The New York State Education Department has failed the basic course for good governance: listening.
After an embarrassing shouting match emerged during a Parent Teacher Association-sponsored town hall meeting about the Common Core standards in Poughkeepsie, Commissioner John B. King Jr. was befuddled by the session. After hearing a packed audience boo, jeer and hurl personal criticism at his family, he decided to suspend four other scheduled meetings.
The Education Department claimed the forum was co-opted by special interests. Mr. King is quoted by the Albany Times Union as justifying the suspension because the disruptions caused by the special interests have deprived parents of the opportunity to listen, ask questions and offer comments. ... Essentially, dialogue has been denied.
Before the Poughkeepsie meeting, 2,500 people gathered in Buffalo and 1,000 in Utica to comment on the newly adopted Common Core. In Albany, the city school board has scheduled a meeting to discuss a resolution decrying the over-reliance and misuse of standardized testing.
Mr. King was in Watertown in early October to urge school boards to stay the course with the Common Core. He told a packed audience, Its clear that educators in the state have risen to the challenges of higher standards in the past and will be able to rise to the challenges of higher standards now. More than 70 percent of north country students from third to eighth grade were not proficient in math or English language arts, according to tests given in the spring.
All these meetings are essential for local educators to hear directly from the commissioner, and they are important for the Education Department to hear back from the grass roots. And the department should expect that not everyone will cheer its curriculum strategy. Of all people, educators should know that America has a record of disruptive meetings especially when citizens share their deeply held opinions.
It is a shame that some people are uncivil, but boorish behavior has to be tolerated to an extent. It is not sufficient to react by announcing that all future meetings are canceled. Apparently, the firestorm of criticism of the departments reaction to the Poughkeepsie debacle has resonated in the department, which last week said it was working on a scheme to finalize venues where constructive dialogue is possible so that together with parents and educators we can discuss the Common Core and hear concerns regarding its implementation.
That is good news, but the meetings should not be held in the confines of a television studio with a handpicked audience. If NYSED officials want public input, they must listen to the frustrations of teachers, parents and students who attend because they are concerned.
Mr. King must travel outside of Albany and seek input to be used to tweak education policy to ensure success. This is the time for grass-roots expertise to become a top line agenda item in the state capital.