John King touts Fariña's focus on teacher training

A couple days after reprising his criticism of New York City’s enrollment policies, State Education Commissioner John King had nicer things to say about school system’s new boss, Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Fariña’s efforts for boost professional development for teachers earned praise from King, who said the extra training was a missing piece from implementation of the Common Core learning standards.

“I’ve been pleased that Chancellor Fariña has expressed a strong commitment to, not only the Common Core, but the professional development for teachers that will help to ensure its success,” King said today on the Brian Lehrer Show.

In her first five months on the job, Fariña has revived the Department of Education’s office of professional development and launched a program that encourages principals to share best practices at their respective schools. And next year the city plans to give teachers more training time during the school day, which King had repeatedly advocated for in recent months.

The remarks were King’s latest in a spate of public appearances leading up to Saturday’s 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision. He mostly stayed on message about what he thought was needed to end persistent educational inequalities, including a need to raise learning standards through the Common Core.

Critics have argued King has moved too quickly by basing high-stakes tests on the standards. This week, King likened the criticism to rejecting values that were enshrined in the 1954 Supreme Court case, which ruled that educational segregation was unconstitutional and compelled public schools to integrate along race and other demographic lines.

Brian Lehrer pushed back against that comparison on Friday, saying that some of the same groups that have criticized the state’s Common Core policies have a long history of civil rights activism.

“Are you saying that opponents of the Common Core approach, which includes some real campaigners for social justice, are racist?” Lehrer asked.

“I’m saying that the notion that there are some kids who just can’t be prepared for success after high school is wrong and inconsistent with American values,” King responded, referring to low number of black and Latino students who graduate ill-prepared for college-level coursework.

Lehrer also asked King to clarify his criticism of New York City’s enrollment policies, which the commissioner singled out in a speech on Thursday. In the speech, King said district and neighborhood zoning lines had created stark racial and socioeconomic disparities between schools situated just a few blocks away.

Lehrer pointed out research that found a large part of the reason New York City’s school system is so segregated is because of charter schools, which predominantly serve low-income black and Hispanic students.

King, a former managing director of Uncommon Charter Schools, said it was “a legitimate concern,” but played down the sector’s role because it serves “a very small percentage of students.” He also said their commitment to serve students living in low-income neighborhoods should be shared by more schools.

One caller identified herself as a parent from P.S. 282 in Park Slope, a elementary school that serves a large share of low-income students and is often seen as an example of disparities caused the city’s enrollment policies.

Instead of integration policies, the parent wanted to talk about the Common Core. She said the real problem is the curriculum that many low-income schools in New York City were using to adopt the standards.

Common Core criticism, she said, is “really against the very poor Common Core curriculum that was pushed by the DOE on schools and primarily taken by poorer schools.”

King reiterated a need for schools to do more professional development for teachers so that they’re aligning their lessons to the standards, which require students to read more non-fiction text and refer to it often in their work.

And King said the state could also be doing more to support districts.

“We’ve got to highlight examples of great practice [and] try to help people replicate those,” he said.

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