12/14/13 8:00am
12/14/2013 8:00 AM


The term Common Core has been used in these pages and elsewhere to describe the new policies and practices schools are being asked to adopt by the State Education Department. However, Common Core is just one portion of these reforms and, based on what I read in Michael White’s column and the overwhelming parent and teacher response at the education commissioner’s forums and on social media sites, folks are using Common Core as a catch-all term for the entire program. People are actually concerned about the new state assessments, the new teacher evaluation system (called Annual Professional Performance Review, or APPR) and potential profiteering by private corporate interests related to these reforms.

Common Core, on its own, is a relatively benign list of things that a student should know and be able to do by the end of a given school year in a given course. You can review the standards themselves at corestandards.org. These standards were authored by the National Governors’ Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the nonprofit Student Achievement Partners. Do these organizations have agendas? Of course they do. Every advocacy organization does. Are those agendas to steal money and autonomy from school districts? Hardly. Teachers will still be able to do good work in a Common Core classroom just like they were when the concept of standards was first introduced nationally in President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind reform initiative.

Claims that major publishing corporations like Pearson Inc. “wrote the standards” have no merit outside the fantasyland of sites like Breitbart.com  and its ilk. Any publisher worth its salt is aligning old materials and developing new materials to the Core, much as they did when the NCLB standards came out in the early 2000s, but they still must compete for district dollars to purchase those resources. New standards, same old publishing business. If you are interested in seeing a change in where schools spend their money, fighting Common Core is not where I’d spend your time or energy.

Ironically, the Common Core era, combined with the increased availability of inexpensive computer hardware like Chromebooks and tablets, has made it possible for teachers to implement inexpensive or free digital instructional resources, such as Khan Academy, Learnzillion and Brainpop. This movement has publishers like Pearson scrambling to hold on to their textbook and instructional materials revenues, as textbooks become dinosaurs and teachers are easily able to analyze results of a class quiz online and assign individualized activities to each student using a variety of free and open-source instructional programs.

Standards — Common Core or the old state standards — are goals, and teachers plan the path for getting students to the goals. If parents and teachers were only being asked to contemplate Common Core without the rest of the pieces that have come with it, we’d not have a rebellion on our hands. But, as they say, the horses are already out of the barn. Teachers are being given letter grades based on student test scores over which they may or may not have any control. Good teachers are getting disappointing grades and being told they must do better but, in some cases, doing better means magically removing a student’s learning disability, changing a student’s general motivation to take a multiple-choice test, or increasing the amount of exposure to literature and informational texts in a student’s home and family life. The APPR system has few defenders statewide, even in Albany. APPR can easily be removed or revised without disrupting the state department’s other initiatives, including Common Core.

The New York State Testing Program has been much maligned since it added the grades 3-8 assessments during the NCLB era. Pearson has the state testing contract, and there have been all sorts of problems and complications over the years, but Pearson has been making money by selling tests to districts and state departments since the invention of the test and will probably continue to do so throughout the next 100 years of rides on the educational reform roller coaster. In my work, I travel the country visiting with district leaders and educators and I can tell you pretty confidently that no state’s assessment contractor is respected or loved. Swap Pearson for CTB or Riverside Publishing and we’re probably having the same conversation here.

The movement against these reforms would be stronger if it divides and conquers. The State Education Department is not going to abandon its entire agenda, but it is conceivable to see them backing off from some of its components, particularly with such vocal and unanimous resistance across the state. Ask yourself: Would you be OK with a new set of learning goals for your children if the state department eased up on all the testing and if your child’s teacher didn’t feel as if she/he were under attack by the APPR system? Encourage your representatives in Albany to pick one component of the reform agenda and start there.

And give Common Core a second look. Without APPR and the new tests, it’s just a suggested list of things to teach in a given grade level and subject area, not the diabolical evil force it’s been depicted to be.

Doug Roberts is a consultant and entrepreneur in the educational technology sector who describes his work as standards- and publisher-agnostic. He lives in Greenport.

11/26/13 10:30am
11/26/2013 10:30 AM
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS PHOTO | New York State Education Department commissioner John King.

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS PHOTO | New York State Education Department commissioner John King.

