TEA PARTY opposition to the new education standards in the Common Core is getting a lot of attention. Far more threatening is the less-noticed pushback from teachers’ unions. Even as union leaders profess support for rigorous standards, local and state affiliates are working to weaken, delay or undermine them.
The Chicago Teachers Union, which represents teachers in the country’s third-largest school district, last week approved a resolution opposing the Common Core and vowed to lobby the state school board to eliminate its use. In January, the New York State United Teachers withdrew support for the standards while calling for removal of the state’s education commissioner. In Tennessee, the teachers association was instrumental in getting lawmakers to approve a delay in administering assessments aligned to the standards.
The actions come as the heads of the two national unions, Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and Dennis Van Roekel of the National Education Association (NEA), say they support the standards but contend that implementation has been so rushed, so botched, that adjustments, even delay, are in order. No doubt there have been glitches, with some school districts doing a better job than others with the phase-in, but surely that was to be expected. As Ms. Weingarten pointed out in her spirited defense of Obamacare at the nadir of its rollout, “Any policy effort this large is going to have problems, big and small. But the relentless attacks by Republicans to undermine and destroy the law are wrong. . . . We need to continue to fix the problems and unintended consequences of this law.”
The Common Core is a set of objectives for student learning — not a mandated curriculum — that arose from governors, state education officials and others who understood that American children needed to raise their game to compete in the global economy. It is designed to move away from rote learning toward critical thinking and group effort. It assumes that parents will want to measure school and student progress. In many places, officials are saying that teachers should be evaluated in part on how well they are teaching, with good teachers being rewarded.
That’s the source of union objections. The critique about process is a straw man for the main objection: use of test results as a factor in evaluating teacher effectiveness. Union officials object even though what’s being measured is student improvement, not absolute levels, so no teacher would be held responsible for a child’s deficient home situation or background, and even though no one is proposing to count test results for more than half of an overall evaluation. It appears high standards are fine until they are about to be implemented.
The Tennessee Education Association derailed the use of new assessments with complaints about support and resources, though the state had spent $22 million training teachers over three years, $26 million on “no-stakes assessments” to help teachers gauge the success of their revamped instruction and additional money on new education resources. “TEA supports the more rigorous standards that are included in Common Core, but the implementation must provide time and resources to be effective,” read a union statement. At least the Chicago union was honest about its opposition, listing among a litany of objections the use of test scores “to label and close schools, fail students, and evaluate educators.”
The AFT and NEA were among the biggest supporters of the Common Core. They helped make the case for more rigorous standards and invested in the development of aligned curriculum and teaching tools. Surveys show teachers still support the effort. Will their leaders now be complicit with the tea party in sabotaging the Common Core, or will they help make the standards a success?
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