It is not surprising that State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. moved on two fronts last week in response to critics of the new Common Core standards he has championed. He has shown himself to be tough but open-minded since taking over as commissioner and, frankly, we wouldn’t have expected any less from him.
In a major move Friday, King proposed revisions in the testing program despised by many parents and teachers. He is asking the federal government to allow the state to eliminate a state test for eighth-graders taking advanced math and modify tests for new immigrants and severely disabled students.
Earlier in the week he decided to resume public meetings on Common Core, reversing a decision to cancel the sessions after shouting and personal insults disrupted a meeting in Poughkeepsie. On Thursday, he waded in again with a meeting in Albany that was a marked change from the circus that preceded it.
New York is taking the right course in adopting Common Core. Without Common Core or something similar, children will be poorly equipped to compete for jobs in an ever-shrinking and increasingly competitive world. That would be the consequence if their protests succeeded.
Moving to Common Core requires the state to determine how well the program is working, and that calls for standardized tests.
But those facts don’t mean that King and his department have handled the rollout as well as possible. It is very difficult to implement a broad and influential program seamlessly – see the Affordable Care Act for validation – but too many parents don’t understand the program. That is partly their responsibility, of course, but the state needed to take the lead.
The meetings play a crucial role. Implementation of the Common Core standards represents a turning point in American education, and it is important for state education officials to hear what parents and teachers are saying about it, and for parents and teachers to learn some things they might not know.
That wasn’t happening in Poughkeepsie. Part of that may have been King’s fault. Those attending felt his presentation was too lengthy, given the total time available, and that parents were thus given too little opportunity to raise their concerns.
That doesn’t excuse the mayhem that erupted at the meeting, but it did provide a path forward to organizing the new set of events. That lesson appeared to be learned in Albany, where about 600 parents, teachers and students had the opportunity to express their concerns and did so in a calm manner.
The Education Department needs to be flexible where possible. Modifying the testing regimen is a step in that direction. King and his top aides need to continue listening to what parents and educators are saying. Almost surely, they have ideas that would not only improve the program, but give them a greater stake in its success. King offered that reassurance to his Albany audience. “We are committed to making adjustments,” he said.
But he was also clear that the Common Core standards are here to stay. They have been adopted by most states and the District of Columbia, and that’s for a reason: American education isn’t good enough. It needs to improve if the country is to maintain its stature in the world and if its children are going to lead productive lives.