A public forum with New York Department of Education commissioner John King is set for 6 p.m. tonight at Eastport-South Manor High School in Manorville.

While the forum will be open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis, state officials said speakers will be chosen prior to the meeting.

State Senator Ken LaValle(R-Port Jefferson)  has asked local superintendents to meet with their school’s community members — including parents, students, teachers, and PTAs — to organize their comments and questions relating to Common Core, teacher evaluations, standardized testing and student privacy, and submit them to his office by last Thursday.

Riverhead School District officials have said only one question from each school district will be allowed based on submittals, and a seat at the event will be reserved for each of the speakers chosen.

Tonight’s forum comes about a month after Mr. King was criticized for canceling some previously scheduled meetings, which he said at the time were being “co-opted by special interests whose stated goal was to ‘dominate’ the questions and manipulate the forum.”

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a new set of standards that requires instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age. The Common Core standards were created by nonprofit organizations, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, as a way to better prepare students from across the U.S. for college and careers after high school.

While the state has claimed the Common Core program aims to better prepare students for college and careers, many educators have criticized the initiative because they believe it forces teachers to abandon true learning and “teach to the test.”

Check back later for live coverage.

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11/12/13 4:00pm
11/12/2013 4:00 PM
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS PHOTO | New York State Education Department commissioner John King.

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS PHOTO | New York State Education Department commissioner John King.

Residents will no longer have to sign up with their local school districts to secure a seat for the Nov. 26 public meeting with New York Department of Education commissioner John King, state Senator Ken LaValle’s office said Tuesday.

A sign-up list won’t be necessary because a larger venue has been secured at the Eastport-South Manor High School auditorium in Manorville, Mr. LaValle’s spokesman Drew Biondo said. Entry will be determined on a first-come, first-serve basis, Mr. Biondo said.

Mr. LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) has said he was working to relocate the meeting from Riverhead High School’s 800-seat auditorium to a new location in order to accommodate a larger crowd. Last week, the state Department of Education posted on its website that the meeting will take place in Manorville. Eastport’s auditorium can accommodate 1,000 people, a school spokesperson said.

Mr. Biondo said the senator is also looking to live stream the event. Additional details will be released closer to the meeting date, he said.

On Tuesday, Mr. King is expected to address state Senator John Flanagan’s (R-East Northport) constituents at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket from 6 to 8 p.m.

Mr. Flanagan’s office said the meeting is open to the public. Although seating capacity is 900 in that auditorium, the school will be able to accommodate an additional 400 seats in the cafeteria where the event will be live streamed.

The forums are designed to answer questions and provide information to the public on the Common Core Stand Standards Initiative, teacher evaluations and state assessments.

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11/08/13 10:28am
11/08/2013 10:28 AM
Newsday Common Core

Friday’s Newsday cover story tackles state education concerns.

A group of Suffolk County school district superintendents have sent a letter to state education commissioner John King urging him to address their concerns about over-testing, the fast pace of mandating Common Core standards inside the classroom and issues with new teacher and principal evaluation programs, according to Friday’s Newsday cover story.

And, according to Newsday, all county superintendents are expected to send another letter in the coming days.

Mr. King has received harsh criticism since New York adopted the Common Core State Standards Initiative and decided to tie state assessments based on the rigorous curriculum to a new, district-by-district teacher and principal evaluation systems.

Mr. King is scheduled to hold a public meeting to discuss the state’s new direction in education on Wednesday at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket.

A second Suffolk County meeting is scheduled for Nov. 26. The state Department of Education and Board of Regents are working with state Senator Ken LaValle to organize that meeting somewhere within his legislative district.

11/07/13 7:00am
11/07/2013 7:00 AM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Tonight's Riverhead school board meeting is at 7 p.m.

FILE PHOTO | A public forum on the Common Core State Standards Initiative was originally going to be held at Riverhead High School.

Close to a month ago, New York Education commissioner John King canceled the only meeting on Long Island he had scheduled for hearing direct feedback from the public about the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a controversial federal program that has dominated headlines over the past few months.

To his credit, Mr. King not only rescheduled the canceled meeting, originally planned for Garden City, but added three more as well – two in Suffolk County and another in Nassau.

