The public forums on new state curriculum standards are back on again.
State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. on Friday reversed course and announced that he and the state Board of Regents will conduct 12 forums in school districts across the state to meet with parents and educators to discuss the Common Core Standards and other education reforms approved by the regents.
King was scheduled to attend a smaller series of forums, including one in Williamsville, but he canceled the appearances after encountering shouting and angry reactions during a question-and-answer period at the first event on Oct. 10 in Poughkeepsie.
No dates have been set for the forums, but King’s office said one will be held in Amherst and another in Jamestown.
The cancellation of the series following the Poughkeepsie session prompted heated criticism from parents, teachers and public officials.
Individuals have raised concerns about state testing in schools and the state’s new Common Core curriculum, and have wanted a chance to pose questions to King about the effectiveness of the state requirements.
“It’s encouraging that the commissioner changed his mind,” said Chris Cerrone, a Springville parent and Hamburg teacher who writes a blog on state testing.
“But he has to be willing to listen to the voices of the parents. He has to be willing to listen to opposing views,” he said.
Video of the Poughkeepsie meeting showed that King gave a roughly 90-minute presentation on the new standards, but that the question-and-answer period that followed erupted with angry shouting by some audience members who wanted more time to pose questions or explain concerns.
“I’m ecstatic. A meeting is what the parents wanted,” said Molly Dana, a West Seneca parent who was helping to organize a protest ahead of King’s Williamsville appearance before the event was canceled.
Dana said she wonders if the format in Poughkeepsie, rather than the issues, contributed to the outbursts. She said King may have angered the crowd after leaving too little time to take questions.
“I’m glad he is responding to the pressure out there. Parents have been active, and we were heard. It’s a great step,” she said.
The forums will be scheduled over the next six weeks, with details released early next week, the state Department of Education announced. The first forum will be held Oct. 24 in the Albany City School District. Other locations for the forums are Rochester, Westchester, two in Suffolk County, two in Nassau County, Schroon Lake, Binghamton and Syracuse.
“I want to have a respectful, direct, and constructive dialogue with parents,” King said in a statement.
“More and smaller discussions will make sure there’s a real opportunity for parents to be heard,” he said. “This is just the first round; we’ll continue to schedule forums for parents. We want these to be regular events. We want the conversation to rise above all the noise and make sure parents understand the Common Core, and, just as important, we want to understand parents’ concerns. We all share the same goal: to make sure our students have the skills and knowledge to be successful in a changing world.”
State Department of Education officials have disputed the suggestion that King was avoiding listening to criticism of state policies, saying that King has spoken to parents, teachers and school board members during visits to schools throughout the state.
Some of the forums will be televised on local PBS television stations, and the recorded broadcasts made available on the Internet, officials said. Four forums have been scheduled for PBS so far and arrangements are being made for others.
King’s statement said that he will be joined by Board of Regents members, and that the events will be moderated by state legislators and held in school auditoriums in the legislators’ districts.
Several state lawmakers who criticized the cancellation lauded King for rescheduling the meetings.
“The announcement this afternoon by the state Education Department that Commissioner King has backtracked, and will host forums to discuss the Common Core and state testing is good news for parents, students and teachers,” said Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo.
However, Ryan said he was concerned that King didn’t schedule a forum in Buffalo, and offered to help conduct a meeting in the city.
State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, said he applauded the decision.
“Our children deserve a high-quality education, and local families deserve a say on how to improve our schools,” he said.