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About-Face on Common-Core Forums Won't Solve N.Y. Chief's Woes

After enduring a week of withering criticism for how the Common Core State Standards are being handled in the Empire State, New York Commissioner of Education John King announced he was reversing an earlier decision to cancel public forums on the standards. The New York department now plans to hold a dozen forums across the state, which has been roiled by anti-common-core sentiment over the past several days. Although some may welcome King's change of heart when it comes to hosting open discussions of the common core, that doesn't solve all of his problems with respect to the standards.

There are two recent sources of common-core uneasiness in the state. One was manifest on Oct. 10, when King gave a presentation on the standards to the public in Poughkeepsie, in upstate New York. The tension exploded to the point where some in the audience were shouting King down using vulgar language. Following that less-than-pleasant experience, King announced that he was spiking future planned forums on the standards. But this retreat from engagement with the public only led to more condemnations of the state's K-12 boss. As my colleague Stephen Sawchuk over at Teacher Beat pointed out on Oct. 18, two state lawmakers, one Democrat and one Republican, called for King to resign in the wake of King's retreat. Subsequently, the state had indicated that the forums could be rescheduled. 

The announcement that the common-core forums are back on might ease some of the pressure on King. But as Sawchuk stresses, King's original decision to cancel the standards meetings are only part of his trouble with respect to common core. The New York State Union of Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers (the teachers' union for the Big Apple) are demanding that the state adopt a three-year moratorium on using common-core aligned tests in teacher evaluations. That's two years longer than what the U.S. Department of Education is allowing states that, like New York, have waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act.

The roots of the trouble, at least nominally, stem from the results of the first such assessments in New York state that were released earlier this year, which triggered a very mixed reaction. The unions have supported the common-core standards themselves, but in the wake of the scores from the 2012-13 school year in New York, they've gone into attack mode. Officials continue to maintain that the standards are a much more accurate, albeit tougher view of what students really know (the state test scores themselves dropped significantly from the 2011-12 academic year). But union officials like UFT President Michael Mulgrew have argued that the state has simply botched curricula aligned to the common core. New York's experience has been rocky compared to the reaction in Kentucky to results from common-core assessments, the first such scores to be released about a year ago. 

Following the lead of the two lawmakers I mentioned earlier, NYSUT President Richard Ianuzzi has said that if King doesn't agree to the three-year delay, then he should be replaced. In the face of that threat, how will King head off a potential revolt from the powerful unions in his state?

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