Afternoon read: High emotion in Common Core debate

Saranac Lake middle school students take the state standardized English language arts test in April 2012 in the school's gymnasium. Photo: Chris Knight, courtesy Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Saranac Lake middle school students take the state standardized English language arts test in April 2012 in the school’s gymnasium. Photo: Chris Knight, courtesy Adirondack Daily Enterprise

New York’s education commissioner John King was supposed to hold town hall meetings across the state to discuss the new Common Core curriculum that the state rolled out last year.

The meetings were sponsored by the New York State PTA.

But after a meeting in Poughkeepsie got pretty rowdy, Commissioner King has cancelled the remaining 4 meetings.

He said in a statement that the PTA-sponsored meetings had been “co-opted by special interests.” 

Lana Ajemian, president of the New York State PTA,  wrote about the divisive meeting on the organization’s blog, saying that the atmosphere was “not productive to continue.”

You can see a video of testimony at the Poughkeepsie meeting here The crowd starts jeering when the commissioner begins to address the crowd during the public comment period. It’s around 5 minutes and 27 seconds in. 

Emotions run high when it comes to Common Core — and the testing it requires.

Are you a teacher, parent, or student who has experience with the new curriculum? What do you think? Is this debate happening in your community?

33 Comments on “Afternoon read: High emotion in Common Core debate”

  1. Sorry but I don’t think responsible public servants cancel meetings just because the audience doesn’t ask softball questions. You take the slings and arrows and ask people’s legitimate questions because it’s your job.

  2. Jim says:

    From what I understand the “special interests” that co-opted the meeting were teachers and, primarily parents of those most affected by this latest of idiotic progressive fads in “education”, the students.

    Have to agree with Brian; if he can’t take the heat this clown should get out of the kitchen.

  3. mervel says:

    I am not sure of the point of the public town hall meetings? What do you want to find out?

    I find people being stupid at public meetings; just shouting down people as a particularly useless exercise and worthless, much like trolls on the internet. I mean the point is to express your opinion, not be bullies by shouting people down. How different are these people than the tea party who just shows up and yells?

    I am not necessarily against canceling these as they don’t lead to much anyway, just a forum for the idiots.

  4. Paul says:

    Attended a meeting here on this at our school last week. Emotions are far to high to have a very productive discussion. We managed to have a productive one once a few people had their chance to vent at the beginning of the question period. If the crowd is ” jeering” that says it all. They only care about themselves and not the students. What a horrible lesson. I hope the kids didn’t see it. We all have to deal with this as best we can. The goal is reasonable the execution is poor. It is like building the plane while flying it.

  5. Paul says:

    Also, I consider this silly journalism. Focusing on the emotional outbursts is unproductive. It is like in DC. The press is doing a great job at keeping people’s eye off the ball and on what is not important and inflames the debate and makes it drag on longer.

  6. V. Burnett says:

    Commissioner King’s decision to cancel all other meetings is in line with the State Ed Department’s response history on this issue. People have been writing letters, signing petitions, making trips to Albany to meet with SED officials regarding concerns about these testing strategies and about funding decisions for several years now. They are not interested in addressing the very real & widespread concerns that parents and children & teachers have concerning these massive policy changes and new mandates. Jeering and shouting is not productive, but that is what you get when you establish a reputation for not listening to those you are supposed to be serving.

  7. JDM says:

    Commissioner King thinks he is smart, and all these teachers and parents are stupid.

    Once you understand that, everything else makes sense.

  8. Pete Klein says:

    Of course King is smart, as are all the overpaid hot shots at SED who don’t do a darn thing except get paid big bucks to screw things up – just like all the smart people in Albany and Washington.

  9. Paul says:

    “Jeering and shouting is not productive, but that is what you get when you establish a reputation for not listening to those you are supposed to be serving.”

    If it doesn’t serve the children don’t do it. Parents should be teaching their children that there are times where you disagree strongly with what someone or some entity is doing and you have to work through is constructively. Jeering accomplished nothing, with the exception here of ending the meeting, and the people who actually can act civilized loosing the opportunity to give feedback.

