President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, has taken some criticism for her support of the Common Core State Standards. She still believes that they have potential to be beneficial, but in an interview with Salon.com yesterday, she also admitted that they might fail. Weingarten leveled a substantial amount of her criticism at the testing and evaluation policies that have come coupled to the CCSS, especially the secrecy that testing giant Pearson has tied to its contracts for CCSS tests. Five of the union president’s points:
These standards were done by the states — the governors and the state chiefs — in a very rapid fashion, and there was not enough conversation and discussion about what they were, and how they would be implemented. Number 1.
Number 2, as a result, there are problems in the standards, particularly as applied to [grades] K through 2 … They seem to be developmentally inappropriate for the earliest of kids …
Number 3: … The state tried to copyright the standards. [There’s] one thing about education that’s absolutely imperative, which is that you try things, and you adjust, and you have a continuous learning process. The copyright suggests they’re fixed in slate, and that’s just wrong …
Number 4: There was more work that was done about testing of the standards and the assessment process, than actually the implementation. And that’s why many people believe that this is about a testing process, not about a learning process.
And so — Number 5 — you get to what happened in New York and other places, where all of the sudden, the state commissioner last year said the scores will go down 30 points – and then magically the scores went down 30 points. So most people then distrusted what was going on here. Was this about actually helping kids get higher standards? Or was this about trying to create a sense of failure in the public system?
If, as Weingarten states several time, implementation of standards is “90-95%” of what matters, then these criticisms are welcome but also overdue. All five of those concerns have been evident for some time as the Obama administration and CCSS boosters outside of government have been rushing this implementation and rushing the linkage to high stakes testing for teacher evaluation ahead at a truly breakneck pace. Weingarten is absolutely correct when she asserts:
I think the teachers, the parents … have become so frustrated with standardization, and with top-down accountability and being told what to do without being given the resources to do it, and having testing before teaching, that they’ve gotten so frustrated that they just don’t trust the transition to standards anymore.
But the thing is that anyone with an understanding of American education, as she has, should have seen that frustration coming years away. That frustration was built into the Race to the Top grants which pressured states to adopt valued added models of teacher evaluation using common assessments. Since then, almost all work around Common Core has been to essentially monetize it either via testing, curriculum or technology materials while teachers and students across the country struggle with staff cut backs and delayed school improvement budgets. Parents and guardians, who by wide margins approve of and appreciate what their children’s teachers do, were bound to notice.
Regardless, I do welcome Randi Weingarten sounding this alarm. That she believes the standards have potential to do good is not an opinion she is alone in having, but what really stands out is that she is the first high level supporter of the CCSS who is publically willing to admit that they are in trouble and that they are in trouble because the implementation is running roughshod over teachers and students. Who else is willing to admit to this? Certainly not Arne Duncan. Absolutely not John King. Not Bill Gates.
But they should.