During a Tuesday morning speech to the Association for a Better New York, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten called for a moratorium on using standardized test results to evaluate schools, students, and teachers until Common Core state standards are better implemented.
Weingarten effusively praised the Common Core education reforms, which would impose a new set of standards for English language arts and mathematics that would shift the focus from memorization to conceptual understanding — and which supporters say would better prepare students for college education and competitive careers. But although Weingarten said the new standards “have the potential to be a once-in-a-generation revolution in education,” she also warned that too many schools still remain unprepared to teach the new curricula.
Citing an AFT poll of teachers finding that an “overwhelming majority said they haven’t had enough time to understand the standards, put them into practice, or share strategies with colleagues,” Weingarten promised that test scores would drop due to students’ and teachers unfamiliarity with the new standards, and argued that it would be absurd to use those scores to determine whether students are held back, or to designate a school’s performance.
“Can you even imagine doctors being expected to perform a new medical procedure without being trained in it or provided the necessary instruments — simply being told that there may be some material on a website?” Weingarten asked. “Of course not. But that’s what’s happening right now with the Common Core.”
“I am proposing that states and districts work with educators to develop clear tasks and a clear timeline to put in place the crucial elements of Common Core implementation,” Weingarten said. “And until then, the tests should be decoupled from decisions that could unfairly hurt students, schools, and teachers.”
Common Core has become an increasingly — and somewhat surprisingly — divisive issue over the past several months. Although 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the new standards, and both the Obama administration and a majority of Republican governors across the country support the reform, many conservatives are now pushing back. The Republican National Committee recently passed a resolution condemning the plan as “an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children so they will conform to a preconceived ‘normal,'” and right-wing media mogul Glenn Beck has been aggressively promoting conspiracy theories charging that Common Core will somehow destroy American society.
While Weingarten declined to discuss the growing partisan battle over the standards, she did have some strong words about another issue that has divided Washington: the federal budget sequester, which she argued would hamstring Common Core’s implementation.
Noting that some estimates have predicted the costs of implementation to run as high as $12 billion, Weingarten stressed that “schools and students have already endured four years of deep cuts to education,” and lamented that “while the sequester may no longer be causing headaches at airports, it’s taking a hatchet to education funding for poor children.”
In comments to reporters after her speech, Weingarten elaborated that — although Congress moved swiftly to solve the “middle class problem” of sequester-based flight delays — legislators have done nothing to help poor children who will suffer from deep cuts to Title I services, IDEA funding, and Head Start, among other vital programs. Weingarten also noted that the sequester could also cost 10,000 teachers their jobs if no action is taken.
“We’re already seeing — because of state cuts — less funding today than 10 years ago in terms of early education. And sequestration means that 70,000 fewer kids will get the services of Head Start,” Weingarten explained. “So this is in some ways an invisible cut, because it hurts poor kids. At the very same time that we’re actually saying that kids need these deeper, more enriched standards, we’re actually taking away current support.”
Randi Weingarten’s full speech to the Association for a Better New York can be read here.
Photo: Randi Weingarten testifies at a 2010 hearing about supporting America’s educations (House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats via Flickr.com)