Tag Archives: Weingarten

The Common Core Wars: Why Are the Left and the Right Both Attacking and Defending the Common Core?

The Common Core (CCSS) is under attack from the left and the right, and being rigorously defended, from the left and the right – perhaps one of the few bi-partisan issues on the table, attack and defense from both sides at the same time!

The Tea Party Republicans and the Libertarians attack the CCSS as a plot to take over the minds of America’s youth as well as supporting vouchers, charter schools and the elimination of any federal role in education. They are joined by opponents of charters, supporters of increased federal aid for the poorest schools, Diane Ravitch, while “agnostic” on the Common Core links to anti CCSS sites. Governors, the business community and AFT President Randi Weingarten support CCSS.

Why have the standards evoked such passions across the political spectrum?

I see the standards as aspirational goals – skills that we want to students to master at each grade level. In crafting units and lessons, in designing rubrics we embed the CCSS in each unit and lesson. As kids move through the grades we hope that kids begin to achieve the CCSS goals.

Unfortunately the Common Core at the federal and state level is viewed as a “test,” kids and teachers who are winners or losers.

To what purpose?

Will the specter of doom, being “left back,” being branded a failure, being threatened with dismissal make kids and teachers work harder or smarter?

While I believe the standards are a tool for teachers the use of the standards to hold a scimitar over the heads of students, teachers and principals is obnoxious.

The grades 6-8 Social Studies Common Core State Standards (below) are guides to teachers – it would be nice if both the state and the city published “clickable” curriculum on the EngageNY website – it is unfathomable that the state designs tests without providing teachers with curriculum,

I have no problem with the standards; they set a high bar, as teachers we must figure out how to help our students reach higher.

Key Ideas and Details
• Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
• Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
• Identify key steps in a text’s description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).
Craft and Structure
• Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
• Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).
• Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
• Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
• Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.
• Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.
Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity
• By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 6–8 text complexity band independently and proficiently

Social Studies teachers I meet see the standards above as rigorous, and as a guide, a focus for their lessons.

Unfortunately the state has not provided the principals and teachers with materials or training or the time to feel confident in moving up the bar.

The commissioner may gloat that the state has spent at $1.5 billion to train teachers; the dollars were not well spent. When the majority of teachers admit that they are not equipped to fully implement the standards isn’t that an indictment of the state-sponsored training? See Report by Michael Casserly, Council of Great City Schools at Steinhardt/NYU in February, 2013.

The state carefully managed establishing cut scores that guaranteed “pass” rates in the 30% range – are 70% of students in New York State “failing”? Of course not. (Read a description of the Person-Regent Fellows management of the cut score-setting process, BTW, that process appears to exclude actual classroom teachers)

When asked to go along with other states, and AFT President Weingarten, and place a moratorium on the impact of the test scores the commissioner refused.

It is the commissioner who is failing – not the students.

He has shown an abysmal lack of leadership.

Eric Nadelstern, the former chief academic officer in New York City wrote in a blog comment,

The easy way for Albany to lead is to make the tests harder and then point fingers. The real work takes place in hundreds of thousands of classrooms throughout the State where teachers interact with students each day. To be more effective, they need better instructional materials, more effective supervisors, and fairer assessments that level the playing field for all students; not just harder tests. Unfortunately, that would require bold and effective leaders at a time when such individuals are as rare in education and politics as unicorns.

So the student assessments get harder, the teacher evaluations grow more complicated, and the leadership declares victory and seeks higher office.

Eric is absolutely correct, “To be more effective, they need better instructional materials, more effective supervisors, and fairer assessments that level the playing field for all students; not just harder tests”

New York City has provided networks and principals with excellent guidance; however, the network system is incapable of carrying out the “Instructional Expectations” set by Tweed. (Read the Citywide Instructional Expectation: 2013-14 document – it is excellent)

At the heart of the Instructional Expectations is instruction – the interaction of supervisors and teachers in improving instructional practice,

Frequent classroom observations paired with timely, meaningful feedback and targeted support to help teachers

… educators learn best from professional development that is embedded in their everyday work. For teachers, this means learning experiences delivered by the school leaders who are most knowledgeable about their skills and experiences. School-based learning experiences that engage teachers in professional conversations with their peers and administrators about high-quality teaching foster both a professional community and shared learning and support.

In the real world the best of plans go awry.

Cluster and network leaders, for the most part, do not have the skills to work with principals and teachers. Ask a teacher to identify their network; they have no idea, ask a teacher to identify their network leader, again, no idea.

“Frequent classroom observations” is viewed as harassment in a climate where the mayor spends his time attacking the union and the union fights back.

Unfortunately the union is in a fight-first mode, it is difficult for the union to defend principals who are actually using frequent classroom observation to improve instruction.

