American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has come out swinging against state testing that is aligned with the new Common Core State Standards. Weingarten knows of what she speaks – she has worked as counsel to United Federation of Teachers President Sandra Feldman from 1986-1998, a history teacher at Brooklyn’s Clara Barton High School from 1991-1997, President of the United Federation of Teachers from 1998-2009, and has been president of the AFT since 2008.
Weingarten noted that while the Common Core makes sense in the big picture that it should never have been allowed to be attached to state exams in ELA and Math, ones that will count on students’ records and in teacher evaluations. Of course, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo are all in favor of such a connection because it advances their plans to try to get rid of senior (read that highly paid) teachers. Weingarten rightly objected to such a ludicrous situation, citing how teachers have been poorly prepared for the CCSS, which means that their students will also be unready for them at this time.
This is not music to the ears of the state and testing companies because their lucrative (and dubious) relationship is based on the assessments and making them count. Isn’t it odd that even the NY State Education Department and the New York City Board of Education have expressed that they expect lower (perhaps much lower) test scores this year. So what are teachers, parents, and students supposed to think? Is this is business as usual or monkey business?
What Weingarten is saying is the clear and salient truth. Talk to the teachers whose students took the exams in April, or better yet ask the students how they felt about the tests. It is not surprising that there is an overwhelming voice of concern from those who are most directly affected by the testing. We are talking about students’ records and teachers’ evaluations, so it matters to them most of all. Parents should be outraged that the state and city accepted this situation without educators being adequately prepared.
Weingarten has called for the state and city to wait at least one year before they start using test scores to evaluate teachers; however, both Bloomberg and Cuomo are salivating like dogs over a bone. They are no doubt hoping for disastrous results and that will set the stage for their obvious plans to remove teachers in order to save money on salaries and benefits.
Sadly, none of this is a benefit to students. It is ludicrous to expect teachers to get an entirely new set of expectations in September, give them minimal training during the year, and think that they will have the students ready for the assessments in April. Weingarten’s call for a moratorium for a year not only makes sense but is an equitable way to bring teachers into the new reality of evaluations that are based on testing.
Like taxes, the Common Core is never going away, and teachers, students, and parents need to face the facts about it. There are great online resources like Engage NY that provide a rich resource for anyone who wants to understand the standards and expectations. Also, the goal of the CCSS is a noble one (to make students prepared more deeply and ready to join the workforce), although its connection to testing and testing companies has sullied its reputation for many.
Weingarten’s critics say that she is trying to protect her teachers, but the reality is that she is asking for them to be given a more reasonable amount of time for training. Asking teachers to teach what they do not fully understand is like asking a student in medical school to walk into the operating room and perform surgery. There can be no expectations except for disaster.
Hopefully, Weingarten’s plea will be considered as reasonable and teachers will be given a chance for more professional development, but that will not please those who wish to use these assessments for their own nefarious plans. In reality most of us know that after students teachers are the most important people in our schools. Most of them are on the front lines doing their best to help their charges succeed every day. Weingarten is asking for them to be treated as professionals and given proper training. The stakes are high and we must recognize that teachers should be treated fairly if we want our students to emerge from their classrooms well prepared to take not only the tests but to take on life.
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