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Chicago Union Passes Resolution Opposing Common Core

The Chicago Teachers Union today passed a resolution saying that it opposes the Common Core State Standards. 

Unions, as Education Week has reported, have a complicated relationship with the standards. Both the the American Federation of Teachers (the parent of the CTU) and the National Education Association say they support the standards themselves but think implementation has been lousy, with states and districts failing to provide enough teacher support or high-quality curricula. Most of the heat has centered on the situation in one state, New York.

Now the resolution from the Chicago union, which represents teachers in the third-largest school district, is adding a new wrinkle to the conversation: It's not bothering to draw the same distinction between standards and their implementation. 

Among other things, the CTU resolution, passed by delegates to its governing body, contends that standards contain "numerous developmentally inappropriate expectations," "reflect the interests and priorities of corporate education reformers," and "emphasize pedagogical techniques, such as close reading, out of proportion to the actual value of these methods." It adds that the upcoming aligned tests will consume "tremendous amounts of time and resources for test preparation and administration." 

Despite Chicago teachers' efforts, "the significant time, effort, and expense associated with modifying curricula to the Common Core State Standards interferes and takes resources away from work developing appropriate and engaging courses of study," the union concludes.

That said, the union says it plans to lobby the state board of education and organize other unions to oppose the common-core standards.

It's difficult to know exactly what to make of this, but from my perch as the resident union guy at Education Week, here are a couple of things that cross my mind.

• CTU President Karen Lewis built a national profile from leading a seven-day teachers' strike in 2012. That effort didn't have much to do with the standards, but it did show that the union's grassroots organizing efforts could be successful at shaping city education policy in powerful ways. If the CTU makes an all-out effort to bring down the standards in Illinois, that's something to pay attention to.

• Lewis' ascendancy to the presidency of the CTU, despite belonging to a different internal "caucus" than most AFT affiliate leaders, has boosted similar efforts in other local unions. Some believe that pressure has pushed AFT President Randi Weingarten further left—witness her recent, more-strident opposition to standardized tests. Will this resolution end up altering the national union's positioning regarding Common Core?

• The CTU says it will introduce an identical resolution at this summer's AFT convention. While it's possible that such a resolution could make it to the floor, it would likely be modified before passage. (Several other CTU-sponsored resolutions were blocked or softened at the 2012 convention.)

• Teachers, in most surveys, say they like the common standards. Do Chicago's teachers feel differently? How will rank-and-file Chicago teachers react to an effort to undo them? 

Oddly, the press release announcing the union's move contains a number of factual errors. It says, for instance, that the common standards' origins began with the economic-stimulus legislation. (Actually, they were developed after Congress passed the stimulus bill.) Nor, as the union asserts, did the Race to the Top program require states to adopt the standards. (That was certainly the most popular way of winning points for adopting "college and career-ready" standards, but you could also get your state's universities to certify an alternate set.) 

Is the CTU perpetuating these claims with its own members? Hard to tell, but in the release, Lewis is quoted as saying that the common core "represents an overreach of federal power into personal privacy as well as into state educational autonomy." That line is also notable because it echoes the strains of conservative opposition to the standards, whereas the CTU leans quite left politically.

The bottom line: Unions have, to date, been among the common standards' greatest supporters. With declarations like this, though, some of them could end up being the standards' worst enemies.

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