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Michelle Gunderson: How Chicago Teachers Union Decided to Oppose Common Core

Guest post by Michelle Gunderson.

Wednesday evening I stood before my brothers and sisters at the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates to speak in favor of our resolution opposing the Common Core State Standards. When I finished speaking, there was a call for the vote. It was unanimous. It was resounding - not a single voice raised in opposition.

There are times when the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) seems like an engine; that we are able to accomplish great and difficult work seemingly overnight. I would like to pull back the curtain for a moment, and help others understand the purposeful and deliberate process we take in order to form our decisions and actions at CTU.

There are those in the media who contend we are being reckless and blindly following Karen Lewis, the president of our local. Nothing could be further from the actual case.Michelle.jpg

As much as we admire Karen Lewis and are grateful for her talents, this work was not generated from her. In fact, characterizing this event in such simplistic terms denigrates the social justice transformation of the Chicago Teachers Union, a long and hard-won struggle that involves many. We do not act on Karen Lewis' behalf or her wishes. She acts on ours, with our guidance, and we love her for it.

It is hard to imagine a union in existence where a full democratic process is expected by everyone involved - leadership, rank and file, and union staff. Yet, in Chicago, we hold this ideal in such high regard we cannot imagine a union working any other way.

Several months prior to the passing of the resolution, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators began discussing and debating the Common Core in our open meetings. We read Diane Ravitch's book The Reign of Error in small study groups. And many of us followed Anthony Cody's work on this blog. Through conversations and study we came to a strong conclusion. The authors of the Common Core view the purpose of education as college and career readiness. We view the purpose of public education as a means for educating a populace of critical thinkers who are capable of shaping a just and equitable society in order to lead good and purpose-filled lives.

With our philosophical underpinning so drastically divergent from that of the Common Core we did not see any room for common ground.

That is why we say no to Common Core.

Some union locals have asked for a longer roll out of Common Core implementation. Others ask for the standards to be re-written. We say no. We are not asking the Bill Gates and Rahm Emanuels of our world to do a better job controlling the curriculum of our schools. We want them gone from the process.

Once we decided that we could not support Common Core Standards in any form, it was time to do the difficult work of taking action. I made a motion at our caucus meeting that we prepare a resolution fully opposing Common Core.  It was approved after debate and careful consideration.

 I wrote the first draft, but there is no way that I can be considered the author. It is crafted through conversations with dozens of educators in Chicago. It is an outcome of a movement among educators to countermand the negative impact of corporate education reform.

After a general resolution was in place, the tedious work of writing draft after draft, presenting the resolution through several union committees, and bringing the finished version before the CTU executive board and House of Delegates began. This process took months.

And there we have it:  RESOLVED that the Chicago Teachers Union opposes the Common Core State Standards (and the aligned tests) as a framework for teaching and learning.

As we move forward, we need to come together to fight for what we do believe in. We have it in us to build a better education system for our children. Let us all consider saying no to Common Core and reclaiming our classrooms.

What do you think? Are Chicago teachers right in their decision to oppose the Common Core? 

Michelle Gunderson is a 27 year teaching veteran who teaches first grade in the Chicago Public Schools. She is a doctoral student at Loyola University in Curriculum and Instruction.

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