State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. on Wednesday defended the state's drive to put Common Core-based curricula in schools and turn over students' data to a private, high-tech corporation, getting criticism but a generally civil reception at an education forum that drew hundreds to Mineola High School.
The atmosphere at the meeting -- the second of two on Long Island this week -- was calmer than that at Ward Melville High School on Tuesday, when educators and parents jammed that school's auditorium and cafeteria, at some points booing and shouting down King as he tried to speak.
The forum Wednesday, originally scheduled to end at 6:30 p.m., was extended until past 7, and those in the Garden City Park school's 700-capacity auditorium applauded King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch as it concluded.
"We have to continue to look for ways to reduce . . . testing," the commissioner said afterward. "After each of these forums, we go back and listen to what we've heard to make thoughtful adjustments."
Tisch, head of the board that sets state education policy, said, "You sit there and you take a lot of incoming, and I think the state continues to be lucky to have John's service in this capacity."
Some of the demonstrators outside the school indicated otherwise. When King arrived, he was greeted by a crowd with signs that read "Down with King" and "It's freezing and we are here -- Just wait until Election Day."
Parent Jeanette Deutermann of North Bellmore spoke from a microphone on the back of a black pickup truck. Deutermann has been active in a parent movement to have children refuse to take state tests, known as "opting out." Hundreds of students on the Island and in other districts across the state opted out of the tests last spring.
"We will not stand for it. Our children will not take these tests. But they are not listening," she said of state education officials. "This is our way of getting our word out without getting inside."
The two forums were markedly different in structure. Tickets were required for admission to yesterday's forum and had been distributed in advance to 15 Nassau County districts by the office of state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), who moderated the event. The forum at Ward Melville, in East Setauket, limited the number of speakers, but tickets were not given out.
The speakers at yesterday's forum were organized by topic, with segments dedicated to specific issues -- for instance, the state's impending move to release student data to inBloom, an Atlanta nonprofit, for computerized, "cloud"-based management. At Ward Melville, the event moved from speaker to speaker, who raised whatever issues they chose.
Compared with Tuesday's confrontational event, yesterday's was mostly quiet, as the audience listened respectfully to King's answers and also clapped in support when speakers alluded to rushed implementation of new standards in New York. There were some jeers and heckling at certain points.
Susan Boduch, co-president of the Herricks Special Education PTA, said while questions seemed preselected, she was "pleasantly surprised" by how many were raised about how the Common Core-based curricula would affect children with special needs.
Boduch, whose son is an eighth-grader, said the forum addressed students with more severe disabilities and not most students who are on the autism spectrum. "I would've liked to see more of how the average parent and child copes on a day-to-day basis," she said. "The questions didn't really express that enough."
Doris Ribaric, 38, a mother of three students in the New Hyde Park elementary schools, said she kept hearing the same refrain.
"What he [King] kept saying was, 'We'll look into it.' But what about the kids going through it now?" she said. "I really hope he listens to the parents, because this is very difficult for the kids right now."
The forums were part of a series of about a dozen that King is attending across the state. Two more are scheduled on the Island, on Nov. 26 in Suffolk and Dec. 9 in Nassau. Complete details on locations and times have not been announced.