  10. Knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Maybe the commissioner should insist that parents bring their children to these meetings so that the kids can watch and see how their elders behave.

  11. Curt Austin says:

    An element of our society has always favored emotional outbursts over critical thinking – children. Recently, another element has emerged that favors the same thing. This element is not in favor of education as I define it.

  12. The “special interests” King derides (parents and teachers) are two of the three groups most affected by the ivory tower-conceived changes. The other, of course, is the students themselves but we would never deign to give them a voice. So why did he bother to schedule the meeting in the first place if he just wanted to hear from people who agreed with him? He should’ve just set up a meeting with execs from the standardized test industry.

  13. Paul says:

    “So why did he bother to schedule the meeting in the first place if he just wanted to hear from people who agreed with him?”

    The meeting that I attended had mostly people who did not agree with how this is being managed. That doesn’t mean that it has to devolve like this. He knew going in that almost everyone disagrees with this. What is important now is not to jeer and argue but to figure out how to deal with it. I have two kids in school now I personally want to see this work out. If you can’t control yourself stay home.

  14. oa says:

    The Common Core is actually just old-fashioned intensive instruction. It’s not ivory tower, it’s battle-tested in schools, it’s quite conservative, and it works. A good article on it here:
    Here’s a pull quote:
    Common Core’s architect, David Coleman, says the new writing standards are meant to reverse a pedagogical pendulum that has swung too far, favoring self-­expression and emotion over lucid communication. “As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think,” he famously told a group of educators last year in New York.

  15. Paul says:

    oa, having attended the meeting I went to I tend to agree. The idea behind this is well founded. The execution just needs some major work and that is the reason for these meetings to figure out what it is WE as concerned people can do to make it better. When that is met with jeering you have to question the motivation of some people. More evidence that some people prefer to argue rather than work together these days.

    One disgruntled person at the meeting I went to kept yelling at the administrators things like:

    “my kid has this or that going on WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT!” It was insane. Like I said once those few folks got that stuff off their chests the rest of the meeting was very productive and I am glad to say that here in our district I think we are all going to work together to get it right.

  16. Jeff says:

    I see we have a bunch of people here who don’t know their conditional relative frequency from their joint relative frequency. Otherwise the would be no need to discuss the core…. (terms in the core NY math program grades 9-12)

    My 10th grader’s math teacher said the content of their core was way over the heads of students- 3rd year college stuff. I’m not saying it isn’t worthwhile but can you easily put a 4″ piston into a 3″ cylinder without taking time to bore it out? The teacher believes there is too much out of context to present and it is out of sync with the sequence the students were in.

  17. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    When I was in high school my joint relative frequency was pretty high, so to speak. Probably more frequent than kids today. Surprised at how school has changed; they used to frown on that sort of thing.

  18. Pete Klein says:

    Maybe we should get rid of the SED. It has a record of tinkering with education and accomplishing nothing but providing absurdly high pay to people who were not elected by the voters. Like many state agencies, it is a power unto itself and is a sinkhole for tax payer dollars.

  19. Mervel says:

    I feel sorry for teachers, one change after the next, one cycle after another, we never stick with anything in our public education system.

    Yet basic mathematics, science and literature are the same (yes I realize that theoretical Math/science etc is continually changing) as they were 50 years ago. In general I would be in favor of the concept of a common core from what I can tell, however if history is any guide in 5 years we will have a new buzzword and a new plan and a new idea for “fixing” our education system.

  20. Mervel says:

    This is just the current wave. Now what it will do is line the pockets of the multi- billion dollar educational resources business, who are selling this stuff. The churning may have a lot to do with continually selling us new educational products.

  21. Mervel says:

    I wonder how much support and push from above the common core would have if local schools and the state department of education said fine we will implement this concept, however we are not buying ANYTHING we are not investing ANYTHING in training, textbooks, curriclum, and so forth, we will do it on our own based on our current materials and resources.

  22. Paul says:

    Mervel, that is kind of what they are stuck doing anyway. One of the problems is that we don’t have the text books that cover this. We only have the online “modules” and it looks like some of them have errors. Like I say it is the execution that is faulty not necessarily the content.