What is so distressing is that the commissioner, who is viewed so negatively by the folks in the field, the folks who actually man schools and classrooms, moves further and further away from practitioners.

If the commissioner simply said:

* The first year is a moratorium year – the tests will only be used to for diagnostic purposes and to set a baseline.

* in year two the test will be used to measure growth – not to measure whether the student has achieved the Common Core standards.

I was at a birthday party for a little girl, everyone was having a wonderful time, and a number of the attendees were teachers in Brownsville. A balloon burst with a loud “pop,” someone joked, “Makes us feel right at home.” Everyone laughed.

I’m not being sarcastic; not being retributive, just a suggestion, maybe the commissioner and his family should move into Brownsville for a couple of weeks.

Pity the Poor Principals, Really: School Leaders are Humiliated and Ignored by a Mindless Bureaucracy

Middle management carries the message from the corporate aeries to the troops in the trenches. How do you “transmit the message” to the 1600 franchises, the sixteen hundred schools, diverse by neighborhood, by size, by age of students and by academic achievement of student bodies? Who decides upon the message? Washington? Albany? the Mayor? What is the role of the public in crafting the message?

In a nation that prided itself on education policy crafted in the fifteen thousand school boards the new so-called education reform has an awkward feel to it – crafted in backrooms by anonymous bureaucrats – the whiff of totalitarianism.

The school leaders, the messengers, range from veterans who worked their way up the ranks from teacher to assistant principal to principal to newbie leadership program graduates. While teachers tend to trash the leadership program principals in my experience there are grizzled veterans who run schools by threat and intimidation and new leadership program principals who work in collaboration with teachers – and the reverse – the common characteristic is the level of frustration.

Each day your e-mailbox is filled with messages, everyone, from Tweed to networks to superintendents, all have the ability to ask for information or send orders – the “principal as CEO” mantra is a canard.

The network, your support system, carries the message and the superintendent, your rating officer, is the reviewer of accountability metrics. How successful are you in carrying out the ukases?

Principals are both, in theory, managers and instructional leaders; one principal described the job: “I’m a juggler – and they keep adding balls.”

Management theorists suggest granting as much authority as possible to the managers closest to the customers. I was shopping in PC Richards, in my “discussion” with the sales person we reached an impasse, I suggested, “Why don’t we speak with your manager?” I added, “I’m a really good longtime customer.” A tapping on the computer – a smile, “We can work something out.”

Large, successful organizations train, train, train and grant wide authority to managers, collect and assess data (stores sales, by month, by year, by individual sales rep, by product) and assess sales reps and store managers.

William Ouchi, “Schools That Work (2003)” is a management professor at UCLA and is generally considered the leading driver of school management policy.

Ouchi’s central recommendations are expressed in seven “keys to success” that, if followed, will make any school successful. They are:

1. Every principal is an entrepreneur
2. Every school controls its own budget
3. Everyone is accountable for student performance and for budgets
4. Everyone delegates authority to those below
5. There is a burning focus on school achievement
6. Every school is a community of learners
7. Families have real choices among a variety of unique schools.

While Joel Klein was fond of quoting Ouchi, especially the supposed wide discretion of principals in the world of New York City schools, in reality, principals have limited authority, very limited authority.

The imposition of Race to the Top requirements (i. e., a teacher evaluation system and a data warehouse) and the Common Core (higher standards measured by rigorous exams) are imposed, schools are held accountable with, of course, zero input.

An excellent op ed in the New York Times, “Who’s Minding the Store” questions the implementation of the Common Core,

In sum, the Common Core takes as its model schools from which most students go on to selective colleges. Is this really a level playing field? Or has the game been so prearranged that many, if not most, of the players will fail?

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, supports the plan, which she calls “revolutionary.” That said she has called for a moratorium on judging teachers and schools by the first round of assessments, which she fears are sometimes being implemented hastily and without needed support.

For Diane Ravitch, a historian of education and former assistant education secretary, the program is predicated on “the idea that you can’t trust teachers.” If we want our children taught from standardized scripts, she told us, let’s say so and accept the consequences.

For our part, we’re tired of seeing teachers cast as scapegoats, of all the carping over unions and tenure. It is time teachers are as revered in society as doctors or scientists, and allowed to work professionally without being bound by reams of rules.

Let me repeat, “…allowed to work professionally without being bound by reams of rules.”

Principals and teachers are bound by endless complex rules, Ouchi’s # 1 rule; “Every principal an entrepreneur” is thwarted by the footnote, “Within Tweed rules and mandates.”

Under the new teacher evaluation plan both sides, the city and the union supported two observations a year, State Commissioner King required at least four observations a year. Is there a scintilla of evidence that the number of observations improves instruction? Substantive two-way dialogues create conversations that impact the teaching/learning process – the Commissioner and Department appear only interested in a compliance checklist.

