By Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy
During the only local public forum on the new Common Core curriculum, which drew hundreds of people to the Port Chester Middle School Monday, every one of the 70 speakers — most of whom identified themselves as parents or educators, and often both — was critical about one aspect or another of the initiative.
One member in the audience, when approached by a reporter, expressed his support for the state-led effort that seeks to provide consistent standards and appropriate benchmarks for all students, regardless of where they live, and prepare them for college and the workforce. He did not address the forum, but spoke to the paper on video.
He identified himself as Vince Marrone, a Larchmont parent of a 5-year-old. But readers identified him as a plant.
The reaction to Marrone, a founder of Public Strategies LLC., which has lobbied the state Department of Education on education reform, demonstrates the complex relationships and high emotions that come into play when discussing Common Core.
“We have had testing since the early 2000s. What has changed is that teacher evaluations are now linked to them,” Marrone told the paper Monday. “The teachers and principals did not have a problem with testing before, but now they don’t like it.”
Within hours of the story being posted online, commentators pointed out that Marrone was a lobbyist for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a supporter of the Common Core.
Some commentators went as far as to call Marrone a “plant” by New York State Education Commissioner John King.
“To find out this man is a paid lobbyist who works on education reform issues and gets funding through corporations like the Gates Foundation only confirms the worst – this movement is orchestrated for the benefit of many people but clearly not for the benefit of our children,” Maria Naughton, who identified herself as a teacher and parent from Connecticut wrote. “The simple fact that a small town meeting to address concerns of parents and educators necessitated a “plant” to validate the movement is almost spooky. Exactly WHO will benefit here because it isn’t parents or children?”
Marrone contends his day job does not invalidate his opinion as a parent. To his point, The Journal News has no way of knowing how many of the 70 people who spoke and only identified themselves as parents had any connections to educators or would be affected by the new teacher evaluations.
John Cain, a history teacher at Copenhagen Central School wrote about how Marrone “neglected to point out that he is paid to support the Common Core.”
“For the record, I’ve never lobbied SED on the common core standards. Ever. Nor has anyone from the Gates foundation. They certainly support common core, but they don’t lobby on it,” wrote Marrone via e-mail on Wednesday. “Why am I the only person in your story to require some form of qualification to their opinion?”
Salvatore Paci, a commentator, suggested Marrone had “financial stakes in Ed Reform,” without elaborating how.
Most speakers at the forum expressed concerns s about excessive testing, stifled creativity in the classrooms, hours spent on new training, inequities poorer students are now facing as a result of the new mandates and the state’s participation in a portal that accesses student data.
Naughton, the parent and teacher from Connecticut, said Marrone was part of a “corporate/government collaborative to take over public school education and all the fiscal benefits that this movement will provide, and it is entirely built upon the false narrative of our failing status in the world, and the horrible teachers we have.”
After the story was published, one reader directly contacted Marrone via e-mail with a threat. He said he was considering reporting that e-mail from Long Island to the police.
“The anger in that room has almost nothing to do with the common core standards. The anger is about the teacher evaluation system that ties test scores to teacher performance ratings,” said Marrone. “Those tests have been around for over 10 years. Why the sudden objections? Simple: it could impact people’s jobs.”