Posts Tagged ‘Commissioner John King’

A Tribute to Education Commissioner John King

December 12, 2014

As my previous posts on the man were somewhat critical of Commissioner King, in the interest of fairness and presenting an alternative point of view, I offer here this wonderful piece of writing by NYC based testing expert Fred Smith.

John King who taught for three entire years.

John King who taught for three entire years.

A Tribute to Education Commissioner John King

By guest blogger Fred Smith

I had actually forgotten about Commissioner John King’s background—an African-American and Puerto Rican, who lost both parents at an early age. He went on to earn degrees from Harvard, Yale and Columbia. It is a story that precedes and follows and precedes his remarkable ascending trajectory as an educational leader.

To my shame, until he announced his resignation this week, I hadn’t much thought back on King’s stirring account of a young life nurtured by the teachers he had and the public schools he attended. He has often spoken about them, how they saved him and lifted him—an example to inspire others.

What has gone untold, in part because of John King’s self-effacing nature, are historical details of other important influences that molded him into the courageous, emancipating, philosophical shining light he has increasingly become. Despite his humility, DNA evidence confirms the following facts that offer further insight into Dr. King’s legendary career and destiny, if you will.

There is proof that King and Abraham Lincoln are related. No doubt this has motivated his visionary policies, which seek equity for all God’s children. The blood of Davy Crockett also courses in King’s veins (although he jokes that he never kilt him a b’ar when he was only three) Perhaps, this explains why the Commissioner feels so strongly that commitment to the Common Core is a patriotic duty.

I’m somewhat skeptical about the veracity of two other DNA-based claims but find them fascinating to ponder. It appears that John King and Socrates have profiles that match—this according to 2,400-year old samples taken from the original critical thinker’s toga. And going further into antiquity there are findings that trace the Commissioner’s lineage back to King Tut, a kind of scientific symmetry linking the two boy Kings.

So, I bow down to and salute John King as he moves on to the U.S. Department of Education and goes from strength to strength.

Expect No Change: King Will Be Replaced by a Facsimile Thereof

December 11, 2014
John King:  Builder of airplanes in mid air

John King: Builder of airplanes in mid air

So I woke up this morning to the news that New York State Education Commissioner John King, who never met a reformer he didn’t grovel to or a reform idea, tested or not, that he didn’t want to impose on an entire system, has been booted out or moved up or both, depending on how you look at it or who you read.

At any rate, King is soon to be gone.

Here and there bloggers have written of feelings of joy and the like at King’s departure. For myself, as much as I find the man a complete fraud and utterly reprehensible, King’s departure makes me feel, well… nothing much at all.
Yes, I’ll be glad not to see his can’t -you –see- how –sincere- I am face so much or to hear his whiny arrogant voice but it is near impossible for me to believe that King will be replaced by another better, or even different, than himself.
The news brings to my mind the changing chancellorships in New York City under the wretched reign of Mike Bloomberg: the prosecutional era of former prosecutor Joel Klein, followed by the ephemeral and clueless moment of the preposterous Cathy Black, followed, in turn, by the return of the steady, deadening hand of professional Yes Man Dennis Walcott. Through them all, the only thing that changed was the name of the chancellors and, as the reformers are constantly coming up with new terrible ideas, the methods of undermining the schools, busting the union and stripping the teachers of autonomy and morale.

Nothing changed because, despite their titles, not one of these chancellors was actually in charge. (Under orders to destroy the teachers union by any means possible, Klein may have come up with a few of his own ideas, but Black and Walcott? No way. ) Principally they came from Bloomberg but also indirectly from people like Bill Gates and Eli Broad, to say nothing of the ever expanding Wall St and hedge contingent of education experts. All of these nominal chancellors were taking their orders from others in ways that mocked they very idea that these were civil servants, mocked even more the idea that they were beholden to the people they served.
Not one of those chancellors was in charge and neither was King.

King, who spent two or three years in a classroom before becoming a charter school entrepreneur, was catapulted to the status of state commissioner because those who catapulted him understood that herein was a man who could be trusted to obey orders.
And obey orders King did.
As far as I can see, no campaign ( it is NOT a movement ) has so cynically exploited the nightmare of America’s racism as has the billionaire based education reform campaign, so the fact that King was completely malleable and African American made him the perfect choice of the ed reformers who declared ( and declare and declare ) that “education is the civil rights issue of our time.” Accordingly, King was the perfect Manchurian Commissioner. Perfect, that is, for a year or two while King enjoyed the luxury of seldom having to actually face the public he ostensibly served and consistently betrayed.

