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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

N.Y. State Commissioner John King’s ‘Message’ Gets Cancelled

By Peter DeWitt — October 15, 2013 5 min read
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“Unfortunately, the forums sponsored by the New York State PTA have been co-opted by special interests whose stated goal is to “dominate” the questions and manipulate the forum.” John King

NY State Education Commissioner John King recently cancelled a series of town hall meetings sponsored by the NY State PTA. King intended to hold parent meetings to discuss the Common Core State Standards and state assessments with parents from around the state. He was taking pre-approved questions from the crowd but most of the meetings that were held did not go well. One particularly negative meeting was held in Dutchess County where the crowd turned on him.

My colleagues from Leadership 360 wrote,

“NYS Education Commissioner John King has begun presenting at public forums about the Common Core State Standards across the state. Hundreds turned out at each one, angry and prepared for disruption...shouting over his attempt to answer questions, assaulting him with name calling, and booing and cat calling. The tension was palpable from the beginning. Police were present and were needed. In the last one, he left the stage without a salutation, a sign, a farewell. There was no applause for his valiant effort to carry his message to the field.” Read the rest of their blog here.

Anyone in a leadership position knows that leadership is hard. If you have ever been on the receiving end of name calling and angry statements from a crowd, you know it doesn’t feel good and wish that people would be civil. Angry crowds don’t happen without reason, at least when it comes to education. Something builds to make someone angry enough to show up to a meeting and yell.

Attendees in each crowd where Commissioner King spoke were not civil. It’s sad that in so many places in our society we have shut down any chance to talk. We would never allow this of children in our schools but it is happening too frequently with adults. But people are angry and the town hall meetings were a place they could express that anger...although Commissioner King did not have that in his plan.

In a statement from Tom Dunn, Director of Communications for the State Education Department, King wrote,

“I was looking forward to engaging in a dialogue with parents across the state. I was eagerly anticipating answering questions from parents about the Common Core and other reforms we’re moving ahead with in New York State. Unfortunately, the forums sponsored by the New York State PTA have been co-opted by special interests whose stated goal is to “dominate” the questions and manipulate the forum.”

For full disclosure I do not like when people call someone names from a crowd. We should all be better behaved than that. Contrary to popular belief, I believe that our educational system can be stronger and I work with many teachers day in and day out who feel the same way. We all can strive to do better when it comes to educating our students. However, many schools were doing an amazing job, they had high graduation rates, and students were inspired to be creative. Commissioner King did not often talk about that.

And sadly....

This eruption of anger at town hall meetings sponsored by the NY State PTA could have been avoided. King sees this situation very different than people who have been trying to share their opinions with him. Parents, teachers and students are being pushed and prodded by special interests (i.e. Pearson, Amplify, inBloom, etc) but Commissioner King seems to ignore that. He only seems to see the special interests that are fighting him, not the ones that stand behind him.

Time and time again we have said that many teachers and principals value assessments because they provide information on where children falter and where they succeed. Many educators work hard to provide effective feedback to students. Hopefully, they are also accepting and learning from feedback they get from their students.

Unfortunately, NY state assessments do not provide that type of important information, and if the tests are truly important there is simply no reason why the state should not provide that to schools. We deserve more than a number and a cut point. Anything less than item analysis, and valid and reliable tests are frustrating to educators and counterproductive to educating students.

In a decade when the education department wants to have assessments online, parents do not get any results from the state until five months after the exams have been given. Seriously? In 2013 when we talk about technology and social media and the important role they play in education, we have to wait five months for results that only come in the form of a number? We once used to get item analysis and now we don’t get anything? How did the state education department decline in providing their feedback to schools.

NY’s Education Mess

To clear up some very misguided information, there are many teachers and school leaders who believe schools can do a better job of educating students, and they are spending countless hours finding student-centered approaches to learning. Over the past few years, due to special interests that have hijacked NY state Education, many teachers are more concerned about the way politics have affected their jobs, which has clouded their view on which fight is worth fighting.

It’s unfortunate that Commissioner King was abused by a crowd, but I feel even worse that students have been abused by a system of leaders who didn’t listen to the cries of educators who asked for slower changes and better professional development to understand those changes. And because people like Chancellor Merryl Tisch said there is no time to slow down the Common Core, ignored the mess of state assessments, imposed changes on students, parents and teachers... people snapped. Sadly, from his response to the cancellation of the town hall meetings it seems that John King still doesn’t get it.

Read more by Anthony Cody here.

Read more by Carol Burrishereand here.

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Update: 10/19/13 - Commissioner King scheduled new town hall meetings. Read the press release here.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.