Photo credit: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2015/10/meet_john_king_acting_secretary_of_education.html
Meet John B. King. The new Secretary of Education; confirmed by a Senate hearing on March 14th, 2016.
Mr. King brings with him an impressive resume. To see the full details of it, go here. On paper, he makes an impressive statement. He seems well put together. He seems like a man who fights for students, parents and teachers.
In my experience, he is not. At all.
My first opportunity to interact with Mr. King, came in the form of a panel, sponsored by the education policy group Educators4Excellence (E4E). While I have many a thing to say about E4E, some favorable, some very much not, I will do my best to leave their involvement in my opinion of Mr. King out of this post. If you’re a teacher and you are reading this, go check them out.
At this panel, Mr. King was speaking about the initial role out of the Common Core Learning Standards.
Before I get into further detail, let me digress again and just say this, “I believe in the Common Core and I believe in the NEED for the Common Core.” To read more on my opinions about where the core is failing read this (a report I helped spear head and write about how the Common Core should be adapted to better service English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities).
Back to the topic at hand…At this E4E sponsored panel, I heard Mr. King speak about the Core and why teachers needed it and what he thought could be improved upon in terms of rollout (Core rollout in New York City was particularly disastrous). I was able to submit a question to Mr. King; a question which I still have, which was the basis for the paper linked in the paragraph above. I asked simply, “What are you and/or the department of education doing to look at the Core and adapt or adjust them for students with severe disabilities?”
An easy enough question no? You are rolling out education policy that affects all teachers and all students. Surely you’ve thought of all teachers and all students when writing and rolling out this policy!
His response is something I will never forget, and as a defining moment in my career as a young teacher, I can quote him with confidence. “Well, those students really only make up about 1% of the population here in New York City, so we aren’t really concerned with them.” Thinking about it now still boils my blood. This man, this coward, looked a room full of 250-300 teachers in the eye and said, I only care about this chunk of kids. Keep in mind that 1% of the student population in New York City is still a whopping 141,553 students (Statistical summaries as of 10/31/15 from the DOE’s website) not including those students who attend private or charter schools. While I don’t remember my immediate reaction, I have it on good authority that I looked quite like I was going jump the aisle and hop on stage to have a word with good old Mr. King. I did not however. I sat. I thought. I stewed.
Several months later, E4E let me know about an open forum Mr. King was hosting at an elementary school right across the street from Pace University in downtown Manhattan. They asked me if I wanted to speak. They knew, and rightfully so, that there would be many parents, teachers, and students there, emphatically protesting Common Core. (Again, the rollout in NYC was disastrous and many parents, teachers and students have a problem with what they perceive to be the Core. If you read the Core and you hear their arguments, which are valid, the issue stems from not the Core themselves, but the curriculum people are selling “based” on the Core which specify a specific way to teach things. The Core themselves do not do this. For more information on what the Core actually say, go here.)
I wrote my speech, I proclaimed that I agreed with the need as a nation for the Core, and then I went for blood. “When I last spoke with Commissioner King, I asked him how he was planning on adapting the Common Core for those students in D75. He stated that D75 students only accounted for 1% of the population of NYC DOE students. That 1% is 140,000 students. 140,000 students who are being marginalized DAILY because of an untested system that has yet to be differentiated to meet every child’s needs…” I had at least one other paragraph after this one but I stopped…because Mr. King rolled his eyes and looked the other way, his body language clearly saying, “Here’s another liar, come to yell at me through a microphone. Isn’t it time to go home yet?” While I did call him out on previous behavior, I did nothing but speak to facts. I was in the room when he said those things to me. So were 250-300 other teachers. I’m not sitting here screaming at you to get rid of the Common Core. I’m not spouting and making up crazy facts. I am repeating things you have said directly to me.
You know how they say not to mess with a mama bear trying to protect her cubs? You will be hard bent to find someone who loves and tries to protect her students more than I do. I damn near lost my mind.
