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.

 

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.