NEA’s Van Roekel Loses Faith in Common Core (Sort Of)

dennis-van-roekelNational Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel in a letter published yesterday that the Common Core implementation has been completely botched.  He statements, speaking on behalf of his union (but under the guise of “educators”), in support of the Common Core in this letter reads more like a faith statement than a fact-based case for the Common Core.

So when 45 states adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), we as educators saw the wonderful potential of these standards to correct many of the inequities in our education system that currently exist.  Educators embraced the promise of providing equal access to high standards for all students, regardless of their zip code or family background.

We believed the standards would help students develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills they need to succeed in the fast-changing world.  NEA members overwhelmingly supported the goals of the standards because we knew they could provide a better path forward for each and every student. The promise of these high standards for all students is extraordinary.  And we owe it to our students to fulfill that promise.

As educators, we also had high hopes that our policymakers would make an equal commitment to implement the standards correctly by providing students, educators, and schools with the time, supports, and resources that are absolutely crucial in order to make changes of this magnitude to our education system.

Words like “potential,” “promise,” “believe,” and “high hopes” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, but you really don’t have any choice but use words like this when you don’t have any data backing the standards up.

Van Roekel loses faith though when the rubber meets the road.

So over the last few months I have done what my students and fellow educators have taught me:  I have been listening closely. I have joined our state leaders in member listening sessions around the country, observed dozens of member focus groups, and invited hundreds of thousands of NEA members to share their views about how CCSS implementation is going.

I am sure it won’t come as a surprise to hear that in far too many states, implementation has been completely botched.  Seven of ten teachers believe that implementation of the standards is going poorly in their schools. Worse yet, teachers report that there has been little to no attempt to allow educators to share what’s needed to get CCSS implementation right.  In fact, two thirds of all teachers report that they have not even been asked how to implement these new standards in their classrooms.

Imagine that:  The very people expected to deliver universal access to high quality standards with high quality instruction have not had the opportunity to share their expertise and advice about how to make CCSS implementation work for all students, educators, and parents.

Consequently, NEA members have a right to feel frustrated, upset, and angry about the poor commitment to implementing the standards correctly.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise as it is a top-down initiative.

But he’s still hanging on with a belief that the failed implementation is just due to the powers that be not listening to teachers about how to properly implement the standards.  Could a big part of the problem be with the standards themselves?  No, couldn’t be.

We. Must. Move. Forward. Van Roekel states.

But scuttling these standards will simply return us to the failed days of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), where rote memorization and bubble tests drove teaching and learning.  NEA members don’t want to go backward; we know that won’t help students.  Instead, we want states to make a strong course correction and move forward.

I’m no fan of No Child Left Behind either.  States that abandon the Common Core will revert back to previous standards, that’s not really moving backward.  They can also adopt their own standards.  Also if he thinks Smarter Balanced and PARCC won’t foster the same type of “teaching to the test” mentality as we see with No Child Left Behind (which is still in effect) he’s mistaken.

His suggestions will do very little to solve the problem as if working with the NEA will solve all of the problems.

1. Governors and chief state school officers should set up a process to work with NEA and our state education associations to review the appropriateness of the standards and recommend any improvements that might be needed.

2. Common Core implementation plans at the state and local levels must be collaboratively developed, adequately resourced, and overseen by community advisory committees that include the voices of students, parents, and educators.

3. States and local school districts must place teachers at the center of efforts to develop aligned curriculum, assessments, and professional development that are relevant to their students and local communities.

4. States must eliminate outdated NCLB-mandated tests that are not aligned with the new standards and not based on what is being taught to students in the classroom.

5. States must actively engage educators in the field-testing of the new assessments and the process for improving them.

6. In any state that is field-testing and validating new assessments, there must be a moratorium on using the results of the new assessments for accountability purposes until at least the 2015-2016 school year. In the meantime, states still have other ways to measure student learning during this transition period—other assessments, report cards, and student portfolios.

7. Stakeholders must develop complete assessment and accountability systems. It takes more than one piece of evidence to paint a picture of what students are learning. Testing should be one way to inform effective teaching and learning—not a way to drive it.

Not every suggestion is bad, but it’s naïve.  You’re going to have problems with any assessment that is aligned to poor standards that encourage failed teaching methods, but he’s too in love with the standards to see that.

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