“I drop into every classroom almost every day – I constantly discuss instruction with the staff – I observe my superb teachers once a year, others more depending on the need – 40 teachers x 4 observations = 160 observations a year – what is this going to prove? Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) look like a mechanical exercise to satisfy the Commissioner … when will I have time to talk to kids and teachers and actually lead the school?” moans a principal.

One of the frustrated principals complained to me, “Student Learning Objectives are a worthwhile idea – I would like to sit down with teachers – perhaps at a summer institute and work on student learning objectives – maybe a combination of student projects, essays, research papers culminating in a portfolio, and emphasizing daily checks on student understandings – forget it – we’ll receive a slick packet from Tweed wrapped in a classy PowerPoint and we’ll all try to figure out how to game the system.”

Some principals figure out a “creative non-compliance” strategy: how to both report the data the “system” requires and create a community of learners that empower the best in teachers, others stumble along and eventually quit and a hardcore will mindlessly crush staffs into compliance, as so eloquently expressed by Hannah Arendt, are evil,

People who do evil are not necessarily monsters; sometimes they’re just bureaucrats …. Evil, Arendt suggests, can be extraordinary acts committed by otherwise unremarkable people.

[Arendt] insisted that only good had any depth. Good can be radical; evil can never be radical, it can only be extreme, for it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension yet — and this is its horror! — it can spread like a fungus over the surface of the earth and lay waste the entire world. Evil comes from a failure to think. It defies thought for as soon as thought tries to engage itself with evil and examine the premises and principles from which it originates, it is frustrated because it finds nothing there. That is the banality of evil.

Weingarten Calls For A Moratorium on the Implementation of the Common Core: A “Save Harmless” Year for Planning That Includes Parents, Teachers and Principals.

The Common Core (CCSS) is approaching a tipping point, defined by Malcolm Gladwell as,

The word “Tipping Point” comes from the world of epidemiology. It’s the name given to that moment in an epidemic when a virus reaches critical mass. It’s the boiling point. It’s the moment on the graph when the line starts to shoot straight upwards. [in my example, downwards].

While the Common Core aficionados, the editorial boards of the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the NY Daily News laud the CCSS parents, principals and teachers are increasingly pushing back.

The parties responsible for providing the dollars, the electeds at the federal, state and local levels read the editorials and place that finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing.

As Tip O’Neill so succinctly put it, “All politics is local.”

In July the test scores will be released and the attacks will resume – dramatic drops in scores and the consequences – angry parents, teachers and principals – next year the Regents exams will reflect the CCSS and the attacks will reprise as more kids fail Regents exams and graduation and college readiness rates plummet.

Commissioner King bravely defends the decision to dive into the CCSS.

As a state, the percentage of students scoring proficient or above will likely decrease as a result of the more challenging expectations of the Common Core around careful analysis of text, writing with evidence from sources, applying math skills to real world problems, and critical thinking. The results this summer will provide a new baseline against which we – parents, educators, and students – can measure our progress toward college and career readiness.

The current implementation of the CCSS angers the public, the specter of the Bloomberg fall from grace over flawed school policies will resonate among the electeds.

We are approaching a tipping point.

Presidential aspirant Cuomo will see the “handwriting on the wall,” as the voting public loses faith, as polls show their opposition, for Cuomo, blame has to placed.

AFT President Randi Weingarten in a speech this morning at the Association for a Better New York (ABNY) offers a way out. See NY Times article here and an excellent Huffington Post article here.

With David Coleman, the father of the Common Core in the audience Randi asked,

So, what if I told you there is a way to transform the very DNA of teaching and learning to move away from rote memorization and endless test-prep, and toward problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork—things I know many of you have been advocating for years? And what if I told you there is a way to do that not a generation from now, but for students today, who will be the employees you’ll hire tomorrow?

For Weingarten the CCSS is at a crossroads,

I predict these standards will result in one of two outcomes: Either they will lead to a revolution in teaching and learning. Or they will end up in the overflowing dustbin of abandoned reforms, with people throwing up their hands and decrying that public schools just don’t work. And the coming months will determine which outcome comes to pass.

The AFT President makes a simple suggestion – take a deep breath – declare a moratorium on the impact of high stakes testing – make 2013-14 a “save harmless” year – spend a year working out an implementation plan.

An implementation plan must include curriculum, professional development and time—but they aren’t sufficient. A high-quality implementation plan also means involving the frontline educators who are responsible for engaging students in critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and the other skills expected in the Common Core. And the plan can’t just be imposed from on high. It needs to be designed with and by teachers—ideally through their collective bargaining agent. The only way this will succeed is if teachers have input and ownership. Teachers rise to the occasion. The more input and supports they have, the more confident they are about mastering these instructional shifts.

