Long Islanders outraged over New York’s direction with education in public schools took their concerns directly to state education commissioner John King Tuesday night during a public forum in Manorville.
When Mr. King first walked onto the stage in the Eastport-South Manor High School auditorium, he was greeted with a large portion of the 1,000-person crowd, mostly teachers, quietly holding up green and white signs that read, “We are all more than a score.”
Several area high school students also asked questions and made statements.
Connor Sick of Rocky Point High School wanted to know “why failure is being used as a weapon” to try to get children to perform better in school.
“As a student who takes his studies very seriously, failure is not motivational,” he said. “It hurts.”
He received a standing ovation.
Throughout the three-hour meeting, attendees often became disruptive , jeering as the commissioner attempted to respond to audience questions. Then, as he began to give his final remarks at the conclusion of the meeting, almost half the crowd walked out, with one heckler shouting: “You’re not listening! Goodbye!”
Mr. King continued to defend New York’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which requires, among other things, instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age.
He also championed the state’s lessons plans designed to support the new curriculum, known as “modules,” as well as new, state-mandated teacher evaluations and a contract with inBloom, Inc. that will store student data and personal information.
But Mr. King acknowledged some adjustments are needed, such as reducing student testing requirements, especially with English as a Second Language students and students with disabilities.
“Disagreeing isn’t the same as not listening,” he said as residents started to leave during his closing remarks.
Frustrated parents criticized Mr. King, who was joined on stage with Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents Meryl Tisch and Regent Roger Tilles, throughout the meeting and asked that the state scrap the new education mandates.
Many parents told stories about how test anxiety has hurt their children. Others expressed how they are annoyed by how the state Department of Education rolled out the new requirements for public schools.
Recently retired teacher and Wading River resident Terry Kalb said she’s “alarmed” about the current teacher evaluation system, especially for special needs teachers.
“Even if they have perfect scores on their observations in the classroom, because they teach students that are physically, cogitative or emotionally impaired, the test scores are going to be low,” she said. “Those teachers are rated ineffective — by mandate.”
But two people who took to the podium spoke in favor of Common Core, to the displeasure of the crowd.
The Common Core standards were created by nonprofit organizations, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, as a way to better prepare students from across the U.S. for college and careers after high school.
Along with the federal government, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded the Common Core initiative. Pearson, a worldwide publishing and educational company, is the primary producer and seller of Common Core instructional materials.
In 2009, through the “Race to the Top” program, the federal government offered $4.35 billion in competitive grants to states that adopted Common Core standards and developed plans to improve state test scores and teacher evaluation results.
The following year, New York adopted the Common Core in order to qualify for a $700 million portion of the federal grant, and later published lesson plans for teachers to help students meet the new standards.
Earlier this year, and as part of Race to the Top requirements, the state did direct New York school districts develop their own teacher evaluation systems, known as annual professional performance reviews plan (APPR), lest the districts risk losing additional available state aid.
The state Department of Education has been heavily criticized by school officials across New York for pushing the new mandates before districts were ready for them. While many educators embraced Common Core when it was first introduced, they’ve since demanded that the state hold off on implementing the new student assessments based on Common Core and the APPR plan until the rigorous curriculum is properly implemented inside the classroom.
State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who hosted the meeting, told Mr. King he believes a moratorium on the state’s plan is needed.
“We need a delay so we can get everyone in synch,” said Mr. LaValle, himself a former educator and school administrator.
Other local residents with ties to the North Fork that addressed Mr. King included Riverhead School District parent Catherine Callaghan, Shoreham-Wading River school board president Bill McGrath, Aquebogue Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Shelly Walker, Mattituck-Cutchogue High School math teacher Kathleen Scholand, Riverhead Middle School English teacher Mindy Benze, Riverhead High School librarian Kim McGurk, Shoreham-Wading River Teachers’ Association president and special education teacher Lucille McKee and Southold School District Superintendent David Gamberg.