Carol Burris, a principal of a high school in Long Island, New York, tells a sorry tale of a heavy handed effort by an official of the Néw York State Education Department to intimidate Peter DeWitt, an elementary school principal in upstate Néw York.

DeWitt has a regular blog hosted by Education Week. He ran a guest post by an author who wrote about “the testing bullies.” The post also said, erroneously, that Commissioner John King sends his own children to a private Montessori school that does not give the state tests.

DeWitt received a call from Tom Dunn, King’s communications director, who said that the school in question does give the state tests. DeWitt promptly removed the sentence, but the communications director warned that the State Education Department would continue to monitor his blog for comments offensive to Commissioner King.

As Burris wrote:

“DeWitt called Dunn back later, after he removed the sentence, and asked Dunn not to call him at his school again. DeWitt said that Dunn responded that if he printed anything that was not true, or if he printed anything that he (Dunn) did not like about John King, he would indeed call DeWitt again. DeWitt referred Dunn to the email address on the blog.

“On two occasions, I have heard Commissioner King complain of blogs and their “tone.” I am sure that he is not the only policymaker who is not pleased by the way social media has given voice and organization to those opposed to the current reform agenda. I would suggest that there is an alternative view of blogs — they can also serve as critical friends. As the commissioner for all of New York’s children, it is important that the State Education Department hear what parents, teachers and principals think, especially those who stand in opposition. Without buy-in, no reform can possibly be accomplished.”

It is a shame that King does not listen to critical voices, as Burris suggests. He has meager experience as a teacher or a principal, gained mainly in the charter sector, and King could learn by listening to people like Carol Burris and Peter DeWitt, who are far more knowledgeable and experienced than he is.

King should also remember that he is a public servant, not the boss of all educators. The State Education Department exists to meet the needs of districts, not to issue orders and mandates.

A touch of humility might help King gain the support of the many veteran educators in New York who could help him. Reform does not happen in the absence of trust and mutual respect.