All this changed in the wake of the Common Core debacle in which, as King predicted, some 70% of New York students failed the new whiz bang tests and parents were increasingly horrified and disgusted at what was happening to their kids and their kids’ teachers under the miraculous new Common Core regime.

Rebellion was in the air, and somebody somewhere thought it would be a good idea if the seemingly mild mannered King went to a few choice locations throughout the state to enlighten and lecture the huddled masses yearning to be free as to the miraculous powers of the Common Core, a power that King, like virtually all education reformers, mysteriously withholds from his own children.

But, to King’s surprise, the masses – which is to say, the parents of the children in King’ s charge and the teachers who were teaching them — were in no mood for a lecture. King’s towering arrogance and thinly disguised contempt toward both parents and teachers, his rote arguments based on nothing but stale crème puffs and his anger at being obliged to actually answer questions was not, as they say, well received.
The Traveling King show was abruptly cancelled to allow its star a prolonged pouting fit, only to be revived for two performances in New York City along with guest star Meryl Tisch. The Brooklyn show, disgracefully stage-managed by operatives of Michelle Rhee’s front StudentsFirst who were allowed into the venue an hour early, swined up all but a few speaking spots and, generally speaking, treated King’s appearance as if he was making a monumental sacrifice simply deigning to be there among them.

King’s act was wearing thin and King became a liability for the people who orchestrated his meteoric rise to power. Like Cathy Black, King’s problems were
not because of his policies which he steadfastly and robotically defended, but because of public relations, far and away the dominant force behind a decade of so called “education reform. ”

King never rebounded.

That may be one reason that King, whether through his own volition or not, is gone. Who knows?
To me, only three things are certain. The first is that, in return for his service to them, John King will continue to reside on Easy Street for the rest of his mortal life. His billionaire friends will see to that.
The second is that whoever is named to replace King will, in terms of policy, in no meaningful way differ from King. Like the chancellors under Bloomberg, only the face will change.

Such is the oligarchic way.

The third is that, barring a miracle or a catastrophe, the destruction of public education in the state of New York will continue unabated and, in light of Andrew Cuomo’s remarkable promise to “break the last monopoly,” likely even accelerate.

That too is the way of oligarchy.

When Rigor Collides With Wonder

February 12, 2014

As in all campaigns in which fear and brainwashing are essential components, corporate education reform is highly dependent on and makes great use of repetition. As such, teachers across America have been forced to read, listen to, and at times regurgitate the same language — never our own — endlessly to please the current education overlords who, being non educators, are radically different from those who came before them.

I assure you the current overlords are not easily pleased.

Consider Commissioner John King or Secretary of Education Arne Duncan — not to mention those like Bill Gates and Eli Broad, from whom people like King and Duncan receive their orders.

One of the more disturbing and disturbingly repeated words one hears in school these days is “rigor.” Teachers need to demand and model rigor. Students must display rigor. Lessons must be built on rigor. There need be rigor all over the place. Just as the experimental Common Core State Standards are suddenly absolutely essential for our kids to be “college and career ready”, so too must teachers and students approach the sacred Core with ceaseless rigor. If not, the mantra goes, how in the world will they ever compete for jobs in the super savage new global economy?

Personally, I am appalled by the use of such a word in schools, no less now, in fact, then when I first encountered it at least 1000 usages ago. Consider its various meanings:

a (1) : harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment : severity (2) : the quality of being unyielding or inflexible : strictness (3) : severity of life : austerity
b : an act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty
2: a tremor caused by a chill
3: a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable; especially : extremity of cold
4: strict precision : exactness
5a obsolete : rigidity, stiffness
b : rigidness or torpor of organs or tissue that prevents response to stimuli
c : rigor mortis

Such a word could only have found its way into education by someone who has no experience whatsoever in education and no understanding of it. I have been told by many that the demand that this particular word be used and used and used comes from non other than monopolist Bill Gates, which makes perfect sense, given the way this man conducts his life as well as his fierce desire to conduct the life of everyone else on the planet.

I had an encounter with the word this morning. Or rather, I had an encounter with the success of the incessant propaganda that has been rammed into my head for the past two years concerning this thing called “rigor.” It was a disturbing revelation that repetition works, and works without you hardly being aware of it.

At first.

