Ed chief: Transition to Common Core like Civil Rights movement

John King speaking in Albany Tuesday. (State Education Department.)
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ALBANY—In a keynote speech to teachers on Tuesday, education commissioner John King began by describing a cartoon about turkeys who revolt to avoid becoming Thanksgiving dinner, and he ended by comparing the state's adoption of the Common Core standards to the U.S. Civil Rights movement.

King spoke Tuesday morning to teachers from Hudson Valley school districts who traveled to Albany for a Common Core training, and he stressed thankfulness and perseverance.

He related the plot of “Free Birds,” which is “compelling cartoon cinema” (in theaters now) about Thanksgiving, en route to expressing his gratitude for teachers' hard work on adopting the Common Core.

“We are thankful at the department for the folks in this room, because you are out leading,” he said to the teachers. “You are the holders of the anxieties of your school communities. People are looking to you as their colleagues to help support them through a moment of challenge and change."

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King addressed the controversy that erupted last month over parents' and teachers' opposition to the Common Core, frustrations that became apparent at a raucous public meeting in Poughkeepsie. Lawmakers and advocacy groups called for King's resignation as after he canceled a series of forums and subsequently rescheduled them under pressure.

“I'm thankful that you have resisted the distractions of the politics ... of the last few weeks around, whether its teacher evaluations or Common Core, and focused on what matters most, which is teaching,” King said.

“I am thankful that you have avoided being trapped in the conversation around assessment that narrows all discussion to assessment—good or bad,” he continued. “I am thankful that you have committed to the view that assessment has to be a part of the instructional process, but it cannot define the instructional process.”

As he neared the end of the 20-minute speech, he stressed that worthwhile reform efforts are difficult and require patience and commitment. That's true for the transition to the Common Core like it was true for the Montgomery bus boycott during the Civil Rights movement, he argued.

“Things that matter are hard, and they take sustained commitment,” he said.

Paraphrasing Martin Luther King, Jr., the commissioner said: “In a real sense, this afternoon, we can say that our feet are tired, but our souls are rested.

“Change is hard,” he continued. “It is challenging, and it is tiring, but the goal, their goal, was to advance the cause of civil rights. Our goal is to advance the cause of civil rights through educational justice, through ensuring that all of our students have access to the richest possible instruction that prepares them to succeed when they graduate from high school, in college and careers, and prepares them to be good citizens.

“It will be hard; it will continue to be tiring,” he said. “I am sure there are some sore feet in the room. It will continue to be tiring, but we must remain laser-focused on the outcome we seek for our students.”

Watch here (the Civil Rights talk starts at 17:13).

 

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