    Much of this comes from the fact that colleges have found that something like 40% of their incoming students fail to have some of the most remedial skills.

    One thing that people can do if they want to help (once they get tired of complaining) is to go online and help edit the materials. Find the mistakes and alert your district to them. Like I said feel free to help us build this plane as we are stuck flying it!

    If NY can pull it off they will be a leader nationally.

  23. The Original Larry says:

    Based on what one sees and experiences in this country today, reading, writing and basic math are what is needed. All the rest is expensive and unnecessary window dressing.

  24. The more I hear about it, the more this bothers me. King gave an introductory speech and then tried to go into another long babble during the time designed for audience questions. Did he want a dialogue or a monologue?

  25. Paul says:

    It’s here. You can complain all you want. Or you can deal with it. Since I have kids in the system I choose the latter (even if I didn’t have kids in school I hope I would think the same way).

    Brian if he was interested in a monologue why hold a meeting at all? Maybe he actually was interesting in helping people understand what is going on, or maybe he actually wants to see the state succeed in this endeavor?

  26. erb says:

    I disagree that math, literature or any subject is “the same” as it was 50 years ago. Sure, numbers still correspond to the same values and every sentence still needs a subject and verb, but how we read and do math has changed a lot. We do not memorize large chunks of text or lots of formulas, because we can easily look them up. My pet peeve is that reading lists have changed too little to reflect newer work and new attitudes.

    This is not, strictly speaking, relevant to the issues addressed by Common Core, but I think we need to be careful when we look back through our hazy memories to the good ol’ days.

  27. The Original Larry says:

    “…how we read and do math has changed a lot.”

    It sure has! Many people can’t do either now. Writing is a completely lost art. People can’t even speak correctly.

  28. Mervel says:

    I agree erb.

    I don’t think we should look back to the good old days of education in the US, as I have not seen any evidence that the public education provided 30 or 50 years ago is any better than it is today as far as outcomes go.

    I would however suggest that instead of continually re-inventing and churning “new” ideas about how to teach math, science, reading and literature, we would simply look at the techniques used by the countries that are doing much better in these areas in outcomes. Indeed it seems many do utilize memorization much more than we do particularly in teaching math, numerical fluency is important and it often does rely on some memorization. Also it looks as if they do not change and churn new teaching concepts every 5 years or so as we do in the US.

  29. Mervel says:

    I think we have to do something however to be more competitive in the next century. The world has changed, technology and science are more important than they were even 20 years ago. We are seeing a divide in opportunities between those who are fluent in STEM and those who are not.

    At the same time we argue about the minutia of teaching techniques when we know that what really really matters in outcomes according to the research I have seen is one major thing; excellent teachers. An excellent teacher is far far far more important than the details of particular curriculum. The research also shows that having a very bad teacher can literally put kids a full year behind and for some kids on the margin even further behind.

    We have around a 20-25% national high school drop out rate in the US, think of it 1 in 4 nationwide don’t get through high school, a particular curriculum is not going to impact that number.

  30. erb says:

    Yes, motivated teachers are the key, and I feel that we have good teachers in our area, luckily. My ideal curriculum would focus on critical thinking, giving students the tools to evaluate the stories they are told. Common sense is not that common, and sometimes the truth is counter-intuitive. And we really need to get rid of ideology and groupthink in what we teach, on both the right and the left.

  31. The Original Larry says:

    “I don’t think we should look back to the good old days of education in the US, as I have not seen any evidence that the public education provided 30 or 50 years ago is any better than it is today as far as outcomes go.”


  32. Paul says:

    No, in fact I am amazed when I see there are often a majority of students in a graduating class that still are the first generation to go onto college. There are no “good old days”. What do you want a program to return us to the one room schoolhouse? No thanks.

  33. The Original Larry says:

    There sure were “good old days.” They were the ones during which we could expect the majority of high school graduates to be literate. I want a program that produces people who can read, write and speak more or less correctly. We can work on math later.

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