What happened was this: as my lesson ended and I and my students prepared to leave my room, one of my charges had wandered over to the window of my classroom and stood there looking at the window, motionless. I called to him by name once, twice, three times, but he moved not a muscle. I could feel anger welling up within me as I walked to the window to confront him on his disrespect and for screwing up my rigorous schedule and theirs. We had to move. Now. No time for dilly-dallying.

When I got to the window and looked at him looking out the window I was instantly disarmed: I encountered a face in something like rapture. I encountered a child in wonder.
“Look! “ he said to me, never moving his head and pointing. “Look! How beautiful! The snow! It’s everywhere!” He pointed here and there on the snow covered playground which a fourth floor window afforded an angle he’d not seen before.

The other children heard the elation in his voice and rushed over to where we stood. They began to peer out the window, ooing and ahhing. Suddenly, where there was one child there was a crowd of kids, big eyed and smiling, being children, happy.

It was an extremely humbling and revealing moment. And it was deeply moving. And it was beautiful.

It made me feel shame for the impatience I had felt for this child only a moment before. And it made me loathe that much the more the damned fools that have hijacked our school system and rammed their sadistic, ignorant notions down our throats and into our heads so that we, in turn, ram them down the throats and into the heads of innocent children.
And it made me that much more determined to expose and expel them.

John King’s Flying Circus Lands in Lower Manhattan

December 12, 2013

Teacher Peter Lamphere speaking before a deeply engaged John King and Meryl Tisch

Teacher Peter Lamphere speaking before a deeply engaged John King and Meryl Tisch

Unlike the authentic and enraged voices of parents and teachers that Commissioner John King encountered in every corner of the state he dared show up in to peddle his wares on our dime, many of the voices King heard on the past two nights in Brooklyn and Manhattan respectively have been melodious indeed, if also largely synthetic and out right obsequious. For this King can give thanks to the machinations of billionaire funded corporate education fronts groups Students First NY and Educators4Excellence.

Even if they were thwarted from hogging almost every one of the 45 two minute speaking slots, as they had in Brooklyn on Tuesday, the confederacy of corporate shills and paid operatives ( many of whom spoke at both “forums”) did successfully put on a show of obeisance to the Common Core State Standards that was sure to please their masters even as it bore no relationship whatsoever to 99.9 % of working career teachers who loathe the thing and all that comes with it.

Unwittingly, the corporate advocates also provided not a little bit of entertainment, albeit in the form of black humor. Take for example the E4E guy who proclaimed to all and sundry that he was “a good teacher” before the implementation of Common Core but now, due to the miraculous intercession of Common Core he had become “a great teacher.”
Poof! Just like that!
This, mind you, was not presented as wicked, guerilla satire.
Then there was the teacher from John Adams High School who strode down to the mic with seven students in tow only to ask that all eight of them be allowed to speak, as somehow they constituted one entity. For some reason, this was allowed. And it was the defense of this break from protocol that merited the only words that Meryl Tisch spoke all night.

Hey! Nice work if you can get it!

The teacher then went on to tell the crowd that he taught a class in “critical thinking.”
By way of explanation he actually said, “We get together and critically think.” The insinuation was that “critical thinking “ did not exist or was wholly unknown in the public school system ( and perhaps to homosapiens in general) before the advent of the Common Core. This insulting and absurd sentiment, to one degree or the other, was echoed by the E4E contingent all evening, a bizarre position, indeed, for an organization that obliges new members to sign a what amounts to a pledge of allegiance to its corporate dictums.

At any rate, if the man’s students are any indication, the sorry guy does not even know what the words “critical thinking ” mean. One student after another strode to the mic only to recite words that sounded to all the world like nothing more than Common Core press releases.
Poor kids.
A crisis in education, indeed!
One wonders how such people ever got to be teachers. Or why.

In fact, listening to these folks, a stranger would be forgiven if you concluded that standards themselves were non-existent before the coming of the Common Core. As if, that is, before the Common Core and corporate fronts like E4E and StudentsfirstNY, teachers and students did little more in school than kind of hang around, looking out windows or watching game shows on TV.

