Breaking (Bad) News

The Common Core Task Force Commission released their final report. You can read the official press release here, or click here for the full 55 page report.

On the surface at least, the recommendations contain some very positive suggestions for changes (see list below), although some observers suggest, the modifications will, in reality be superficial at best.

The big news is that the recommendation does, in fact, include a four year moratorium. However, while they keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means. The report says “… any current Common Core aligned tests should not count for students or teachers until the start of 2019-2020 school year when the new statewide standards developed through this process will be put into place…During the transition, the 18 percent of teachers whose performance is measured, in part, by Common Core tests will use different local measures approved by the state, similar to the measures already being used by the majority of teachers

In other words, they are not recommending severing the tie between student test scores and teacher evaluations, they are just temporarily banning the use of common core tests for that purpose. If I’m reading this correctly (and I’ll follow up to let you know if it turns out I’m wrong), 50% of every teacher’s evaluation will still be based on test scores –  just not common core tests.

I had previously written that legislation would be needed to make these changes, but this turns out not to be true because “The Education Transformation Act of 2015 will remain in place, and no new legislation is required to implement the recommendations of the report, including recommendations regarding the transition period for consequences for students and teachers.”

This is definitely NOT something to celebrate. I’ll keep you posted as I learn more.

In the meantime, here are the major changes outlined in the report.

  • Overhauling the Common Core and adopting locally-driven high quality New York education standards with input from local districts, educators, and parents through a transparent and open process that are age-appropriate and allow educators flexibility for Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners.
  • Establishing a transparent and open process by which New York standards are periodically reviewed by educators and content area experts, since educators know their schools and students best.
  • Providing educators and local school districts with the flexibility to develop and tailor curriculum to meet the needs of their individual students and requiring the State to create and release new and improved curriculum resources that educators can then adapt to meet the needs of their individual students.
  • Engaging New York educators, not a private corporation, to drive the review and creation of State standards-aligned tests in an open and transparent manner.
  • Minimizing student testing anxiety by reducing the number of test days and test questions and providing ongoing test transparency to parents, teachers and districts on test questions and student test scores.
  • Ensuring that State tests account for different types of learners, including Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners.

Federal and State News

As expected, the Every Student Succeeds Act passed the Senate and was signed into law by President Obama. If you want a recap of what the law is about, please see this prior post on the SWRTA website. Also, here’s Education Week’s take on how everyone is claiming victory.

New York State Testing
The Common Core Task force has finished their work, and is said to be releasing their recommendations soon, possibly as early as tomorrow. According to Capital New York, their report will include, among  other things, a recommendation for a four-year moratorium on the use of test scores in teacher evaluations.  Let’s hold off on celebrating just yet, though.

For one thing, their recommendations are just that. Any changes would have to be made by the legislature and approved by the Governor. Secondly, even if it comes to pass, a four-year delay could just mean more time for them to “get it right,” which really means figure out a way to make their junk science more palatable to parents and impervious to lawsuits. Finally, even if we are successful in severing the connection between test scores and evaluations, we are still stuck with these wasteful and harmful tests themselves, and we will need to continue to fight them. This is why SWRTA has written a resolution which we hope to have voted on at the next NYSUT RA, which reaffirms our commitment to redesigning the federally mandated tests in ways that will benefit rather than harm students. We’ll be telling you more about that soon.

It’s Not Just About Us

In his latest entry on the Huffington Post, Hofstra professor Alan Singer takes issue with the ESSA, highlighting the many areas in which the law falls woefully short of its stated goals. It is, as usual, a great piece, with one glaring exception.

Almost as an aside, Mr. Singer essentially accuses teachers unions of acting in pure self-interest without regard to what’s best for students. Noting that unions supported ESSA, he says they praised “new federal flexibility but mostly they welcome changes in how their members will be evaluated.” He follows this with his suspicion that “they will abandon opposition to high-stakes testing once teachers will no longer be penalized.”

This is the argument we hear from folks who want to marginalize us and shut us out of the debate – the same folks who like to claim that the opt-out movement was started by teachers unions.

