Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

October 16, 2013

Education chief cancels town hall meetings

BY JOE OLENICK joe.olenick@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — New York State Education Commissioner John King has canceled the remaining stops on his Common Core town hall meeting tour, which included a stop in Williamsville next week.

In a statement released over the weekend, King said special interest groups were manipulating the forums and depriving parents a chance to listen and ask questions about Common Core and other education reforms.

King was in Poughkeepsie on Oct. 10 for the first town hall meeting. After a barrage of loud and angry criticism, King called off the rest of them.

“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,” King said. “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.

“Parents don’t deserve to be dominated and manipulated.”

King was scheduled to visit Western New York on Oct. 24, at Williamsville North High School.

The Common Core Learning Standards, adopted by the state Board of Regents in 2010, are supposed to help students be better prepared for college and careers, state officials have said. The standards are based on a more narrowly focused curriculum that favors depth over covering a wider range of topics and skills.

As a result, state tests including ELA and math assessments have increased in difficulty. This past spring, the first time the tougher tests were given, schools across the state saw scores plummet.

On its website and Facebook page, the New York State Parents Teachers Association – which sponsored the meetings – told members King had “concluded the outcome was not constructive for those taking the time to attend” the town hall meetings.

State PTA President Lana Ajemian issued a response Monday that seemed to side with King’s stance.

“The purpose of the Town Hall meeting was not to hold a protest rally, nor to provide a forum for insult, personal attack, or overall disregard – this disregard was not only between the audience and the commissioner but between audience members themselves,” Ajemian said. “Some asked to be allowed to hear responses while many out-shouted their ability to do so. Despite requests by the commissioner and NYS PTA to be courteous, disruptions continued and escalated.”

A large chunk of time was spent trying to settle the audience, Ajemian said. When King asked to clarify some inaccurate statements, some audience members jeered and shouted, “adding to an already hostile environment. It was not constructive or productive to continue.”

She said the forums were initiated by the collaboration of the state Education Department and the state PTA. 

”However, their intended purpose cannot be achieved in similar or more contentious environments. So, rather than repeat the same, we learn from this and we regroup,” she said.

The state PTA said it will try to find another way for parents to both learn and share concerns regarding the Common Core. King said he will do the same.

“My office will continue to work with PTA to find the appropriate opportunities to engage in a real, productive dialogue with parents about our students and their education,” he said.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241, or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.