Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dr. King not playing nice in the sandbox...

For anyone following the news in New York State this past week, the Commissioner of Education, Dr. John King, apparently had a run-in with opposition, frustration, angst, and the never-ending temper of parents. Under the guise of holding a dialogue with parents, teachers and community leaders to sell  New York State's efforts to push the Common Core Standards, he was thwarted from completing the "dialogue" due to this opposition from the parents, teachers, and community.  For details on the event, and the aftermath of public opinion asking for his resignation, see Diane Ravitch's blog  (Ravitch, 2013). 

I met Dr. King once, when I was superintendent of schools in the district where he lives, and his children do not attend in favor of a Montessori School about 20 miles away. He seems like an affable individual, and well-intentioned, but misinformed on many levels. First, he takes his orders from the Board of Regents, who have been driving this initiative of standards-based education since Richard Mills was Commissioner. Second, his desire to provide a quality education for every child through this standards-based curriculum is driven by textbook corporations, such as Pearson, CTB McGraw, and others, creating a financial windfall for big business rather than the children of the state. Thirdly, his definition of a dialogue with parents is warped when the audience only had a 20 minute window for the conversation and expressing of opinions. Furthermore, "dialogue" implies listening and constructive conversation. Dr. King was not interested in listening to feedback or opinion, and the opposition wasn't either.  Finally, Dr. King is not a school administrator. He is a bright, scholarly, young man that was promoted too "fast and furious" to be a true school administrator, and he never had been in touch with the public schools and the children and parents who send their kids to these institutions.

In a real way, Dr. King does not know how to play nice in the sandbox with his critics. In fact, he is so upset he has taken his toys and stomped back to Albany, NY canceling his scheduled community "dialogue" sessions across the state. A local, Capital Region newspaper sums it up wonderfully, regarding a key education piece that Dr. King may never have been exposed to....the concept of teaching kids about "play.

"Play is how humans learn. Unstructured play is arguably the most important thing human children do- at young ages pretend play teachers them abstract thought. As they grow, play is how they learn to interact with others constructively, solve problems, deal with difficult emotions, and face their fears...The absence of play leads to absence of what many people are calling '21st Century skills'- creative problem solving, group work, taking the initiative." (Axel-Lute, 2013)

That being said,  allow me to opine that there is nothing wrong with unifying the curriculum alignment across content areas, among school districts, and throughout the country. The problem is the call for intense accountability, and the assumption that all students will be attending college. The desire to be positioned globally, as the definition below describes, is arrogant, and foolhardy since it assumes that we were not interested in these things before the common core. Education in this country has a long history of creative invention, initiative, experimentation, student achievement, and great things. Let's not baffle ourselves into believing these things never existed before Dr. King or his predecessor.

So, when you look seriously at the definition espoused by the Common Core Consortium, be cognizant that the best of intentions are insinuated, but balance the vision with practical, and non-threatening procedures that will not frustrate children, parents, and others.

Common Core Mission Statement
"The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. with American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy."(Common Core Mission Statement

Axel-Lute, M. (2013, October 10). Who gets to play?.Metroland, p. 4.

Ravitch, D. (2013, October 14). [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Mission statement: Common core. (n.d.). Retrieved from