I fear the CCSSaphiles will push forward, continuing to test and punish, continuing to ignore the valid doubts of teachers and parents.

At the beginning of her speech Weingarten raised the thick volumes of the ELA and Math Common Standards – teachers envision emblazoned across the cover of the volumes the words of Dante, “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” (“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”), the Core, rather than graduate students with college and career skills will be viewed as a punitive device, another way to punish, to humiliate, a “reform” that will fade and gather dust.

The clock is ticking.

Sitting in the audience: Chancellor Merryl Tisch, Cuomo’s Deputy Secretary for Education D’Shaun Wright, mayoral candidate Bill Thompson and a long list of “movers and shakers.”

After months of exemplary approval ratings Governor Cuomo’s ratings have plummeted from 74% to 59%. It’s only a matter of time before the backlash over high stakes testing will begin to splash the Governor.

Mayor Bloomberg, in his last year, his education approval ratings have dived,

… that 56 percent of registered voters in New York City say they trust the union more to go to bat for students. Less than a third, 31 percent, said they trust Bloomberg more.

The Common Core, to use a Gladwell analogy is ” a meme, [an] idea that behaves like a virus–that moves through a population, taking hold in each person it infects,” the Common Core will either be rejected as a terrible idea or accepted as a brilliant approach to changing education.

Tick, tock.

Read and/or watch Weingarten’s speech here.

NYU Panel (Part 1): Can We Graduate Teachers Adequate to Teach the Common Core?

For the past fourteen years the Steinhardt School of Education at NYU has been sponsoring themed panels of educators/practitioners on a wide range of topics.

The topic d’annee: The Common Core.

The first two panels: King/Suransky and a “national perspective” were, let us say, desultory.

The panel this morning looked disconnected, the leader of a new organization to drive reform/restructure college teacher prep programs (James Cibulka – NCATE), the primary writer of the brand new Common Core Science Standards for English Language Learners (Okhee Lee) and a middle principal in the South Bronx (Ramon Gonzalez). A week ago AFT President Randi Weingarten was added to the panel.

The panel, surprisingly, was excellent.

Principal Gonzalez painted a picture that is commonplace in the South Bronx and other high poverty neighborhoods – 50% of teachers are alternatively certified, (TFA and Teaching Fellows) and 40% of principals have three years or less of experience. Gonzalez is enthusiastic about the Common Core – with caveats: too many dense standards, difficulty of embedding a common language and common assessments, need to recruit teachers with content knowledge and increasing common planning time for teachers. Gonzalez admitted the kids were not adequately prepared for the rigor of the tests, and lacked the required endurance.

The subtext of the principal’s comments: we may not be preparing teachers adequately for the complexities of teaching the Common Core standards within a rigorous curriculum.

James Cibulka, the president of National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) rolled out a new organization, Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), that will be “accrediting” the 900 teacher education college programs across the nation. Cibulka referenced the 1910 Flexner Report,

Flexner made the following recommendations:
1. Reduce the number of medical schools (from 155 to 31) and poorly trained physicians;
2. Increase the prerequisites to enter medical training;
3. Train physicians to practice in a scientific manner and engage medical faculty in research;
4. Give medical schools control of clinical instruction in hospitals
5. Strengthen state regulation of medical licensure

Teacher education programs are currently traditional classroom-based courses with a lightly supervised student teaching experience and low admission standards.

CAEP is calling for sweeping changes, upgrading admission standards, “clinically-rich” programs, meaning the classroom experiences closely tied to classroom instruction, and transparently tracking the effective of graduates in school settings.

New York State is responding by requiring sweeping changes in both teacher prep and school building leader programs.

One of the major differences in the high achieving education nations and the USA is the quality of new teachers. In Finland only one in ten applicants are accepted for teacher preparation programs – in our nation – almost all applicants are accepted. Colleges face a challenge: teacher education programs are highly profitable for colleges, regardless of the number of anticipated vacancies in schools. Teacher education and school building leader programs are churning out candidates in an era in which jobs are shrinking.

CAEP does not have the authority to terminate programs – that power is held by states; however, poor assessments of state-approved programs will certainly be embarrassing to states and colleges.

The Flexner Report changed medical education dramatically and created the finest medical education program in the world.

If we want to change the quality of teachers we must both recruit abler candidates and retain teachers, the Research Alliance for NYC Schools finds,

Among middle school teachers who entered their school during the last decade, more than half left that school within three years…

The Common Core may or may not be a “sticky idea,” it may change instruction and raise the bar for students, it may create waves of better prepared ”college and career ready” students. It will not happen if we do not upgrade the quality of teachers entering the profession and provide supports to retain teachers.