Parents and Faculty Speak Out At Commissioner of Education John King’s Forum

Erika Riley, News Editor

On Tuesday, November 12, Commissioner of Education John King held an open forum in the auditorium of Ward Melville High School. The forum was a community hearing where both faculty and parents from districts all over Suffolk County came together to speak about the issues that are important to them regarding the New York education system. These faculty and parents were, to say the least, passionate about the issues discussed.

Before the forum began, parents and students held a protest together on the front lawn of the school, with a police car beside them on the other side of the fence. Signs and glow sticks were being waved, creating a neon glow. The protestors chanted into bullhorns, “Let teachers teach!” as a remark about the integration of the Common Core Standards, a hot topic for the evening.

The auditorium was packed full to the brim with parents wielding signs with phrases such as “Students are not test scores” and “High-stakes testing takes the enthusiasm out of learning.” The Ward Melville Jazz III Ensemble played on stage as people filled in.

The meeting was run by members of the Ward Melville student government, who announced the name of each speaker and held signs announcing when their time was up. Each speaker was allotted two minutes to say their peice.

The first speaker, William Connor Jr. of the Board of Education, opened by speaking about the main topics that would continue to be discussed for the next two hours. He claimed he was behind the philosophy of the Common Core, and saw it as helpful for students going onward to college, as it would prepare them for their coursework. This cued many groans from the audience, displaying the general attitude of the audience toward the Common Core Curriculum. However, Connor admitted that there needed to be changes if the Common Core is going to work. He believes that we need to collaborate, cut back the stress on high-stakes testing, and make classes smaller. English learners and students with disabilities should take different standardized tests than the rest of the students their age.

These same values that Connor expressed seemed to be the opinion that the vast majority of speakers shared. Most went over the allotted time of two minutes because there was so much to be expressed.

Levi MacIntyre, principal of Longwood Junior High, asked the Commissioner why his effectiveness rating dropped from a nineteen out of twenty to eleven out of twenty in just one year. “I am the same man I was last year,” he told the Commissioner. “Why am I not as good this year as I was last year?” The Commissioner did not address these effectiveness scores during his allotted time, although many other speakers also addressed the issue.

One of the crowd favorites was a teacher from Setauket Elementary School, Eric Gustafson, a veteran teacher who has taught third, fourth, and fifth grades.  He had many concerns regarding the implementation of the Common Core Standards, and the APPR system, which he says is “draining of us time and financial resources.”

On the issue of testing, he says, “We have created children who are experts on sitting for seventy five minutes and spitting back well-rehearsed test responses. Testing is not learning and the well-paid Pearson and their high profit testing structures do not measure learning at all. Sadly, school has transformed into exercises towards high scores on high-stakes testing all at the expense of real education. … Your message is clear. You no longer stand by the teachers or the students of the state, you stand by the governor and paid business; you clearly have no interest in the successes of children. You are failing, not us!”

By the end of his speech, the crowd was on its feet and cheering for the Setauket School teacher, who clearly articulated the feelings of the parents and faculty attending the forum that evening.

After a few speakers finished, Commissioner of Education John King had the opportunity to respond to the speeches in a five minute time slot. The crowd started to drown him out during his first few minutes with their groaning and complaints. Eventually, a Ward Melville student had to take the microphone to remind everybody to show respect to the Commissioner and let him speak. Yet, the parents were still not pleased with what he had to say. Most of his responses were about the guidelines presented by the government that he had no option but to obey, such as the amount of testing. He claimed that New York State only added a few more tests than were necessary, which to the angry parents and students, are still too many. On the issue of alternate testing for students with disabilities, he explained that only one percent of test-takers are allowed to take alternate tests, and it is difficult to decide which one percent of students should take that exam.

This forum gave the community a chance to speak out against the current state of our education system, which clearly, many people are upset with. Now that the Common Core Standards have been adopted in forty-six states, it’s clear that this is the direction our government wants to take and continue throughout children’s primary and secondary education. With the Race to the Top Initiative, the Common Core Standards, APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review), and high-stakes testing all being implemented within the last couple of years, educators and parents are overwhelmed. Although these new programs are not popular, public forums, such as this one, can help the Commissioner better understand the concerns of teachers and parents.