loyal welcome

A warm reception greets King and the Common Core in Brooklyn

Supporters of the Common Core standards greeted State Education Commissioner John King at the forum in Brooklyn Tuesday. Many members of the parent advocacy group, StudentsFirstNY, arrived early to the meeting, snatched up many of the speaking slots and hoisted similar signs during the forum.
PHOTO: Monica Disare
Supporters of the Common Core standards greeted State Education Commissioner John King at the forum in Brooklyn Tuesday. Many members of the parent advocacy group, StudentsFirstNY, arrived early to the meeting, snatched up many of the speaking slots and hoisted similar signs during the forum.

A well-organized coalition of parents, teachers and advocates turned out in full force to public forums Tuesday night to support Commissioner John King and his push for tougher learning standards that have sparked opposition in most other parts of the state this fall.

The groups, which included StudentsFirstNY, Families for Excellent Schools and Educators 4 Excellence, used the hearings in Brooklyn and the Bronx to make arguments in favor of the Common Core standards that they feel have been left out of recent debates. In particular, some parents argued that the tougher standards are urgently needed to improve the quality of struggling schools, while some teachers said they enhanced their instruction.

“To those of you who are calling to slow it down or stop the movement for these high standards, you do not speak for me or many of these parents,” said Mery Melendez, a charter-school parent and organizer with Families for Excellent Schools who spoke at the Brooklyn hearing. “We’re tired of waiting for change.”

The supportive presence was most apparent in a packed Medgar Evers College auditorium in Crown Heights where the Brooklyn forum was held. A much smaller audience showed up in the Bronx, though it offered more mixed reviews of state education policies.

Critics at the events – who in Brooklyn were vastly outnumbered – challenged the notion that the standards benefit students. Others argued they were too quickly incorporated into the state tests and that they leave some students behind.

“I believe it is imperative that we find another tool to monitor the progress of ELLs and students with disabilities,” middle school parent Angela Rodriguez, who otherwise supported the Common Core, said at the Bronx meeting.

Asha Hargrove, holding her 15-month-old daugther, Najah, defended the Common Core standards at a public forum in Brooklyn Tuesday evening. Hargrove, who is a member of StudentsFirstNY, said she had considered putting her daughter in private schools because she was unsure of the quality of the local public schools in Crown Heights. "But when I learned that the Common Core was going to be implemented, I thought, 'Maybe I will send her to public school.'"
Asha Hargrove, holding her 15-month-old daugther, Najah, defended the Common Core standards at a public forum in Brooklyn Tuesday evening. Hargrove, who is a member of StudentsFirstNY, said she had considered putting her daughter in private schools because she was unsure of the quality of the local public schools in Crown Heights. “But when I learned that the Common Core was going to be implemented, I thought, ‘Maybe I will send her to public school.'”

The friendly turnout for King was a break from some of the hostile crowds that have greeted him in other parts of the state on his six-week tour, which has included 10 community forums and four televised events. King and the education department organized the forums after a first attempt to meet with parents became too disruptive, he has said.


A question coming into the city hearings was whether King would face the same opposition as elsewhere in the state. Some allies, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, have suggested that criticism comes mainly from affluent parents with students in suburban schools, not low-income parents in urban school systems.

Thanks to the organizing efforts, which included matching signs and monopolized speaking slots, King encountered virtually no push back. Many parents and teachers framed their support for the Common Core as a civil rights issue about holding schools to the same standards regardless of the student populations they serve.

“I think it’s a cruel injustice to expect less from our minority students than we do of their more affluent peers,” said one teacher.

A press release passed out by StudentsFirstNY before the forum used some of the same language, calling the Common Core a “lifeline” and a “critical civil rights issue” for “communities with failing schools.”

“Across the state there’s a lot of good work happening around the Common Core, so it’s encouraging to hear teachers and parents describing that work,” King said after the forum.

“It doesn’t change that there are undoubtedly challenges and places where we need to make adjustments,” he added, citing plans to increase funding for teacher training and to allow students with disabilities to take tests at their level of instruction rather than their age.

Some objected to the organizing tactics, complaining that supporters showed up well before doors opened to fill out the first speaking spots, which essentially froze out any chance for there to be an opposing view. They also said that their message was unnecessarily polarizing.

Sarah Porter, a parent at Brooklyn’s P.S. 132, called it a “false dichotomy,” which says “if you’re against any part of the Common Core, then you are therefore against educational equity.”

Not everyone to speak shared a rosy view, however. Katie Lapham, a teacher at P.S. 214 in Brooklyn, showed up early enough that she was able to beat the crowd of supporters.

“The Common Core has led to scripted curricula that do little more than prepare students, beginning in kindergarten, for high-stakes Common Core standardized tests,” Lapham said.

Class Size Matters' Leonie Haimson testifies about the state's student data policies at the Bronx forum. She wants the state to give parents the option to opt out of sharing their children's data with some third-party vendors.
Class Size Matters’ Leonie Haimson testifies against the state’s plan to share student data with inBloom, Inc. at the Bronx forum.

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch encountered a smaller audience, but stronger opposition, at Evander Childs school campus in the Bronx. One speaker called for Tisch’s resignation, some criticized the state’s use of student data, while many decried raised anxieties caused by new high-stakes tests.

Some teachers, as well as Educators 4 Excellence founder Evan Stone spoke in support, offering examples of how the standards had helped them craft more challenging lessons for students.

Tisch also took heat for the state’s late notice of the event, which several parents complained made it difficult to get more people to attend.

“For the love of god, you people told us late last week,” said parent Eileen Markie.

Unlike the charter school parents represented at the Brooklyn forum, Markie was part of a contingent from the Bronx Community Charter School that raised the negative impacts that the Common Core was having on their school.

“The intense emphasis on nonfiction technical reading, at the expense of literature, strikes me as diabolical,” Markie added, referring to a literacy shift toward nonfiction text required in the new standards.


call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”