Leaving the rest of my speech to die on the paper in my hands, and completely ignoring the poor woman in front of me holding up the “30 seconds left” sign, I became that person at the forum. The one who is no longer rational. Who sees someone who is now actively trying to deny and hurt my children. “How DARE you roll your eyes at me sir! I am not here to thump a book and speak false truths!” (I believe I actually said, “bible thump…”) “This is what you said to me, and this is when you said it and you said it in front of hundreds of other teachers. How DARE you tell me that my students don’t matter. They deserve a voice. They deserve a quality education that thinks of them and takes their unique needs into consideration when education policy is written.” I doubt I was actually that eloquent. I can’t remember all the details of what I said, but I can tell you I was fuming. When I finished my say, or more likely, when I could no longer hold the mic due to shaking, I put it back on it’s stand, grabbed the rest of my things, and walked out.
Lucky for me, I was followed out of the room by Patrick Wall, a reporter for what was Gotham Schools News and is now Chalkbeat. He took the time to sit with me and several other teachers of students with disabilities and write this article about our concerns. He listened where Mr. King failed to.
Mr. King did many other things that night. I can’t say I was the most eloquently spoken person in the room, but I did attempt to engage Mr. King in an open discussion, coming from a place of “maybe if he hears this point, he’ll take a step back and reevaluate”, instead of a place of “you son of a **** look at what you have done to my child!” Mr. King (you too Ms. Tisch, don’t think you get off free here – Merryl Tisch was the director of the Board of Regents in New York…another heinously disengaged person), sat there and actively disengaged themselves from the entire proceedings. Their only answers seemed to revolve around remaining positive that they had done nothing wrong.
And despite all of this, Mr. King has been confirmed as the benevolent overlord of education in our nation.
I had the opportunity to also submit questions to the Senate for Mr. King’s confirmation hearing. I have no idea if any of them were asked or if they were, if they were answered, so I’ll leave them here for you to read and ponder. (Thank you to those who helped me compile these questions).
– Current assessment protocols only address academic content areas. How do teachers maintain equity in meeting the educational needs of those students with the most severe and multiple disabilities, especially in reference to other measured standards such as health, physical education, family and consumer sciences, and career development and occupational studies?
– What do you anticipate future programming and assessments for low incident students including multiply, physically and emotionally disabled students to look like and how to you anticipate conceiving and implementing those programs and assessments?
– The roll out and implementation of Common Core, specifically in New York City, was admittedly a disaster and students with severe disabilities were left out of policy decisions. What do you plan on changing or doing to ensure past mistakes are not repeated?
– The “Every Student Succeeds Act” does not contain any provisions or adaptations for students with severe disabilities. What do you plan on doing to expand or adapt this act to be more inclusive to those unique student populations?
– There are many examples of people with disabilities succeeding in the workplace such as Paper Clouds Apparel (Phoenix, AZ, Austin, TX, and San Diego, CA and Beaus Coffee (in Wilmington NC) as well as many others across our nation. What will you do to create and enact policy that includes provisions for these students to succeed and gain function and vocational skills?
– Many New York State teachers and parents feel as if their trust in Education Policy and the system has been broken. What do you plan to do, if anything, to rebuild trust and to openly engage teachers and parents in future education policy?
– Do you have any investments in New York? If you do, are any of those investments profiting from the ESSA policies?
Yeah you. All of you. The ones struggling through the days wondering why spring break is so late. The ones who stay up way past a reasonable hour and wake up much before the rest. The ones who commute hours and hours a day from the far reaching ends of Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut and West Chester. The ones who are spending their paychecks on supplies even before the check as cleared.
You are amazing. You are appreciated. You are doing phenomenal things for your students that no one else can do.
Keep getting out of bed. Keep adapting. Keep loving your students. Keep making a difference and keep fighting for their voices to be heard.
With love and solidarity.