Standards Opinion

Chicago Teachers Union Breaks With Common Core

By Anthony Cody — May 08, 2014 5 min read
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Yesterday, in a vote that shows democracy is alive in the American Federation of Teachers, members of the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates voted -- reportedly unanimously -- to join the growing national resistance to the Common Core standards.

A statement released by the union says,

Now that the resolution has passed, the CTU will lobby the Illinois Board of Education to eliminate the use of the Common Core for teaching and assessment; and be it further and will work to organize other members and affiliates to increase opposition to the law that increases the expansion of nationwide controls over educational issues.

Local president Karen Lewis said,

Common Core eliminates creativity in the classroom and impedes collaboration. We also know that high-stakes standardized testing is designed to rank and sort our children and it contributes significantly to racial discrimination and the achievement gap among students in America's schools.

A year ago, I wrote this post, encouraging teacher union leaders to “get off the Common Core train.” As we now know, the tests aligned with the Common Core do not deliver equity. Instead, since they invariably yield much lower scores for students -- especially English learners and those with disabilities, they reinforce inequities.

As I wrote a few months ago,

My number one objection to Common Core and the associated tests is that they are being used to rank and sort students, teachers and schools. That appears to be their purpose, from start to finish. The farther into this experiment we get, the more devastating this latest sorting mechanism appears to be. Every time you stamp "college ready" on a student who has cleared the bar, the students that did not make it past that hurdle are stamped "unworthy." When the vast majority of English learners, African American and special education students fail these tests, we cannot allow this to be heralded as an advance for equity. It is a swindle, a hoax and a fraud.

AFT president Randi Weingarten has been increasingly sharp in her criticism of Common Core implementation, especially as regards the tests in New York state. In an April 29 interview with Josh Eidelson, Weingarten explained her stance:

The Common Core is not a silver bullet, and it's not the only thing kids need for a good education, but it does have the potential if done right to move schools to routinely thinking about critical thinking and problem solving rather than rote memorization. It's not going to happen when we're in the middle of this fixation on testing, and particularly on high-stakes testing. It will happen if, you know, there's a lot more thoughtfulness about implementation, about letting the standards be guides instead of straitjackets, about revising the K through 2 standards to be more developmentally appropriate, and about having teachers being able to really spend a year or two adjusting their curriculum, working with their curriculum, aligning it to what the standards are, before there's any kind of stakes. And then when you have the stakes, the stakes should be a whole bunch of things, including project-based instruction ... Between austerity and the lack of thoughtful implementation, you see that the Common Core may actually fail ... because it's been implemented so badly in so many places, and because of the opposition from the right, and the opposition to testing. So what I'm actually trying to do is save standards from the austerity hawks and from the chest-thumpers, as well as the people who are the haters of public education. But it means that testing has to be delinked from the standards, and that there has to be a lot more thoughtfulness about how to implement the standards.

So far, California is the only state that has implemented the standards without stakes attached to the tests -- but this is a temporary condition. This year the tests are being given on a trial basis, and the results will not be released. But the state remains dependent on federal dollars, and a year from now, the state will have Common Core tests in full force, with consequences for success and failure. Arne Duncan has shown through his recent suspension of NCLB waivers for the state of Washington that he will brook very little autonomy in these areas.

The AFT convention will be gathering in Los Angeles in July, and representatives there will have a chance to debate whether the national union should continue to defend the Common Core. This will be a hot topic for sure, and the members of CTU have placed it right on the front burner.

The official text of the resolution follows:

Resolution to Oppose the Common Core State Standards

WHEREAS, the purpose of education is to educate a populace of critical thinkers who are capable of shaping a just and equitable society in order to lead good and purpose-filled lives, not solely preparation for college and career; and

WHEREAS, instructional and curricular decisions should be in the hands of classroom professionals who understand the context and interests of their students; and

WHEREAS, the education of children should be grounded in developmentally appropriate practice; and

WHEREAS, high quality education requires adequate resources to provide a rich and varied course of instruction, individual and small group attention, and wrap-around services for students; and

WHEREAS, the Common Core State Standards were developed by non-practitioners, such as test and curriculum publishers, as well as education reform foundations, such as the Gates and Broad Foundations, and as a result the CCSS better reflect the interests and priorities of corporate education reformers than the best interests and priorities of teachers and students; and

WHEREAS, the Common Core State Standards were piloted incorrectly, have been implemented too quickly, and as a result have produced numerous developmentally inappropriate expectations that do not reflect the learning needs of many students; and

WHEREAS, imposition of the Common Core State Standards adversely impacts students of highest need, including students of color, impoverished students, English language learners, and students with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, the Common Core State Standards emphasize pedagogical techniques, such as close reading, out of proportion to the actual value of these methods - and as a result distort instruction and remove instructional materials from their social context; and

WHEREAS, despite the efforts of our union to provide support to teachers, the significant time, effort, and expense associated with modifying curricula to the Common Core State Standards interferes and takes resources away from work developing appropriate and engaging courses of study; and

WHEREAS, the assessments that accompany the Common Core State Standards (PARCC and Smarter Balance) are not transparent in that --teachers and parents are not allowed to view the tests and item analysis will likely not be made available given the nature of computer adaptive tests; and

WHEREAS, Common Core assessments disrupt student learning, consuming tremendous amounts of time and resources for test preparation and administration; and

WHEREAS, the assessment practices that accompany Common Core State Standards - including the political manipulation of test scores - are used as justification to label and close schools, fail students, and evaluate educators; therefore be it

RESOLVED that the Chicago Teachers Union opposes the Common Core State Standards (and the aligned tests) as a framework for teaching and learning; and be it further

RESOLVED, the Chicago Teachers Union advocates for an engaged and socially relevant curriculum that is student-based and supported by research, as well as for supports such as those described in the Chicago Teachers Union report, The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve; and be it further

RESOLVED, the Chicago Teachers Union will embark on internal discussions to educate and seek feedback from members regarding the Common Core and its impact on our students; and be it further

RESOLVED, the Chicago Teachers Union will lobby the Illinois Board of Education to eliminate the use of the Common Core State Standards for teaching and assessment; and be it further

RESOLVED, the Chicago Teachers Union will organize other members and affiliates to increase opposition to the Common Core State Standards; and be it further

RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be sent to the Illinois State Board of Education, the Chicago Board of Education, the Governor of Illinois, and all members of the Illinois legislative branch; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that should this resolution be passed by the CTU House of Delegates, an appropriate version will be submitted to the American Federation of Teachers for consideration at the 2014 Convention.

What do you think? Should our unions reconsider their support of the Common Core?

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