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Connecticut Teachers Push Back on Common Core, Endorse Call for Congressional Hearings

Ten days ago, Michelle Gunderson offered us an explanation of the process by which members of the Chicago Teachers Union approved a resolution expressing their rejection of the Common Core State Standards. Since then I have heard from teachers active in unions around the country engaged in related efforts to organize and push back against high stakes testing. This week I will be sharing their first-hand reports. These stories reflect the experiences and viewpoints of the teachers who wrote them. Change is in the air in our teacher unions.

Guest post by Jack Bestor.

After 40 years as a member of the Connecticut Education Association, I attended the 166 CEA Representative Assembly as a delegate representing teachers in my district. Having never attended such a gathering before, I had hoped to make a difference as I wanted the CEA to take a firm stand against the misguided and ill-conceived common-core standards and the efforts to  implement throughout the State.  I was offended by the acquiescence of educators to what I consider a corporate education-reform takeover that has been systematically and insidiously destroying all that I had worked for over the course of my career.  I teamed up with a co-sponsor, a high school science teacher, and together we wrote, presented, defended, and passed five new business items at our convention on May 3, 2014. The motions in question are as follows:

Motion 1

Be it resolved, that the CEA will support and encourage legislative efforts to protect the privacy of student and family data. The state needs to inform parents of any and all data collection and disclose to parents who will receive student and family data.

RATIONALE:

Requiring the storage and sharing of student and family data without parental consent violates the original intent of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Using a P-20 tracking system and a federally funded State Longitudinal Database (SLDS) creates an unnecessary surveillance capability between states and federal agencies.

Motion 2

Be it resolved by this 166 CEA Representative Assembly that the Connecticut Education Association continues to ensure that researched, vetted, and true high quality standards for educating Connecticut's school students are available to our districts. CEA will convene practicing classroom teachers to validate state adopted standards to ensure their age and grade appropriateness and further ensure that they promote the development of students' ability to learn challenging concepts. CEA will encourage and work with our members to develop, write and promote high-quality teacher-developed curriculum that implements appropriate standards. Further, our members recognize that the Common Core State Standards, with the unsubstantiated claim that such standards prepare our students to be college and career ready, may be inappropriate for K-3 instructional practice and therefore recommends that the CEA work with the State Department of Education (SDE) to undertake a 10-month study of 'best practices' in early childhood (Pre-k- 3) education. Pending the outcome of these actions, CEA will examine whether a decision to withdraw from the CCSS and possibly challenge the CT CCSS Memorandum of Understanding is appropriate.

 RATIONALE:

There is disagreement about the appropriateness of the Common Core State Standards as they relate to both age and grade and whether they will truly prepare students to be active citizens and college and career ready. We must ensure that education professionals determine the standards suitability. Educators will lead positive changes within their profession when a variety of voices offering different solutions, in thoughtful debate, stay focused on what works best for kids.

Motion 3

CEA will work to reduce the time devoted to high-stakes testing and will continue to work to eliminate all high-stakes outcomes associated with Common Core testing, testing that lacks transparency and testing that is unproven and not validated by educators. CEA and its members will advocate for an assessment system that informs instruction and curricular design. Therefore, CEA and its members will examine and report on whether SBAC [the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium] truly does measure meaningful student growth over time. Further, the Association will examine how to ensure that special education students may be excused from testing mandates if so recommended by the IEP team and will support efforts to excuse students receiving ELL or ESL service until they no longer require those services. CEA will stand with the Network for Public Education in calling on the United States Congress to hold hearings on the overuse and misuse of standardized tests in the nation's K-12 public education system and will urge its members to join that call in support.

RATIONALE:

As education scholar and writer Diane Ravitch said in a recent online post, "The more we focus on tests, the more we kill creativity, ingenuity, and the ability to think differently. Students who think differently get lower scores. The more we focus on tests, the more we reward conformity and compliance, getting the right answer."

Motion 4

Move that CEA firmly opposes all value-added-measure--based teacher-evaluation systems that purport to rate teacher performance with student test results and contests any teacher evaluations leading to dismissal that were influenced by such unfair and arbitrary evaluative formulae that include "value-added measurement" statistical analysis.

RATIONALE:

VAMs are   experimental statistical models that are unstable and significantly impacted by factors beyond a teacher's control and beyond the scope of the  models to control. Implementing VAMs in high-stakes policies exaggerates the flaws of such measurements and few, in any, state education departments have the statistical expertise to utilize VAM models in an appropriate manner.

Motion 5

Move that CEA examine withdrawal of permission from any third party to use the CEA name and/or logo as an endorsement of any materials regarding Common Core State Standards , Smarter Balance assessments, and the VAM-based teacher-evaluation process without the express written permission of CEA for each unique usage.

RATIONALE:

CEA controls its own name and corresponding trademark. Usage of such without express permission implies the endorsement of materials. This was the case for example, with the recent SDE Commissioner's recent communication "Tool Kit" that was distributed to all local school districts across the state.

**************************


It was our hope that the CEA would take the endorsement of these motions and communicate to the public that over 400 delegates representing 41,000 public school teachers throughout the state of Connecticut were opposed to the implementation of the Common Core as proposed by the federal and state departments of education.  It was hoped that the CEA would lead the way in moving its parent organization, the NEA, to meaningful action in advocating for appropriate educational needs of students, parents, and teachers.  It was further hoped that these actions could help the Connecticut Association of Schools' Principals  find their voice in advocating for sensible reforms as well as encourage the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents in standing up for researched and proven educational principles.  Maybe, then, the PTA  would realize that the lofty, but unproven, rhetoric of corporate educational reform was nothing but a well-financed takeover of public education by individuals and businesses whose motives were always highly suspect.

What do you think? Is it time for teacher unions to push back against the Common Core and join in the call for Congressional hearings into the overuse of standardized tests?

Jack Bestor, NCSP, is a school psychologist in Westport, Conn., and a past recipient of the Connecticut Association of School Psychologists Lifetime Achievement Award.

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