But, for the moment at any rate, at least these speakers were, in fact, active working teachers. Not so the three twenty something know-it-all “ ex- teachers”, whose love for the Common Core Standards is exceeded only by their love for their former students — even as they forsook the teaching profession after two or three years to save schools from bad teachers and raise expectations as paid operatives of StudentsFirstNY. (One understands their affinity with King as, like them, it only took King three years of teaching to know everything there is to know about it.) Indeed, it seems the further removed one is from actually working under Common Core the more rhapsodic one grows about it. Consider “ex – teacher “ Miranda Cohen who rose to declare the she was behind CCSS not merely 100 % but “150%. ”

And who is this “ex teacher?” Nothing other than a staffer for Students First NY working tirelessly and selflessly to raise expectations, ferret out “bad teachers,” and instruct those remaining on how to do their job.
Herein her story from the StudentsfirstNY website: “As a 9th grade teacher at a failing school, Miranda was driven to provide her students with the same excellent instruction and guidance that she herself received in Massachusetts.
After teaching for two years, Miranda moved back to New York to begin a Community Organizing Fellowship with StudentsFirstNY, as she sought an opportunity to have a meaningful impact outside of the classroom. Miranda is deeply committed to raising the level of expectations that communities have for both their teachers and schools.”

“Meaningful” indeed! Well, it beats working!

There was even a speech by a young lady who presented herself as a member of E4E at the same time she was a chapter leader for the United Federation of Teachers (UFT.)
This is a vomitous and incoherent combo if there ever was one but also one that has to be some kind of wet dream for E4E sugar daddies Whitney Tillson and Bill Gates!

Then, for good measure (and a bit of diversity) we heard from a lawyer couple from the Upper West Side — we know they were a lawyer couple from the Upper West Side because they made sure we knew they were a lawyer couple from the Upper West Side — who spoke separately to insure that their four year old and two year old children would be educated under the Common Core Standards.

I swear I’m not making this up.

One thing that was noticeably and gratefully absent, despite the fundamentalist fervor of the shills, was the obscene and horrific (if politically manipulative) notion that reportedly dominated Tuesday night’s forum in Brooklyn: the idea that, somehow, the implementation of Common Core was nothing less than a matter of civil rights and all who opposed it did so because they are racists who sadistically wish to condemn children of color to the ignorant underclass for perpetuity.

In between and after this exercise in self-righteousness and farce were many statements from parents and teachers that moved from the wise to the poignant to the heartbreaking.
One mother spoke of her child experiencing suicidal ideation that she attributed directly to the demands and stress of the Common Core.
An hour or so later, a similar statement was made by yet another mother.
King and Meryl Tisch answered both statements with silence.
Several experienced teachers spoke of dividing the Common Core, in which they found merit, from the high stakes testing, from which they found none.
This too was answered with silence.
Leonie (“ The Lioness”) Haimson of Class Size Matters challenged King directly to explain the legality and purpose of the data mining of InBloom, data mining which has already been rejected by many states due to parent pressure but not in New York.
King danced the watusi, the twist, and the bossa nova but never came anywhere near answering Haimson’s query.
Leonie was not surprised.
One mother offered the insight that the problem is that the “ state begins with the premise that kids don’t want to learn and teachers don’t want to teach.”
More silence.

Testing expert Fred Smith called for a moratorium on testing due to the shabbiness of their production offering example after example of the shoddiness of the work.
Silence.

Parent activist Noah Gotbaum spoke passionately and personally about an entire array of DOE policy failings, including the fact that the Common Core barely even acknowledges the existence of, never mind the realties of, special needs children.

Not a word in reply.

Members of the MORE Caucus of the UFT, myself included, made their presence felt and heard through the long, weird night.

Perhaps the most challenging question of the evening was asked by a middle aged African American teacher who spoke poignantly of his upbringing in the South where he was raised by his grandmother and was an excellent high school student, only to discover that he was far behind his peers when he reached college. He declared himself a Common Core agnostic but asked a crucial question: if not Common Core, what?

It is a question that opponents of the Common Core must answer. Indeed, we ignore it at our peril.

For King who is somehow “completely convinced of the power the Common Core has for our students ” the Common Core is the solution not the problem.
For King and his subjects in StudentsFirstNY and E4E, we are the problem, not the Common Core.
The Common Core said King, offering no evidence whosoever, will “ create a “ citizenry ready for the 21st century.”

It was declarations such as this that led to my own question, the second to last of the night.
I told King and Tisch and all present that I am in awe of the Common Core, not as an educational tool, but as a political phenomenon. How a thing that was funded by Bill Gates and created by creepy entrepreneurs like David Coleman and Pearson Inc in a secrecy akin to that of the Manhattan Project could become signature educational policy of a Democratic president, applauded by both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, is mind boggling and without precedent in American history.

