Common Core clash: AFT president fires back at state education officials

The head of a major teachers union fired back Tuesday at state education officials who had dismissed her call for a moratorium on stakes associated with new standardized state tests in public schools.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Chiefs for Change, a small group of state education officials, was distorting her call for a moratorium on the use of new standardized tests based on Common Core standards to evaluate teachers and students.

The Common Core standards in math and reading are rolling out across the country and will be in place in 45 states and the District by next school year. Next spring, students in grades three through 12 will be tested on the standards, which will significantly change the way the two subjects are taught.

While a majority of teachers polled by the AFT support the new standards, most said they were not being adequately prepared by their school districts.

Weingarten said states should not use test scores based on the new standards to judge the performance of students, schools or teachers until the Common Core standards have been fully implemented. She was backed by Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association. Together, the two unions represent most public school teachers.

Weingarten, a Common Core supporter, warned that the new approach is being poorly implemented and requires a “midcourse correction,” or the effort will fall apart.

Last month, when New York administered new tests based on the Common Core standards, teachers, parents and students complained that they were poorly designed, covered material that had not been taught and frustrated children to the point of tears. Like many other states, New York plans to use the test results in decisions about student promotion, teacher evaluations and school closings.

States should implement a moratorium on consequences for at least one year until teachers and students across the country are sufficiently steeped in the standards, Weingarten said.

New York and Kentucky are the only states to have begun testing based on the new standards; the others are scheduled to follow in 2014.

The AFT said about 37,000 teachers, parents and others have written to Education Secretary Arne Duncan to support its call for a moratorium.

But Chiefs for Change, a group of state education officials organized with help from former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R), released a letter Tuesday to Duncan in which it said states should move ahead with plans to use the tests to assess students and judge teacher performance.

“Recently, some members of the national education community have advocated for pulling back on accountability in our schools,” the group wrote to Duncan. “. . . [We] reject any calls for a moratorium on accountability. . . . We will not relax or delay our urgency for creating better teacher, principal, school and district accountability systems as we implement more rigorous standards.”

The group includes Janet Barresi, Oklahoma’s superintendent of public instruction; Tony Bennett, Florida’s commissioner of education; Stephen Bowen, Maine’s commissioner of education; Chris Cerf, New Jerseys commissioner of education; Deborah A. Gist, Rhode Island’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education; Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s commissioner of education; Paul Pastorek, a former Louisiana superintendent of education; Hanna Skandera, New Mexico’s public education department secretary; and John White, Louisiana’s superintendent of education.

Weingarten hit back at Chiefs for Change in her own letter Tuesday, saying “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.”

“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?” Weingarten wrote. “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.”

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.
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