But getting from the scheduling phase to the implementation phase – particularly in the case of the new meeting scheduled in Riverhead on Nov. 26 – appears to be a little more challenging than it should be.

State Senator Ken LaValle told News-Review staff this week that Riverhead High School’s auditorium wouldn’t be big enough to host the meeting. Mr. LaValle said he hopes to find a venue that can hold 1,000 people, 200 more than a brand-new Riverhead auditorium can handle.

And that leaves us scratching our heads.

As if getting the state education commissioner to Suffolk County wasn’t challenging enough – and, lucky us, his office even suggested meeting in Riverhead – Mr. LaValle, our elected official — it seems, is making the process even more complicated than it needs to be. A state education spokesperson told us last week, “We are working with the senator to pick a location” — but it sure doesn’t seem like it. While we’re being told by Mr. LaValle that the meeting won’t be held in Riverhead, the state’s website, as of presstime, still said it would be.

We certainly understand the desire to include as many people as possible in the meeting. This is an important topic that affects children all across Mr. LaValle’s district. However, we do have to question the logic of attempting to add 200 seats at the expense of throwing another wrench into this already messy and contentious process. It’s a sad state of affairs when leaders who play such a large role in our children’s future have such difficulty scheduling public meetings on a topic as important as this one.

Then they wonder why there’s so much skepticism surrounding the Common Core initiative in the first place.

11/01/13 3:05pm
11/01/2013 3:05 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | State Senator Ken LaValle is hosting a public meeting somewhere in his district Nov. 26 with New York education department commissioner John King to discuss Common Core curriculum and standardized testing.

A public forum on the Common Core curriculum scheduled with New York Department of Education commissioner John King will not be held at Riverhead High School, as previously reported, State Senator Ken LaValle said on Friday.

Mr. LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) told the Times/Review Newsgroup in an interview the decision was made due to space concerns.

Riverhead High School’s new auditorium has about 800 seats. Mr. LaValle said he’s looking to host the forum in a space that can hold about 200 more people.

He said a new location is needed in order to accommodate a larger crowd, due to the large number of people expected to attend in protest of Common Core, however it remains unclear where the meeting will be held instead.

The state’s website said as of Tuesday afternoon that Riverhead would host the Nov. 26 meeting. State education department spokesman, Tom Dunn, said on Friday that, “We are working with the senator to pick a location.”

Mr. LaValle is expected to announced the new venue in the coming days He said the originally scheduled Nov. 26 date remains the same.

The state Department of Education first announced details Oct. 30 about four upcoming Long Island meetings with Mr. King. Since then, the date for the first meeting at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket has been changed to Nov. 12.

“I want to make sure that we have a location that will accommodate as many parents and educators as possible for them to spend some time with the commissioner,” Mr. LaValle said. “I’ve invited him to come because the people I represent want to hear him and, more importantly, they would like to speak to him.”

While the details about the meeting are still being ironed out, Mr. LaValle said he’s working with the nearly 30 school districts within his legislative jurisdiction to have them arrange tickets for the event. He said he would like the audience make up to consist of at least 60 percent parents from each district.

“I want to make sure that we’re allowing as many parents to come,” he said. “They will get their tickets through their school districts … We need to know who’s coming beforehand because we want to make sure people will have a seat.”

As for scheduling the meeting two days before Thanksgiving, Mr. LaValle acknowledged the difficulty in planning such an event that would please most people. He said his biggest requirement was making sure the meeting was held at night so that the most amount of people could attend after work.

Mr. LaValle, a former educator, said he has concerns about how Common Core is being implemented, especially with excessive testing for elementary school students and students with disabilities.

He said he reached out to Mr. King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch to set up the meeting because more and more people have expressed frustration over the new and rigorous curriculum.

“We’ve had a really good line of communication open,” he said. “I think that the hearing Senator Flanagan had in Brentwood was really great. From that point forward, I believe the [education] department and specifically the commissioner and members of the Board of Regents have been listening.”

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10/30/13 1:22pm
10/30/2013 1:22 PM


Updated (Nov. 1): The state education department has changed the date of its first meeting to Nov. 12. The revision has been added to our original story below.

