11 July 2014, 17:40

Major Teachers Union Latest to Back Away from Educational Programs

Major Teachers Union Latest to Back Away from Educational Programs

By Lauren Murphy

WASHINGTON (VR) – One of the largest teachers’ unions in the United States has announced it will start giving $30,000 grants to some of its members to critique and rewrite Common Core Standards. The American Federation of Teachers is announcing the move at their annual convention that kicked off today in Los Angeles. In the past, the AFT hasn’t completely bashed the standards but the union has grown increasingly critical, experts say this could be a major blow to the standard’s supporters.

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing said, “This comes on the heels of similar initiatives by the National Education Association, the other major teacher union in the US."

He pointed out the NEA recently launched a campaign against "toxic testing" and called for US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to step down for “pursuing damaging education policies."

According to Schaeffer, "The action by both teachers unions is the reflection of a grass roots movement which we called 'Testing Resistance and Reform Spring'…across the country, parents, students, educators, administrators and local officials have risen up and said enough is enough to the testing obsession that has taken over our schools."

He noted many teachers and others “closest to the classroom” say the standards aren’t helping to improve academic quality, and instead are undermining equity. “And that’s what you're seeing reflected in the major teachers unions who are responding to their grassroots classroom-based members and moving strongly against these damaging programs.”

Schaeffer said the amount of outcry about the standards has greatly increased in the last few months. "The levels of protests this spring have been unprecedented. Over the past several years, there's been a writhing tide of opposition reflected in public opinion polls that show the public and particularly those with kids in public schools or those who work in education, recognize that the test and punish strategies pursued by politicians and their big donors over the last decade and a half have been an abject failure."

He pointed out this is actually an issue that has brought people together from "across the ideological spectrum." This is not an issue of liberals versus conservatives or left versus right but grass roots versus elites...it is unusual, and we expect it to continue accelerating until politicians take heed."

"In some places politicians are already beginning to listen. A number of states are backing out of the required new assessments."

Schaeffer said right now California is the only state that has a "legal option" allowing parents to opt-out of Common Core testing for their children. "Elsewhere it's an act of civil disobedience. For example in New York State, upwards of 50-thousand parents opted their kids out of the tests."

"There have been boycotts of the tests led by teachers in places like Chicago and Seattle and principals and administrators who are speaking out across the country. In Texas for example, hardly a bastion of progressivism, nearly a thousand school boards have signed on to a resolution calling for a significant cut back in testing. And the state legislature there responded by eliminating five unnecessary tests that had been required in all the state’s public schools."

Schaeffer said in the big picture, raising the achievement of students nationwide and close learning gaps are "great goals," but that there are alternatives to Common Core.

He mentioned one which has been tested in New York by the state's Performance Standards Consortium. "Students have to demonstrate their knowledge through projects, presentations, term papers and the like to show they have mastered the substance...much deeper and more meaningful learning…more critical thinking than filling in bubbles on a standardized test."

He said the research has shown those students “have a higher graduation rate, a higher college-going rate and a higher college retention rate. Their schools are allowed to focus on real learning and assessments that support teaching and learning."

Schaeffer also pointed out the big business and big money involved in Common Core. "It’s a huge financial enterprise…one that promises great rewards to the ones who will profit from it. Particularly Pearson, the British multinational company that has become the major player on the US scene, and screwed up testing in dozens of states because of their low quality projects and their lack of quality control. This is a company whose tests are going to be dominating our classrooms unless parents, teachers and their allies rise up and fight back.

"In addition, big money, particularly in the form of donations from three major foundations, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation and the Walton Foundation, from the owners of Walmart, have given millions and millions of dollars to states and nonprofit organizations to try to push Common Core testing down the throats of an unsuspecting public. Many states initially accepted the money but as they’re beginning to see the data, states are beginning to back away."

As a result of their adapted stance on the issue, the AFT is also suggesting an increase in membership dues to support more aggressive political activism. While some might see that as ironic, Schaefer said it’s one of the only things they can do to level the playing field. "I think the AFT initiative is a recognition of the unfortunate reality that testing is a political and ideological policy, not an educationally sound one."

The convention will hold an hour long debate on the standards this Sunday.

bob schaeffer, Lauren Murphy, teacher's union, American Federation of Teachers , Politics
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