this year, no one was prepared to hear that just 31 percent of New York’s students are proficient in math and reading.
It’s likely that King would have been met with the same reaction if he had appeared in Rochester, where the city school district’s scores are the lowest in the state.
While there is enormous pressure from the highest levels of government to whip up higher test scores in math and reading and to better prepare US students for a global economy, there is an equal degree of disagreement among many parents and teachers about the top-down strategy for getting there.
Many teachers complain that their performance reviews are attached to test scores on material they weren't prepared to teach. And many parents are fed up with what they see as testing mania. And ironically, many parents and teachers are also concerned about the special interest groups who are pushing the reform agenda – businesses that benefit from big government contracts that see cash-ready education as the next frontier.
Cancelling the forums may have helped to solidify those concerns instead of resolve them.