US and NYS Education Chiefs, at NYU Wagner, Back Common Core

John B. King, Jr.

New York State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. – joined by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan – addressed approximately 240 students and educators at NYU Wagner on April 10, articulating strong support for the state’s much-debated Common Core State Standards.

Sherry Glied, the Dean of Wagner, welcomed Commissioner King and Secretary Duncan before the standing-room-only crowd. The audience included community school superintendents, secondary-school teachers and students, city and state policy makers, and, of course, graduate students working toward a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree from Wagner and members of the faculty.

Offering introductory comments, Secretary Duncan lauded John King’s work as a policy maker in the contentious New York arena, noting Dunn was a teacher and principal before taking the helm of the state Education Department, which oversees more than 700 school districts.

Commissioner King gave a personal, robust defense of the Common Core but described his background first, crediting a Brooklyn school teacher who helped to shape and steady him after the loss of both his parents. “During those years, life outside of school was scary and unpredictable, but in Mr. Osterweil’s classroom I was safe, I was nurtured, and I was challenged," he said.

“As a teacher, principal, and policymaker, my goal is and has always been to give every student what Mr. Osterweil gave me – a classroom where they feel supported and inspired and challenged. That’s all I want for New York’s children. We all want that – but sometimes politics gets in the way. I have always tried to separate the politics of education from the substance of the issue."

The New York State Board of Regents adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010, part of a national trend. In the wake of the most recently administered round of student assessments in New York, renewed debate sparked over the potential ramifications of state assessments, grade-level standards of achievement, and professional accountability.

Said King, “It’s a  huge change and no one thought for minute it would be easy, but the truth is that it is well underway in classrooms all across the state...We’re not — not — going backwards. We’re not retreating.”

Earlier this week, the Commissioner was in Greece, N.Y., a district using "Race to the Top" funds to develop a career ladder for teachers. There, he said, teacher leaders selected by the district and their union divide their time between classroom instruction and coaching their peers to use the Common Core.

"It affirmed for me what I have always known – that there is no educational challenge in New York that is beyond the reach of our educators, our schools, our parents, and our students. But it will ask more of each of us," he said. "Schools of education need to rethink how they train teachers. Elected officials must take greater responsibility for fully and equitably funding our schools, and I am grateful to the Governor and the Legislature for boosting education funding next year. Administrators need to use that money to give the teachers the training and the support they need. The union leadership at the state and local levels needs to continue to honor its commitment to accountability and reform. We can’t do this without them – and we certainly can’t do this in a climate of open hostility. It’s got to end.

“Teachers themselves need to embrace a system of accountability – instead of fearing it – because they have very little to fear and far more to gain. And finally, we at the state level and our colleagues at the Federal level need to own up to the unintended consequences of our policies – from narrowing of the curriculum to the overemphasis on testing,”said King.

The prepared text of Commissioner King’s talk at NYU Wagner is available  from the state Education Department in full.