Jeb Bush’s ‘Chiefs for Change’ attack Weingarten for something she didn’t say

Randi Weingarten (AFT)
Randi Weingarten (AFT)

How’s this for a trick? Jeb Bush’sChiefs for Change,” a group of former and current state education superintendents, have attacked American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten for something she didn’t say — without even mentioning her name!

She slapped them back.

Here’s what happened:

A few weeks ago, Weingarten called for a moratorium on the consequences of high-stakes testing because new standardized assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards are unfairly being given to students before teachers have had time to properly absorb and create curriculum around the standards.

In fact, Weingarten has been a supporter of Common Core, but decided that a moratorium was necessary because implementation has been rushed and the initiative is likely to fail if not done well.

Let’s get this straight: Weingarten didn’t argue (as testing experts do) that using student standardized test scores to evaluate teachers and principals is wrong because the results are not reliable. She didn’t call for a permanent ban. She asked for a moratorium to make sure everyone is ready. Given that teachers are being evaluated on the student test scores, it seems only fair to give them enough time to actually learn the standards, develop lessons around the standards, and give students time to absorb them.

Most states and the District of Columbia have signed on to the Core, with the expectation that they will be in place by the 2013-14 school year and new standardized tests will be ready for students. Two consortia of states, with some $360 million in federal funding, have been designing new exams but they are not finished.

Students in some states this spring started taking standardized tests supposedly aligned with the Common Core and there have been enormous problems reported by teachers and principals. Meanwhile, a number of states, led by Republican lawmakers, are rethinking their participating in the Core. And grassroots revolt is building across the country against high-stakes standardized tests;  parents are opting their children out of the tests, teachers are refusing to administer the tests, school boards are passing resolutions urging a rethinking of high-stakes tests, and students are walking out on tests and protesting.

This is the environment in which she made her moratorium call.

Three weeks after she did, the Chiefs for Change enter the picture. Chiefs for Change is a group conceived by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and composed of former and current state superintendents. All of them believe in the kind of corporate-based school reform that Bush pioneered in Florida, which is focused on high-stakes testing as the primary accountability measure. (You can read a Palm Beach Post editorial here about the mess that Bush’s education policies actually made in Florida.)

The Chiefs wrote a letter (see below) to Education Secretary Arne Duncan urging him to reject any effort to postpone the high stakes consequences of Common Core tests. The letter said in part:

Recently, some members of the national education community have advocated for pulling back on accountability in our schools. With the majority of states across the nation adopting new assessments – based on higher academic standards – in the 2014-2015 academic school year, it is important for state education leaders to communicate in detail how we will sustain strong accountability during this transition.

 

The members of Chiefs for Change reject any calls for a moratorium on accountability…

 

The Chiefs presumably thought they were being clever by not mentioning Weingarten, but they were, of course, attacking her. Here’s the thing: She didn’t say what they said she said. (Got that?)

The Chiefs letter says there have been calls for “pulling back on accountability in our schools.” That’s not what she said. Delaying high stakes consequences attached to standardized tests so that teachers and students can actually learn what they have to learn is not “pulling back on accountability.” The accusation is a warped view of what “accountability” is and on the teaching and learning process.

The Chiefs’ contention that states are all ready for the new assessments — which, remember, aren’t even ready — and that sufficient professional development is in the works is just wrong.

A poll conducted for Weingarten’s AFT said that while most teachers approve of the standards, a large majority feel implementation has been rushed. It’s hard to argue that they haven’t with a straight face. The ACT organization just issued the results of its annual national curriculum survey, which said that most teachers do not feel as if they know the Core standards well, and that many schools do not yet have the technology to administer the tests online.

Declaring readiness does not constitute actual readiness.

Weingarten wrote her own open letter (see below) directly to the Chiefs, which says in part:

That the most egregious misrepresentations of our proposal came from officials charged or once-charged with directing state education policy is especially alarming.

She’s got that right.

Daren Briscoe, acting press secretary to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, said in an e-mail that the secretary is aware of the concerns and the department is “thinking them through carefully.” How long the thinking will go on is not clear.

Here’s the Chiefs for Change letter:

Dear Secretary Duncan:

 

On behalf of Chiefs for Change, thank you for your continued leadership and collaboration on education reform issues, especially as states across the nation work to raise standards and strengthen accountability.

 

As you know, Chiefs for Change is an organization of chief state education officers committed to putting children first through visionary education reform. We do this, in part, by being honest about what works and what does not, making data-driven decisions, learning from one another and continually challenging each other to make the hard choices that best serve the students in our individual states and local districts.

 

As state education chiefs, we know firsthand how critical preserving and strengthening accountability is to raising the quality of our schools and providing children across the nation an excellent education. Research shows us accountability – in every area of our lives – yields results, and we have witnessed these results in our states.

 

Consequences and rewards based on student progress are bolstering achievement across the board. Holding our schools accountable for the progress of our students is the only way we will transform education, remain internationally competitive and close achievement gaps.

 

Recently, some members of the national education community have advocated for pulling back on accountability in our schools. With the majority of states across the nation adopting new assessments – based on higher academic standards – in the 2014-2015 academic school year, it is important for state education leaders to communicate in detail how we will sustain strong accountability during this transition.

 

The members of Chiefs for Change reject any calls for a moratorium on accountability. This position overstates the challenge and undervalues our educators. A one-size-fits-all suspension of accountability measures denies the unique circumstances each state faces. We will not relax or delay our urgency for creating better teacher, principal, school and district accountability systems as we implement more rigorous standards. That is a disservice to our students and would undermine the tremendous amount of preparation our states’ education agencies, districts, schools and educators have contributed to this multi-year effort.

