Teachers’ Union President: Halt All High Stakes Linked to Common Core

By Catherine Gewertz — April 30, 2013 2 min read
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AFT President Randi Weingarten is calling for a moratorium on all stakes associated with the Common Core State Standards, saying that teachers have not had enough time or support to understand them deeply and shift their instruction accordingly.

In what’s being billed as a major speech this morning in New York City, Weingarten says that it’s unfair to judge students, teachers, and schools on test scores that reflect material that hasn’t been adequately taught yet. Those kinds of high-stakes decisions should be held in check until states and districts develop—and carry out—implementation plans that include the time and resources necessary for professional development, curriculum, and instruction to fully reflect the standards, she said in draft remarks shared with Education Week.

Weingarten’s speech was triggered by recent opposition in New York state to this year’s tests, which were newly designed to reflect the expectations of the common standards. The New York state teachers’ union, an AFT affiliate, raised objections to those tests—and voluntary new curriculum—on similar grounds, as we reported to you last month.

In her prepared remarks, Weingarten praised the common core, saying it held promise for better teaching and learning, especially for disadvantaged students. She described a visit to a New York City school where 4th graders were mining Christopher Columbus’ diary for rich details of his experience, rather than memorizing facts of his journey. It took more than 50 hours for the teachers at that school to understand the new standards deeply enough to make necessary changes in their classrooms, and they still meet weekly to manage it, Weingarten’s draft speech said.

Few schools are managing such shifts, however, the speech said. Instead, common-core-aligned tests are often being introduced before lessons and materials are even available or fully put into practice. That kind of implementation is causing a “serious backlash,” according to Weingarten’s speech.

Before students, teachers, or schools are judged on mastery of the common standards, Weingarten says, adequate time and support must be available to understand them, develop curriculum for them, adapt instruction, and then find out—through “a bunch of different measures"—whether all that is working. Putting the new standards into practice without adequate preparation, she says, is “a failure of leadership.”

Weingarten also takes a dig at the Obama administration, noting that it earmarked more than $350 million in the Race to the Top funds for assessments, but nothing specifically for professional development. (The U.S. Education Department provides about $2.5 billion in professional-development money to states and districts annually, through the Title II grants, which they’re free to use as they like.)

Anticipating the accusation that she is anti-accountability, Weingarten said in her remarks that she envisions the moratorium only in the “transitional years” in which school systems are fully absorbing the required shifts.

While Weingarten is staking out this turf, others are claiming different parts of this policy debate. Yesterday, in anticipation of Weingarten’s speech, Tim Daly of the New Teacher Project blogged that teacher evaluations based on the common core should move ahead. There has also been an upsurge in protests against testing in general, the student demonstrations in Oregon being only one recent example.

For a full copy of Weingarten’s speech, click here.

Assistant Editor Stephen Sawchuk, who writes Education Week’s Teacher Beat blog, contributed to this report.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.