New York Commissioner John King held his first meeting in New York City on the rushed implementation of the Common Core and the tests whose cut score was set so high that only 31% of students across the state passed. Among English learners, only 3% passed. Among students with disabilities, only 5% passed. The pass rates among African American and Hispanic students was 15-18%. In NYC, the passing rates were even lower.

Here is a report sent to me by a parent who attended the forum last night at Medger Evers College on Brooklyn.

“I am a Brooklyn public school parent who went to the forum last night at Medgar Evers College with John King. I wanted him to hear the near-universal concerns of my fellow parents that high-stakes testing has gotten out of control. By the time I showed up at 6PM, the speaker’s list was full. My mistake – but the forums had been announced at the last minute, with no information about how to sign up for speaking. Many of us believed (mistakenly) there would be an open mike. Clearly StudentsFirstNY had different information. Apparently they brought in about fifty parents and charter school teachers at 4:30 – one woman from “our” side, a sympathetic teacher, had happened to get there that early, so she was the only speaker who stood up to criticize the NYSED.

The forum began at around 6:45. After the first speaker had criticized was done, a “Parent Organizer” from StudentsFirstNY whooped up her part of the crowd with a racially inflammatory speech charging that “parents in Park Slope don’t want the kids in BedStudy” to get the same education as their kids. She at least had the honesty to acknowledge that she was a paid employee of StudentsFirstNY. I know of at least one other speaker (an ex-teacher) who did not acknowledge that she is an employee of StudentsFirstNY. However, what’s interesting about the first speaker is that (I was told by one of my fellow parents) she is actually a parent at PS321, one of the best schools in Park Slope, where test prep is de-emphasized as much as possible. It seems that she wants test-prep for everyone else, but not for her kid.

Early on a state assemblyman (I think it was Karim Camara) spoke about John King – he said, and I quote, “John King has an Ivy League education. He could be anywhere in the world. But he chose to be here with us. Isn’t that amazing?” I found that a bizarre comment, since John King should consider himself pretty lucky to be NY State Education Commissioner, with precious few qualifications, and listening to the public seems like it should be a basic part of his job, not a favor he bestows on his fortunate subjects.

But then the array of speakers started – one after another, repeating the same talking points, accompanied by cheers. They spoke in turgid cliches which no one could argue with – “Don’t you believe in the children?” over and over again – fending off some mythical Common Core opponent who is against all standards and expectations, and wants minority children to do poorly in school. The majority of people in the audience sat stunned and helpless at the barrage of nonsense being unleashed from the stage – a burst of rhetoric totally unrelated to real debates about common core implementation and high-stakes testing. It’s hard to argue with someone when a) you don’t even get a chance to speak and b) you are called a racist without them hearing any of your arguments.

I actually felt sorry for whatever percentage of charter school parents there who were unpaid. They are right to be angry at the educational inequalities in our society. Their children are not getting the same education as parents on the Upper East Side or even Park Slope. But it is not primarily because of differences in curriculum, and Common Core is not going to make a big difference in those inequalities. What would make a difference is changing the way resources are allocated – why are our poorest schools cut down to the budgetary bone? But none of those parents seemed cognizant of that.

What I find ironic is that they kept saying they wanted the same education for their kids as their richer counterparts. But parents in Park Slope would never put up with the monotonous test prep John King wants to institute in schools state-wide. Of course John King and Meryl Tisch would never expose their own children to that – both send (or sent) their kids to progressive private schools, where their children are taught to think creatively.

After an hour of so of being told we were racists for daring to question King, many of us retreated to the lobby, where we discussed how the event had been hijacked. I don’t even think John King believed he was hearing from true representatives of parents.

I had the temptation to rush the mike and give a Swiftian speech a la A Modest Proposal: Why (I would ask in mock-outrage) had John King refused to allow tests for Kindergarteners? (Note: he recently abandoned the K-2 bubble testing under immense political pressure) Did he not believe in standards? Did he not want low-income children to succeed? Without tests, how can parents know how they’re doing? Does he not believe in the children?”