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NYSUT calls on Regents to fire state education chief

The leaders of the state’s largest teachers union Saturday called on the Board of Regents to remove Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. over his reaction to concerns about state efforts to reform public education.

The New York State United Teachers board of directors unanimously approved an unprecedented but symbolic “no confidence” vote during a meeting in Albany.

The union’s board also said it could not support the state’s implementation of new Common Core learning standards until the Board of Regents addressed concerns raised by educators.

“With respect to the commissioner of education, this is probably the strongest statement NYSUT has ever had to make,” NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi told The Buffalo News. “And it’s because we feel so strongly about policies that we believe are hurting children and our members.” Iannuzzi said the greatest factor behind the “no confidence” vote was “that the commissioner and the Board of Regents are not showing signs of seriously listening to the voices of parents and educators.”

A series of state education changes have fueled pushback from parents and teachers who have complained that students are being tested on the new standards before many schools have fully implemented them and that the state has been slow to provide classroom materials.

In addition to the new learning standards, the state also has a new teacher evaluation system and has been rolling out tougher new standardized tests that play a role in how teachers and schools are measured.

King is hired by the Board of Regents, whose 17 members are appointed by the State Legislature. Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called the implementation of the Common Core “flawed” and said he would create a panel to examine the issue.

King and the Board of Regents have said they will make adjustments, including seeking waivers from the federal government for some aspects of testing. “Now is not the time to weaken standards for teaching and learning,” King said in a written response to the union’s vote Saturday.

The teachers union has called for a three-year moratorium on using standardized tests for “high-stakes consequences” until teachers and students have more time to prepare for the new standards – a request King has called a “distraction.”

“In reality, they’re insulting all of those voices by saying we’re merely distractions,” Iannuzzi said.