New York Teachers withdrew Support for the Cabal’s Common Core Agenda*
By Stephanie Simon
The board of the New York state teachers union this weekend unanimously withdrew its support for the Common Core standards as they have been implemented — a major blow for Common Core advocates who have been touting support from teachers as proof that the standards will succeed in classrooms nationwide.
“We’ll have to be the first to say it’s failed,” said Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers.
Iannuzzi said he has talked with union leaders in other states who may follow suit. “We’ve been in conversations where we’re all saying our members don’t see this going down a path that improves teaching and learning. We’re struggling with how to deal with it,” he said.
The board also unanimously voted no confidence in New York Education Commissioner John King Jr. and urged the state’s Board of Regents to remove him from office.
The move on Common Core put the New York union at odds with the national teachers unions, which have steadfastly promoted the new academic standards for math and language arts instruction, now rolling out in classrooms nationwide.
Amid fierce and growing opposition to the standards — fanned by conservative political organizations — promoters of Common Core have counted on teachers to be their best ambassadors and to reassure parents and students that the guidelines will lead to more thoughtful, rigorous instruction.
Now, one of the biggest groups of educators in the country is on record saying it’s not working.
The NYSUT, which represents about 600,000 teachers, retired teachers and school professionals — and accounts for 15% of national teacher union membership — is demanding “major course corrections” before it can consider supporting the standards again.
It wants more time for teachers to review the Common Core lessons the state has been promoting, and it’s demanding more input on whether they are grade-appropriate. Parents and teachers have complained that the standards push the youngest kids too fast, demanding so much work from kindergarteners that there’s little time for the play that’s deemed essential for young children’s development. On the other end of the scale, they have complained that the high-school math trajectory laid out by the Common Core leaves out key math concepts and does not push top students to take calculus.
The union is also demanding that all questions on the new Common Core exams be released so teachers can review them and use them to shape instruction.
Students across New York performed miserably on the first round of Common Core exams, given last spring. The NYSUT is insisting on a three-year moratorium on the high-stakes consequences attached to the exams; the union argues that no teachers should lose their jobs and no students should lose their chance at graduation because of poor performance on the tests during a transition period.
Iannuzzi said the union still believes “the potential is there” for the standards to succeed, but said that won’t happen unless the state brings everything to a halt and effectively starts from scratch.
In response, Commissioner King issued a statement suggesting flexibility; he said he would work with the legislature, governor and Board of Regents to “make necessary adjustments and modifications to the implementation of the Common Core.” But he did not back away from his staunch support of the guidelines, saying that “now is not the time to weaken standards for teaching and learning.” The statement, issued jointly with Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, continued: “Our students are counting on us to help them develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in life. The higher standards the Common Core sets will help them do just that.”
The Common Core standards are a central plank in President Barack Obama’s education agenda.
They were developed by nonprofits and organizations representing states, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but have been heavily promoted by the White House and by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
In Obama’s first years in office, the administration gave states financial and policy incentives to adopt the standards; 45 states and the District of Columbia quickly did so, with little public debate. But as the standards have been introduced into classrooms — in some cases accompanied by notable shifts in math instruction and a much more heavy emphasis on non-fiction texts in English classes — parents have raised questions and conservative advocacy groups have jumped on board with warnings of federal overreach and a loss of local control.
Several states, including Alaska, Pennsylvania, Florida and Georgia, have backed away from prior commitments to use new Common Core exams funded by the federal government to assess their students’ progress and measure their achievement against kids in other states. Other states are going further still and considering revoking the standards altogether.
“We don’t ever want to educate South Carolina children like they educate California children,” South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley recently told a gathering of Republican women. “We want to educate South Carolina children on South Carolina standards, not anyone else’s standards.” She urged the legislature to overturn the Common Core standards, promising she would sign such a bill the moment it came to her desk.
Republican Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin have also signaled their distaste for centralized standards. “Told attendees at state education convention that academic standards should be set by people in WI, not DC,” Walker tweeted on Friday.
The anxiety has touched Democratic leaders, too. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently said he has concerns about the way the standards have been implemented in his state. And at a hearing in Albany last week, Commissioner King fended off a barrage of tough questions and angry complaints about Common Core from legislators in both parties. “Hit the delay button!” state Sen. George Latimer, a Democrat, demanded, banging on the table for emphasis.
Opponents of Common Core said they see the NYSUT vote as a turning point, indicating that the protest movement has expanded beyond parents and political activists.
“Were this a small union no one would take notice,” said Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a think tank that has been active in opposing the Common Core. “But the size and breadth of NYSUT tells even the casual observer that the wheels are coming off Common Core in NY.” The vote, he said, “clearly gives lie to view that teachers support the whole Common Core apparatus. The fact that NYSUT cuts across over a thousand local unions speaks to how widespread opposition has become.”
Carol Burris, an award-winning principal in New York who has been outspoken in opposition to the new standards, called the vote “both courageous and significant.”
But Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which helped develop the standards, called the vote “unfortunate.” He noted that the standards “were developed with substantial involvement from classroom teachers, and teachers overwhelmingly support these standards.”
As evidence of widespread teacher support, the National Education Association points to a poll taken last fall showing that three quarters of its members back the standards. But that support isn’t rock solid. The poll found that 26% of NEA members support the Common Core wholeheartedly, another 50% back them tentatively, with reservations, and 13% said they didn’t know enough to form an opinion.
The NEA has heavily promoted the standards as crucial to making American children more competitive with their international peers. It recently launched a website with more than 3,000 sample Common Core lessons, including videos of master teachers presenting the material.
The American Federation of Teachers has been a bit more nuanced; it supports the standards, but President Randi Weingarten has called for a moratorium on high-stakes testing while the Common Core exams are phased in.
The standards have been promoted as well by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, as well as by prominent education reformers from both parties, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee, the former chief of Washington, D.C., schools.
Supporters of the Common Core have expressed frustration at the mounting opposition, saying the standards have become a convenient scapegoat for anything anyone doesn’t like about education today.
“We’re in an environment where anything anyone thinks is wrong, people think [that’s] part of Common Core,” said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, one of the nonprofits that helped write the Common Core. In an interview last fall, Cohen said he was counting on teachers to be “credible advocates” for Common Core in every state. Teachers, he said, would be able to parry the conspiracy theories and “get the argument grounded again.”