Standard Debate

Common Core critics and backers compete at Manhattan forum

Unlike at a forum in Brooklyn Tuesday, many critics of the Common Core standards spoke at hearing Wednesday in Manhattan, while state Education Commissioner John King (center) listened.
Unlike at a forum in Brooklyn Tuesday, many critics of the Common Core standards spoke at hearing Wednesday in Manhattan, while state Education Commissioner John King (center) listened.

After an unexpectedly warm welcome in Brooklyn, state Education Commissioner John King received a more typical — and icier — reception in Manhattan Wednesday on the latest stop of his statewide Common Core listening tour.

As at many of the upstate forums devoted to the tougher standards, the one in Lower Manhattan featured emotional testimonies on the toll of testing, harsh criticism of the state and some heated heckling — including by a woman who said King should be arrested for child abuse.

But, like in Brooklyn, there was also a sizable contingent of parents and teachers — many of them affiliated with advocacy groups that backed the Bloomberg administration’s education policies — who argued that the new standards push students to higher planes of thought and eventually college.

As a result, some speakers seemed to direct their arguments as much to other members of the public as to the education officials seated before them.

Nancy Harris, principal of the Spruce Street School, where the three-hour forum was held, summarized much of the debate over the Common Core in her opening remarks.

She said the new standards are more rigorous and start to “close the gap” between U.S. and foreign students. But as educators work to adopt the Common Core, they have been stymied by incomplete curricula, insufficient support, and “high-stakes” tests from the state, Harris said.

“The roll out on the school level has made it incredibly challenging to move the standards from aspirational to reality,” she told King, as the crowd cheered.

When the state tied its annual grade 3-8 exams to the new standards last spring, proficiency rates tanked and criticisms of the Common Core amplified across the state. The education department’s six-week fall listening tour — which was scheduled after a disastrous first hearing caused King to cancel an earlier round of talks — has often been met by large, raucous crowds.

The rare exception came at the forum Tuesday in Brooklyn, where parents and teachers who support the standards and the state tests — many of them organized by the groups StudentsFirstNY and Educators 4 Excellence — dominated the speaker sign-up sheet and, as a result, the news headlines.

Hoping to avoid a repeat, many more Common Core critics appeared at Wednesday’s forum, with some lining up outside hours before the event. The critics — some of them affiliated with groups that oppose high-stakes testing — were vocal during the forum, often heckling King and booing speakers. They loudly objected when a group of pro-Common Core students from John Adams High School shared a single speaking slot, with some in the crowd shouting “Not fair!” and calling the students a “dog-and-pony show.”

Laurel Sturt, a former city high-school teacher, told King and the other education officials at the forum they should be arrested for “educational neglect,” “child abuse” and other “charges,” echoing rhetoric that some critics have used at past forums.

Aliyaah Morant was one of several students from John Adams High School attended the forum Wednesday, where they cited research in defense of the Common Core standards.
Aliyaah Morant was one of several students from John Adams High School attended the forum Wednesday, where they cited research in defense of the Common Core standards.

Several speakers said they were not opposed to the standards so much as the standardized tests tied to them.

Kimron Thomas, a social studies teacher at the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School in Queens, said some of his students cried, vomited, and punched walls this year as they took the tougher tests. The school had not been given the time or resources to help students meet the higher standards, he added.

“I can’t make my 7th-graders read like 10th-graders just because you guys said so,” he said.

The new standards have been especially challenging for students with disabilities, many said — including Lorri Gumanow, who said the added stress at school has led her 8th-grade son, who has an IEP, to threaten suicide.

Others criticized the state’s plan to share students’ personal information with the nonprofit data-storage firm, inBloom.

Repeating arguments made Tuesday, several parents who support the Common Core said the standards promote equity among schools and districts. Several teachers said the challenge of adopting the standards was justified by the more advanced skills they push students to develop.

The students from the critical-thinking class at John Adams High School said the higher standards would help them in college and beyond.

“The Common Core is here to change the lives of students and prepare them for their future,” said Aliyaah Morant, a senior.

King defended the standards throughout the evening, though he acknowledged the state’s shift to them had been “uneven” and promised to push for more funding for teacher training and other supports. Details about upcoming forums in Queens and Staten Island have not yet been announced.

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.