State education chief suspends LI Town Hall meeting

Dr. John B. King, Jr., State education commissioner,

Dr. John B. King, Jr., State education commissioner, speaks at an event at Hofstra University. (Feb. 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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New York's education commissioner said Saturday he had called off Long Island's only Town Hall meeting on the Common Core curriculum and state testing after "special interests" hijacked the first such forum.

The meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday in Garden City and was sponsored by the state PTA.

Commissioner John B. King Jr. also put on hold the other three Town Hall meetings planned across the state, which for the first time would have let parents and teachers ask him about testing and the Common Core.

Hundreds of people attended a pair of at times adversarial and boisterous forums earlier this month -- a debut Town Hall in Poughkeepsie in the Hudson Valley and an event in Whitesboro, near Utica.

King, in a statement, said he had been looking forward to speaking with parents.

"The disruptions caused by the 'special interests' have deprived parents of the opportunity to listen, ask questions and offer comments," he said. "Essentially, dialogue has been denied."

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Dennis Tompkins, a King spokesman, declined to identify the special interests.

Carl Korn, the spokesman for New York State United Teachers, said, "Parents and teachers are not special interests."

Noting that a recent Common Core forum in Buffalo was heavily attended, Korn said: "The fact that thousands of parents have shown up about testing in different corners of the state suggests a great deal of frustration that testing has come in front of instruction and the focus, the parents and teachers agree, should be on teaching and learning, not testing."

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King and the state PTA, which said the Poughkeepsie forum failed to "serve the intended purpose," pledged to find other ways to allow parents to express their views.

Port Jefferson resident Ali Gordon, 41, a trustee on the Comsewogue Board of Education, criticized King, saying he was ducking a town hall she and "many, many others" planned to attend.

"It's very disappointing to see the leader of our state Education Department essentially hide from parents and teachers who are so directly affected by the decisions that he makes and the rushed implementation of the Common Core in New York State," she said.

National and state education leaders predict the phase-in of Common Core standards will enhance quality of classroom lessons by encouraging deeper analysis. But many parents and students say the state's increased emphasis on testing has meant more classroom time devoted to filling in bubble sheets and other test drills.

The Education Department released data Aug. 7 showing that more than 60 percent of students in grades 3-8 in Nassau and Suffolk scored below proficiency on the tests, nearly double from the previous year.

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