The office of New York State education commissioner John King announced on Wednesday that it will be holding a forum in Riverhead – one of two meetings being held in Suffolk County – to discuss the Common Core State Standards Initiative and state testing.

Riverhead Superintendent Nancy Carney said the district’s high school auditorium is still undergoing renovations, but the space will be ready Tuesday, Nov. 5.

“We’re happy to host here,” she said. The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 26, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Mr. King’s announcement came a few weeks after he was criticized for canceling some previously scheduled meetings, including the only event that had been scheduled for Long Island.

He said the public meetings were being “co-opted by special interests whose stated goal was to ‘dominate’ the questions and manipulate the forum.”

The commissioner has scheduled several public meetings with the state’s Board of Regents across New York.

State Department of Education officials said there will be four forums on Long Island. The date of the first Suffolk meeting will be held on Nov. 12 at Ward Melville High School in E. Setauket, from 7 to 9 p.m.

The events will be moderated by state legislators and held in school auditoriums, state officials said. The meetings will be open to the public, however attendance will be limited to a first-come, first-serve basis.

Ms. Carney said although she disagrees with the state’s “fast and furious” approach to its new direction in education, she’s pleased Mr. King has discussed easing student testing requirements, especially with English as a Second Language students and students with disabilities.

“If you’re testing ESL students with the same test and they’ve only been in the country for a year, it’s not really assessing their ability,” she said. “We all embrace that education is changing and we have to change as well. We just want to be sure the change is good change and make sure we do things thoughtfully and carefully in a way that is meaningful and beneficial to our students.”

In an Oct. 24 letter addressed to New York schools, Mr. King said he believes the state’s new direction is the best way to ensure students are college and career ready upon graduating from high school.

“We all know learning rigorous content and taking rigorous assessments can be challenging for students,” he said. “The best way to prevent those challenges from turning into stress for our students is for the adults in their lives to be supportive and affirming.”

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10/21/13 9:00am
10/21/2013 9:00 AM
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS PHOTO | New York State Education Department commissioner John King.

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS PHOTO | New York State Education Department commissioner John King.

One week after being criticized for canceling his only forum to discuss Common Core curriculum and state testing on Long Island, the state’s chief of schools has announced a new series of forums on the topic.

New York State education commissioner John King announced Friday that he will partner with the state’s Board of Regents to host a dozen forums across New York State, including four on Long Island. While the exact date and location of the events have not yet been announced, the Department of Education has said two of the events will be held in Suffolk County and two more in Nassau.

“I want to have a respectful, direct, and constructive dialogue with parents,” Mr. King said in a press release. “More and smaller discussions will make sure there’s a real opportunity for parents to be heard. This is just the first round; we’ll continue to schedule forums for parents. We want these to be regular events. We want the conversation to rise above all the noise and make sure parents understand the Common Core, and, just as important, we want to understand parents’ concerns. We all share the same goal: to make sure our students have the skills and knowledge to be successful in a changing world.”

The events will be moderated by state legislators and held in school auditoriums. Regents are expected to attend, the press release states.

Mr. King said the forums will be scheduled over the next six weeks; details for all the events will be finalized early next week. So far details have only been announced for the first forum, which will be held Thursday evening in the Albany City School District.

Additionally, four forums will be recorded in front of a studio audience and broadcast on Public Broadcasting Stations across the state, according to the release.

Mr. King had been under scrutiny this week following the suspension of four Common Core forums sponsored by the New York State PTA. The PTA announced the suspension of the forums in a message on its website and Facebook page.

“While our goal was to provide an opportunity to learn and share, based on review of the initial October 10 meeting, the Commissioner concluded the outcome was not constructive for those taking the time to attend,” the PTA’s Facebook announcement read.

The commissioner said in a statement that the first two forums on the topic — held in Poughkeepsie and upstate Whitesboro — had been “co-opted by special interests whose stated goal was to ‘dominate’ the questions and manipulate the forum.”

“The disruptions caused by the ‘special interests’ have deprived parents of the opportunity to listen, ask questions and offer comments,” his statement continued.

The commissioner’s statement and the cancellations were met with sharp criticism from parents, educators and media outlets across the state.

