Educational public forum sparks debate at Mineola High School

Educational+public+forum+sparks+debate+at+Mineola+High+School

Aaron Brezel and Madeline Fagen

Parents, teachers, and administrators gather at Mineola High School to participate in a public forum regarding the recent changes in the state’s educational policies.

Aaron Brezel and Madeline Fagen, Aaron Brezel, and Madeline Fagen

From the back of a pickup truck, parent Jeanette Deutermann of North Bellmore addressed the crowd, who had come prepared with signs calling for the resignation of state officials and the abolishment of the Common Core.  On Nov. 7, the Mineola High School auditorium became the latest backdrop in the ongoing battle over the fate of the new Common Core standards.

Tensions reached a boiling point the day before at Ward-Mellvile High School when over 1,000 community members attended a rowdy public forum that saw State Education Commissioner Dr. John B.  King get booed by disgruntled attendees.  Dr. King was already forced to cancel several other public forum appearances across the state due to aggressive backlash from those communities.

At Mineola High School a day later, Dr. King was forced to kick the hornet’s nest again as disgruntled parents, teachers, and school administrators sounded off in what ended up being a less acrimonious event. However, Dr. King was still the target of many picket signs and pointed questions.

The structure of this public forum was tightly controlled.  Dr. King was joined by Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch and John Martins, the elected representative of the 7th Senate district of New York, who moderated the event.

To prevent emotional outbursts that characterized many other Common Core discussions, all questions asked during the three-hour forum were submitted for approval prior to the event.

Additionally, the forum period was split into four sections, each with a different topic: Common Core, Student/teacher evaluation practices, new testing strategies, and student privacy.

Finally, admission to the event was limited to 700 people who gained entry using tickets that were distributed to school districts around Mineola.

While each question directed toward Commissioner King was technically limited to one minute, flaring tempers often led to prolonged dialogue.  Some particularly animated speakers were able to whip the crowd into a frenzy of applause.

Throughout the forum, the major area of debate involved the Common Core standards.  The purpose of the Common Core is to provide consistent guidelines about what students should be able to do at each grade level. Evaluative tests are administered on a yearly basis to ensure students have mastered the curriculum.  The overriding principle is that adherence to these Common Core standards will ensure college and career preparedness.

Parents and administrators criticized these guidelines saying that they were interfering with the learning process and handcuffing teachers from tailoring the curriculum to individual needs.  A common complaint was that too many hours were spent teaching to the test, and not teaching creatively.

Concerned community members cited the drop in state testing scores as proof. Compared with 2012 results, passing rates have dropped from 16 to 25 percentage points in reading, from 27 to 44 percentage points in math, and from 9 to 33 percentage points in science, depending on the test.

While there is a clear decline in performance and New York State insists that the Common Core is revealing deficiencies in public school curricula, it also understands that introducing the new standards into the school districts is more than a one-year process.  On the local level, however, administrators and teachers insist that the drop in scores is because it has been a year of too much, too fast.

“The NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] results for New York students confirm what we already know: our students are not where they should be,” said New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl H. Tisch.

Despite the progress the chancellor anticipates, parents and administrators claim that since many aspects of the Common Core standards are untested, there is no definitive proof that there will be future success.

Many forum speakers claimed that their own school districts already prepared students well enough for life outside of public school without the help of the Common Core.

“How is your definition of instruction better and more effective than ours if yours is untested and unproven, while ours has seen 90% of our students continuing on the college and graduating? ” said Port Washington Board of Education Trustee, Mr. Larry Greenstein. Essentially, Mr. Greenstein maintained that the Port Washington School District, like many other top districts, does an excellent job of preparing its students and doesn’t need the Core standards.

It was suggested by one speaker that the new standards and the funding to implement them should only be applied to schools struggling to prepare students for later life.

Parents also worry about the budget to implement the Common Core and cooperate involvement in its execution.  Of the hundreds of million of dollars being poured into Common Core, more than $160 million have been donated to promoting the Common Core by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.     Corporations collect data on students and participate in the development of district wide technological programs, such as the Emblem Project.  While this data supposedly goes toward building a more comprehensive teaching database, community members fear corporations could use the students’ data toward their own selfish economic advancement.

“How is this education and not marketing?” asked a concerned parent.

The speed and complexity of the implementation of Common Core was among the most popular concerns.

“The way this whole process was rolled out and shoved down our kids throats, they weren’t ready for this,” said another parent.  “Halt.  It’s too much, too fast, too soon.”

Teachers and parents said that children were not prepared for these changes, thus  causing extreme stress in the students, and triggering educators to simply teach for the test instead of practice good instruction.  By giving the state more time to implement the new standards, they can be more successful and effective, according to some.

In addition to all of the proposed concerns, parents wonder if New York State officials are even hearing their feedback.  When asked if she thinks the Department of Education will listen to the concerns and incorporate some of the suggestions, a local parent replied, “No, but we’re not going to stop.”

Despite the claimed “federal takeover of our education” the department does not plan to cease execution of the Common Core standards.

“We are not going to stop the work on the Common Core. We are absolutely committed to it,” said Commissioner King.  “We see the Common Core as a path to ensuring that more of our students are college and career ready.”