We know that this isn’t just about us; it’s about the students in our classrooms now and those who will be coming through our schools in the next 5, 10, 20 years, etc. But the “teachers are just looking out for themselves” trope is an easy argument to make. And if this thinking takes hold it will become very difficult for us to work together with parents and the public at large to get real changes enacted. It’s not enough to make a commitment to continuing the fight, it’s important that this commitment be visible.

My response to Mr. Singer is below. If he writes back, I’ll follow up with another post.

Dear Alan,

I don’t know if you remember me, but we met this past spring when we both spoke at the “Teaching and Learning in the Age of High Stakes Testing” forum at Hofstra.

I found your talk that evening engaging and enlightening, but was taken aback by a statement you made suggesting that teacher opposition to testing would wane once the connection to evaluations was removed. I was extremely disheartened to read your latest post and see that you are doubling down on this notion.

There are two sentences in that piece that are particularly troubling. You write “Teacher unions endorsed ESSA praising new federal flexibility but mostly they welcome changes in how their members will be evaluated.” On what do you base this? Statements from the AFT, NEA, and NYSUT have laid out numerous reasons for supporting ESSA that go far beyond evaluations. So since the word “mostly” is not supported by unions’ words or actions, it seems you are claiming to have insight into what they are really thinking, and thus suggesting that their public statements are deceptive. While you may believe this to be true, it is still your opinion and should not be presented as fact.

The second sentence (“I suspect they will abandon opposition to high-stakes testing once teachers will no longer be penalized.”) is on safer ground journalistically since it is clearly presented as opinion, but it is nonetheless gratuitous and harmful. You must be aware that this statement reinforces negative (and false) stereotypes of teachers unions – that they are concerned solely about the well being of their members and not at all about the students they serve. 

I can assure you that I, along with every other rank and file teacher I know, am opposed to high-stakes standardized testing whether they are tied to evaluations or not. This is a position that we have held consistently, and our level of advocacy has risen in recent years because the tests themselves have become more intrusive and damaging and it has become harder and harder to shield our students from their negative effects. 

In fairness, although I, and others, will push for continued attention to this issue, I cannot personally guarantee what response union leadership will have regarding testing if the connection to evaluations is severed. Certainly there are decisions that have been made by our umbrella unions that many of us disagree with – this is the nature of large democratically run organizations. 

You might have said that you are worried that in the midst of the multi-front battle against teachers, unions, and public education as a whole, that there is reason to fear that the testing issue might drop in importance; and you might have expressed hope (and a plea) that this wouldn’t be the case. Had you written that, I would agree wholeheartedly. But your statements, without any context or nuance, come across as little more than union bashing.

To be clear, this is not about hurt feelings, it is about the big picture. If you are truly dedicated to the cause of repairing what’s really wrong in public education (i.e. eliminating inequity, removing corporate influence, beginning a discussion of what is important for students to know, etc), then you need to recognize that we must all be together in this fight. None of these goals can be accomplished by driving a wedge between the various groups who are fighting for them – and that is exactly what those two sentences do.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I enjoy reading your posts and I am hopeful that future discussions of this issue will present teachers unions in a more fair and accurate light.

Rob Verbeck

ESSA Update

House Passes ESSA
In a rushed vote, the House passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, 359 – 64. The Senate is scheduled to vote next week, and the expectation is that it will sail through and be signed into law by President Obama shortly thereafter.

If you want to dig deeper into what’s inside the ESSA, here are few links that should help:

Cuomo to be Indicted?

Is Cuomo about to be indicted?
An article from the Buffalo Chronicle stating that Cuomo is going to be indicted has been making the rounds on social media as well as SWR’s email system. Unfortunately, as was noted the last time this paper made the same claim, the Buffalo Chronicle is not a reputable source. And while I hate to be that guy who takes the fun out of everythingthis article from not only addresses the overall reliability of the Chronicle, but pretty much tears the whole piece apart. This isn’t to say that Cuomo won’t wind up enjoying early retirement in a semi-private suite on the banks of the Hudson River, just that there’s no good reason to assume he won’t still be around for the next legislative session.