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10/17/13 9:00am
10/17/2013 9:00 AM

Thousands of frustrated parents and educators from across Long Island were expected to attend a forum at Garden City High School Tuesday night for an opportunity to speak with New York State Education Commissioner John King about Common Core curriculum and state testing.

Then the meeting was postponed.

The New York State PTA, which was to sponsor the event — one of a series of forums across the state — announced on its website Saturday that the event and three similar forums had been postponed indefinitely at the request of the commissioner’s office.

It was bad enough that only one forum was scheduled for Long Island on this very important topic — more than an hour from the North Fork, no less. Now it appears the discussion won’t happen at all.

Considering the concerns of parents and teachers across the state, we’d expect Mr. King to schedule more forums on the topic of Common Core, not suspend the few he had already scheduled.

The commissioner said in a statement this week that the first two forums on the topic — held in Poughkeepsie and upstate Whitesboro — had been “co-opted by special interests whose stated goal was to ‘dominate’ the questions and manipulate the forum.”

“The disruptions caused by the ‘special interests’ have deprived parents of the opportunity to listen, ask questions and offer comments,” his statement continued.

But news coverage of those two forums indicated that most speakers — who were granted just two minutes apiece after the commissioner had spoken for more than an hour — were teachers and parents. Aren’t those the very people Mr. King should be hearing from?

Since it appears the forums have only been postponed and not yet canceled for good, there’s still time for Mr. King to change his mind and carry on with the program. We hope he does, because the commissioner should be hearing more of what the public has to say, not less.

08/02/12 5:00pm
08/02/2012 5:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Workers hang the sign outside the new Grapes & Greens facility in Calverton.

The recent Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals decision allowing an agricultural processing and storage facility in the former Blackman Plumbing warehouse on Sound Avenue in Calverton is being challenged in court … again.

Austin Warner Jr., who owns property near the site, filed a lawsuit against the Riverhead ZBA, John King, J. King Food Service Professionals and Sound Realty Co. seeking to overturn the June 14 ZBA decision upholding a building permit issued to Mr. King, who is planning an agricultural processing and wine storage facility on the site.

It was Mr. Warner who filed a lawsuit earlier this year challenging the town building department’s decision to give a building permit to Mr. King, which resulted in the matter going to the ZBA for an interpretation.

The judge in that case, which is still listed as being active, put off making a decision until the ZBA made its ruling.

The new lawsuit claims the ZBA failed to supply any supporting documentation to support its verdict, failed to require health department approval for the project, and allowed false information stating that the property was owned by “John King J. King Realty.”

In addition, the lawsuit alleged the ZBA violated the state open meetings law when it went into executive session prior to its vote on the application.

The lawsuit also claims the use is not permitted in the Agricultural Protection Zone, where the site is located. And it claimed that the “agricultural processing and warehouse” use violates the conditions of a prior use variance for the property, which limited the property use to “warehousing and storage of industrial supplies.”

Finally, Mr. Warner’s lawsuit claims the decision was made in violation of the state environmental quality review act (SEQRA), which says that a non-residential application in a municipality with less than 150,000 people, for a facility with more than 100,000 square-foot gross floor area, is what is known as a “type-one action” and requires an environmental impact study.

Riverhead Town’s population is listed as 33,506 in the 2010 Census, and the Blackman building is 108,000 square foot, the lawsuit says.

Town building inspector Sharon Klos said at the ZBA hearing that she granted the permit because she felt the uses Mr. King proposed for the site are within the scope of a warehouse, and she said the history of the building clearly shows that the warehouse use has not been discontinued.

William Duffy, the deputy town attorney who represented the ZBA on this case because the ZBA’s regular attorney, Scott DeSimone, recused himself due to a conflict, told ZBA members that in his opinion, the proposed use didn’t meet the town’s definition of agricultural production. He said he feels it does meet the definition of warehouse, the use currently permitted by prior ZBA rulings, and that the other uses sought by Mr. King qualified as permitted accessories to a warehouse.

Mr. King hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the facility last week in which New York State Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy was present.

He said the facility, which is being called “Grapes & Greens,” will be used to store North Fork wine, locally caught fish and farm produce, as well as to cool, package and ship products it buys outright from local farmers to extend their life and increase their value on the market.

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