While Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella asked last week that his state legislators either help him change the state testing system, or remove him from office, his elected Assemblyman, Steve Englebright, would prefer that someone else be removed: the state Education Commissioner, John King.
"The test scores that have been in the press over the last few days are not limited to Comsewogue School District," Englebright, D-Setauket, said last week. "They are statewide. And, so if there has been a lapse of leadership, that leadership, that resignation, should be the commissioner of education."
Englebright, who is expected to attend a rally this upcoming weekend at Comsewogue spearheaded by Rella – called 'Students, not Scores' – is a former public school teacher himself, and said in an interview that during King's brief tenure as state education commissioner (he was approved by the Board of Regents in 2011), he has lifted the profile of charter schools at the expense of the traditional public school system, and rushed into adopting the Common Core standard before appropriately training teachers for it.
Pointing to a dramatic drop in test scores across the state – a drop in scores which King said "tell us that we have a long way to go" in a letter last week – Englebright said the burden falls on him to be responsible for the gap in scores.
"Where should we turn for preparation? We turn to the state education commissioner ... The first head on the block should not be Joe Rella. It should be John King."
In an effort that the Obama administration has called a "historic moment in American education," passage of Race to the Top funds in 2009 has since dedicated over $4 billion in federal dollars to states that adopt a certain set of standards, meant to lift low-performing schools, bridge a socio-economic gap in education nationwide, and focus on developing areas such as science, technology, engineering and math. Thirty-six states have since qualified, and New York State earned just under $700 million to adopt to those standards. However, some school districts on Long Island, including the Three Village Central School District, declined to accept the Race to the Top funds because the costs of implementing the program's requirements would have amounted to more than the actual funds the districts were slated to receive.
Englebright said be believes the effort was rushed to get the funds, and efforts by the state to implement a change in test standards, in concert with what he called favoritism toward charter schools, show a lack of concern for children and parents in the traditional public school system. According to an annual Race to the Top summary report for New York State, 209 charter schools currently operate throughout New York State. The Board of Regents approved 13 more to open in the fall of 2013, and the SUNY Board of Trustees has authorized 15 other charters to open.
The assemblyman, who sits on the legislature's Education Committee, said that over the next few months – before the Assembly opened its next session in early 2014 – he will continue to evaluate what exactly he can do to change what he's seeing.
"By myself, I am not able to do as much as I would like. So I will work with my colleagues. I'm sure I'm not the only person who is skeptical about this disparaging strategy that seems to now be consistent with the general drumbeat coming out of the education commissioner's office."
With the chairman of the New York State Senate Education Committee, John Flanagan, holding at least five hearings around the state to provide oversight of the NYSED's controversial education reform regime, there is going to be plenty of opportunity to put NYSED Commissioner King under the spotlight for scrutiny and accountability.
And in two weeks when parents get a look at their children's Common Core test grades, the ones that plummeted statewide, there will be another opportunity to apply pressure to Commissioner King and put him under the spotlight for scrutiny and accountability.
King thinks he's got autocratic power over students, teachers and schools to do whatever reformy nonsense he wants in order to push forward his pro-charter/pro-privatization agenda.
I suspect when parents get a gander of their kids' test scores and start to contact their elected representatives around the state and scream about them, King will be disabused of his perception that he is all-powerful and unaccountable to anybody other than the hedge fund/Wall Street-funded, pro-privatization crew that put him into his office.