 

The Chiefs for Change states are prepared to thoughtfully manage the transition. We have participated in the development of the new assessments; put in place comprehensive plans to provide necessary professional development to educators; and our accountability systems are ready for this change. Over the last few years, each state has developed its own unique accountability model that is demanding in regard to academic outcomes but flexible, when necessary, with regards to changing processes.

 

Individual states must examine closely how these changes especially affect teacher evaluation policies and student growth models, and we are doing so. We adopted these higher academic standards autonomously, and now it is time to uphold our commitment to faithfully implement them.

 

As states undergo this transition, we challenge and encourage our fellow state chief education officers to join us in rejecting any moratoriums on accountability. We must sustain and build on the policies that hold us accountable for producing better educational outcomes for all kids, regardless of socioeconomic background. Only through world-class academic standards, measured through rigorous assessments, will we realize a world-class education system that raises student achievement and, ultimately, maintains our nation’s economic competitiveness.

 

We welcome additional opportunities to work with other states and with our federal partners on strengthening accountability in education.

 

Sincerely,

Members of Chiefs for Change

Janet Barresi, Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Tony Bennett, Florida Commissioner of Education
Stephen Bowen, Maine Commissioner of Education
Chris Cerf, New Jersey Commissioner of Education
Deborah A. Gist, Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education
Kevin Huffman, Tennessee Commissioner of Education
Paul Pastorek, former Louisiana State Superintendent of Education
Gerard Robinson, former Florida Commissioner of Education
Hanna Skandera, New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary
Eric Smith, former Florida Commissioner of Education
John White, Louisiana State Superintendent of Education

 

And here’s Randi Weingarten’s letter to Chiefs for Change:

An open letter to Chiefs for Change:

 

I am disappointed but not surprised by your recent letter implicitly criticizing and blatantly distorting the AFT’s recent call for a moratorium on high-stakes consequences for new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I predicted there would such a response to our proposal from some quarters. But I also anticipated there would be support from those closest to our students—and already 37,000 educators, parents and community members have sent letters supporting the moratorium to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and their state commissioners of education.

 

The AFT and our members strongly support the CCSS. We believe it has the power to transform the DNA of teaching and learning and to ensure that every child, regardless of ZIP code, has the critical-thinking, problem-solving and teamwork skills they need to succeed in college, career and life. But we know that if the standards are not properly implemented and field-tested, they will be nothing more than an empty promise; the fixation on testing will continue, and the standards will be doomed to failure.

 

A recent poll of AFT members found that the vast majority of our members approve of the standards, but only slightly more than half report that their district is very or fairly prepared to implement the standards. Only 27 percent of teachers say their district has provided them with all or most of the resources and tools they need to successfully teach the standards, while 72 percent say they have been provided with just some, few or none of the needed tools.

 

Three-quarters worry that the rush to new assessments will make testing and test preparation the focus of implementation rather than teaching and learning, a well-founded worry in light of your letter.

 

The writers of the standards have voiced the same concerns. William McCallum of the University of Arizona, who co-wrote the Common Core math standards, says, “Implementation is everything. … Preparation of teachers … is crucial.”

 

Contrary to your claim, we are not “pulling back on accountability in our schools.” We are trying to make accountability real. By allowing teachers and districts to create and agree on implementation plans, field-test the new assessments and make necessary adjustments, we will actually be building a stronger accountability system. As Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, wrote in the Huffington Post, “By muting some of the features of our accountability systems, we can press the accelerator on our improvement systems.”

 

The moratorium we propose is a pause in—not an abolishment of—high-stakes consequences of the assessments. It will be a time of intense activity in order to properly implement the standards. It will enable states and districts to get the sequence right—moving from standards to curriculum to classrooms to feedback and improvement to accountability.

 

Unfortunately, very few states and districts have gotten this sequence right, and so there is much work to do. There is no shame in midcourse corrections, but your letter implies that the only course is to proceed in a backward fashion, disregarding the inevitable collateral damage—and likely dooming the CCSS to failure.

 

Can you imagine doctors being expected to perform a new medical procedure without being trained in it or provided the necessary instruments—simply being told that there may be some material on a website? Can you imagine a successful business rolling out a new product without the proper research and development, and without testing it? Of course not, but that’s what’s happening right now with the Common Core.

 

Allowing teachers to be evaluated, schools to be rated and children to be held back based on the results of tests that have not been field-tested—tests on material that children have not seen and teachers have not taught—is reckless, irresponsible and a blatant failure of leadership.

 

That the most egregious misrepresentations of our proposal came from officials charged or once-charged with directing state education policy is especially alarming. You should know from your official capacities that change in education doesn’t happen by edict, or by snapping one’s fingers, or by willing something into being from behind a desk. It comes from the ways that educators are undertaking to realize the promise of the CCSS—steeping themselves in the standards, shifting their instructional techniques, and refining their practice to guide their students through in-depth explorations of essential skills and knowledge. Their commitment must be matched with the necessary resources, support and time to get this right.

 

I regret that you chose to publicly distort our call—which we see as vital to saving the CCSS—without ever reaching out to us. Like you, we want the CCSS to succeed, and only by working in common purpose will we achieve that goal.

 

Randi Weingarten

President

American Federation of Teachers

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | May 22, 2013