JAMESTOWN, N.Y. - New York State Education Commissioner John King addressed the controversial Common Core standards in front of a rowdy crowd at Jamestown High School Wednesday, prompting a fellow education leader to state publicly that it was perhaps the most disruptive public forum he'd ever attended.
Even harsh words from the moderator -- who said before the meeting that "if you give me grief, I will turn your microphone off" -- didn't stop dozens of public speakers from attacking King and his educational panel on the stage. The action started only a few minutes after the forum began. The first speaker told the panel that "you nod your heads, sometimes you smile, but I'm not sure you're really listening," and the second speaker angrily approached the moderator after being told her allotted time had finished. Although some educators spoke in favor of the Common Core, other parents and teachers lashed out during the forum. A fifth-grader even took the podium with his mother at one point to criticize state officials.
"I'm disappointed when the discourse isn't civil," King said after the forum. "I think it's important that we're able to disagree without heckling, without being disrespectful."
Bob Bennett, a member of the Board of Regents, said "I don't think I've witnessed this much interruption in a public forum in my life."
The Common Core, adopted in 2010 by the state of New York to dramatically raise standards for students in the public school system, has led to decreased test scores and has come under fire from parents for destroying creativity in the classroom and placing too much stress on children.
Some of the most impassioned public speakers attacked King's panel for overburdening children with standardized testing. During each speaker, a significant portion of the audience stood in silent protest, some holding signs that read "NOT A TEST SCORE."
However, King calls this criticism a "misconception," noting that almost all of the state-administered testing in schools is federally-mandated. He said the increase in testing happens at a local and district level-- and has nothing to do with the Common Core, which has been implemented in almost every state nationwide.
"I would emphasize that the Common Core hasn't added a single test," King said. "The state testing requirements have essentially been the same since the adoption of No Child Left Behind."
The forum marked King's first Common Core discussion in Western New York. A meeting in Amherst was previously cancelled, but King said this evening that an appearance in Buffalo is in the works. He said that meeting will be scheduled for some time during the next few weeks.
"When you raise standards, across 45 states and the District of Columbia, you're going to have challenges along the way. It's not going to be an overnight process," King said.
A Buffalo Public Schools spokesperson said district leadership is committed to working with parents and community stake holders and that BPS is implementing the guide from the state education department with respect to the Common Core.