There’s no question that a “town hall” meeting on newly enacted Common Core curriculum, hosted by the New York State PTA, became heated Thursday night in Poughkeepsie. The new education standards were attacked, and New York State Education Commissioner John King — sometimes standing to respond to speakers — was widely criticized. The public comment period was cut short. Many in the audience, including parents who traveled from the Lower Hudson Valley to express their concerns, were furious.
Now, four other town hall hearings have been “suspended,” according to the state PTA. In announcing that decision, King stated the forum had been “co-opted by special interests” and painted the decision as a favor to parents, who had been “deprived” of the opportunity to listen.
Nonsense. Sometimes, democracy is messy, and loud, and insulting. King needs to get input from parents — who are the ultimate “special interests” when it comes to their kids’ education. That means less talking by state officials, and more listening to the parents on the front lines.
Parents as expertsKing may have bristled at audience members’ complaints about Common Core in general, as well as sharp critiques of how it is being implemented in New York. But there’s room for reflection, and parents are the experts on how the new standards impact their kids.
Most states, enticed by the carrot of Race to the Top funding, have adopted the federally pushed Common Core standards. New York, though, has proceeded, full steam at implementation. That’s been worrisome for educators, whose performance is tied to their students’ standardized tests results, and parents, who have seen their children’s grade 3 through 8 test scores plunge after last year’s realignment with Common Core. Critics say quality education, and creativity, is being sacrificed at the alter of high-stakes, high-pressure testing.
The format of Thursday’s forum — King speaking for well over an hour, and then each speaker given a two-minute limit — added fuel to the burning anger many parents already feel about the way the state has fast-tracked the new Common Core standards. While King may have felt compelled to answer statements by frustrated parents as if they were questions, he would have served the speakers, and himself, better by realizing it was simply his turn to listen.
King issued a statement Friday that said the forums had “... been co-opted by special interests whose stated goal is to ‘dominate’ the questions and manipulate the forum. ... The disruptions caused by the special interests have deprived parents of the opportunity to listen, ask questions and offer comments.”
Speakers, who identified themselves as public school parents, expressed concerns about student privacy issues, about lack of creative lesson-planning by stressed-out teachers, about curriculum that aims too high for most young learners. These are all legitimate concerns that the commissioner should hear.
At the Poughkeepsie meeting, parents were active, they were impassioned, and in many cases, they were rude. While steps can be taken to create a better environment for civic engagement, they should be easy to institute quickly, so planned forums in Buffalo, Utica, Long Island and Albany can go ahead as scheduled. The fix is simple: More active listening, and less defending, on the commissioner’s part.
SED Officials, indeed, education reformers across the land, have set this up through their own arrogance, their refusal to listen to dissent over their agenda and their insistence that their will be done on education policy no matter what.
Even in his statement, King says parents were deprived of the "opportunity to listen" to him pontificate about the Common Core and SED reform agenda.
King himself, along with the other arrogant education reformers, have set up the anger in the public and this will get worse before it gets better.
These education reformers are like the bully on the playground who continually antagonizes and provokes the other children, then is surprised when one of them hits back.