State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said just the right things last week in a meeting with the Buffalo News editorial board and in a televised forum about state education policies. He acknowledged areas where the state could make changes in testing, but stood firm in support of the Common Core standards that seem to be drawing most of the criticism.
The pressure on King has been intense and unrelenting, and while much of it comes from teachers who are upset with evaluations and the testing that accounts for part of their results, there are parents who are upset, as well. Some of them worry about the pressure of testing on their children, while others just don’t like the idea that the state is expecting far more of students today than it did a generation ago.
From all appearances, King is taking note of the pressure. He is calm but firm in the face of criticism about the standards, yet also willing to respond to legitimate complaints. Hence, his comment last week that the State Education Department is willing to consider different testing standards for students in special education and new immigrants who don’t speak English.
Also in the works is a new grant program to provide school districts the resources needed to study the types of assessments they use.
And the Board of Regents will create a task force that will look at how Common Core is being implemented and make recommendations for improvements.
That’s sensible, and it’s especially helpful that State Ed is continuing to monitor how Common Core is working. It is all but impossible to roll out so dramatic a change without there being unintended and unwanted consequences. Some things will need to be revised.
It is important, though, to distinguish between pressuring students too much and pressuring them at all. If standards have to rise – and they do, if students are to compete in a world where competition comes from abroad instead of the next block – then pressure has to rise, too. There’s nothing wrong with that. With challenge comes achievement. It’s obvious that we can’t continue down the road we’re on.
Parents who worry about the new pressures should recalibrate. They can do their children a favor by expecting them to rise to the challenge, and then helping them do it. Children are adept at meeting expectations that are clear. But it doesn’t help simply to criticize the necessary effort to ensure that those students are prepared for a world that is vastly more complicated and challenging than the one their parents inherited.
Some parents worry that the emphasis on testing is tied to teacher evaluations and, hence, to the standing of individual schools and even districts. That certainly is possible, and districts should be aware of that. Still, it is important to note, as King did, that the amount of testing hasn’t changed because of the Common Core standards.
Meanwhile, King also noted in response to a question that he has little confidence in the Buffalo School District’s ability to turn around its failing schools without continued hand-holding by the State Education Department.
Things have quieted down in the school district since the failed attempt to dismiss Superintendent Pamela C. Brown, but it won’t last. Come the spring School Board elections, Brown could find her support diminished and her position in peril.
More change is on the way. If Brown wants to preserve her job here, she could do worse than to move the city’s troubled schools in a way that inspires confidence from the commissioner of education.