Furthermore, as the effusive praise and cult like mantras of the untested experiment gave evidence, I am equally in awe of Common Core as an exercise in mass perception management and public relations. But I wanted to know this: as the proponents of the Common Core were so unconscionably reckless as to impose the thing on a nation (spare me the “adopted in 45 states” line), where was the evidence to back up all these magical expectations? Or put another way: why was my child, as was every child in the nation, being used as a guinea pig in their experiment?

My question, like all questions of substance, was ignored. Very tactfully. Answering questions, after all, was not at all what the “forum” was about.

Addendum: Herein an uncommonly frank account in the main stream media of what transpired at King’s and Tisch’s New York “forums” and why.

On Arne Duncan (and Co.) and the Inerrancy of the Common Core

November 19, 2013

The public parental eruption against the deceitfully named Common Core State Standards taking place across New York State and elsewhere has generated not only plenty of press but, in the past few days alone, a couple of incredible statements from suddenly on-the-ropes defenders of the standards. These statements, grotesques and weasel worded as can be, have led to “he- said- what!”- like moments from sea to shining sea.
The first is the instantly infamous statement by a “fascinated” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who said the following: “It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary,” Duncan said. “You’ve bet your house and where you live and everything on, ‘My child’s going to be prepared.’ That can be a punch in the gut.”

A punch in the gut, indeed.

Mr. Duncan

Mr. Duncan

Of much lesser note but of similar train of thought were the following words from Timothy Daly, the president of the New Teacher Project, a group, according to the New York Times, “focused on teacher effectiveness and aligned with the reform movement.” Daly is commenting on the ceaseless display of parental outrage directed at New York State Commissioner John King, a ceaseless proponent of the Common Core who happens to be an African American. For Daly, the last fact seems to be the major factor if not the only factor in the parental rage and disgust.

“This is the first African-American leader of the State Education Department,” Daly said. “And to watch him be shouted at and insulted by largely white audiences in the suburbs is discomforting and it is jarring that, not only has it happened, but it has happened repeatedly.”

King himself sees no such causation and was good enough to say so publicly.

Mr. Daly

Mr. Daly

Both Duncan and Daly begin and end from the standpoint held by (or pretended to be held by) all reformers: that is of the absolute inerrancy of the CCSS. To them, the CCSS is a document created by souls so divinely inspired and all knowing that they had no problem whatsoever requiring state commissioners to sign on to their standards before they were even written; to them this is a document so perfectly executed that not a single article within it, not as much as a comma, can be altered once “adopted” by a state; to them this is a document so wise and prescient, so supernaturally imbued, it required no field testing of any kind before being imposed on the children of an entire nation. To them, that is, though they would never use such language, the Common Core State Standards, like the Bible or the Koran in the eyes of certain religious fundamentalists, are infallible.
To even question the sacred standards, then, is to blaspheme.
This, at least, is the manner in which the CCSS have been presented to the public, and this the manner with which they have been rammed down the throats of American teachers who are obliged to ram them down the throats of American children. The CCSS are to be understood as perfect unto themselves Accordingly, any and all problems with them merely expose secret fears (like Duncan’s white mom discovering her child’s hidden mediocrity) and spiritual failings (like Daly’s charges of suburban racism against Commissioner John King rather than rage over what King’s policies were doing to their children) that are to be overcome with love and kindness and perhaps some Professional Development.
And herein lies the problem with presenting your product as perfect from the womb and imposing it on the children of a nation when the parents of those children begin to take notice. You cannot possibly defend it. You have nothing to fall back on. No research. No evidence. No data. ( Second in sacrality only to the Common Core itself in education reform land ) No nothing.
There is only
rhetoric and public relations campaigns and full-page ads by the Business Round Table and the Chamber of Commerce and the like.
And only time before parents begin to understand the CCSS as a vast billion-dollar experiment with their children –in short, a shyster’s gamble with their children.
And that time, it seems, has come.

From this standpoint both the statements of Duncan and Daly are absolutely appalling and completely apposite. They have no other card to play. They cannot defend their beloved CCSS with anything of substance because they have nothing of substance on which to defend it. Theirs is a faith based education policy that dare not let that be known. Their only hope is to attack and attempt to de-legitimize the concerns and character of all in their path. We should expect more such obscene statements. And we should welcome them for they expose the vast con being played on American families and their children — not to mention the taxpayers.

The reformers have no where else to go. Falsehoods can only beget more falsehoods.
And with every such statement more and more people will begin to glimpse the truth about how education reformers really see America’s children. And therein lies our hope.