October 18, 2013
Less than a week after he called off parent meetings that he said were “co-opted by special interests,” Commissioner John King announced a slate of new forums that will be moderated on different terms.
The new meetings, like the old ones, are meant to address concerns around the state’s transition to Common Core learning standards and the increased role of testing in schools, a contentious issue for parents who fear it’s leading to narrowed curriculum and instruction. A dozen of the meetings, which will begin in Albany on Oct. 24 and take place over six weeks, will be hosted in partnership with state lawmakers who will moderate the forums. Another four events will be broadcast on local public television stations with studio audiences.
The department didn’t release additional details for the meetings on Friday. None are planned for New York City, but a spokesman said the department was “looking to cover many more communities.”
After he canceled the meetings late last week, accusing outside groups of trying to derail the original purpose, King came under intense criticism from parents, teachers and lawmakers, with some calling for his resignation. They said the decision was just the latest move that showed King’s disinterest in hearing opposing views to his agenda.
“To me, the canceling of the forums was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, a Democrat from Westchester, one of the legislators who has called for King’s resignation. Abinanti called the forums “a step in the right direction” but said he still believed King should step down.
In a statement, King said the fresh slate of meetings would give parents a chance to discuss their concerns with him in a way that would not have been possible in the nixed meetings.
“We want the conversation to rise above all the noise and make sure parents understand the Common Core, and, just as important, we want to understand parents’ concerns,” King said in the statements.
Officials have sought to ease tensions in other ways. The state is proposing to allow students who take a high school-level math Regents exam to skip required eighth grade math tests, an attempt to cut back on “double testing” and which will need federal approval.
The state teachers union, which called for a three-year moratorium on tying new Common Core state tests to teacher evaluations, said it will host its own set of meetings in the near future. Details aren’t yet set and a spokesman did not return requests for comment.
One meeting that King hasn’t canceled is a panel discussion next week with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who is backing the union’s bid to slow down the evaluation rollout. The theme of the event is “finding ‘Common Ground’ in moving the education reform conversation forward.”
Asked over email if she still planned to attend, Weingarten tool a veiled shot at King.
“Unless some emergency happens I don’t cancel what I have committed to do, no matter what the heat,” she said.