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Topic: [ncsm-members] Teachers union takes on Common Core
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Jerry P. Becker

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Registered: 12/3/04
[ncsm-members] Teachers union takes on Common Core
Posted: Jul 11, 2014 6:31 PM
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From Politico, Friday, July 11, 2014. See
Teachers union takes on Common Core

SIDEBAR PHOTO: AFT President Randi Weingarten is expected to
criticize the education secretary in a speech. | AP
Photo--------criticize the education secretary in a speech. | AP Photo

By Stephanie Simon

The American Federation of Teachers will open its annual convention
Friday morning with a startling announcement: After years of strongly
backing the Common Core, the union now plans to give its members
grants to critique the academic standards - or to write replacement
standards from scratch.

It's a sign that teachers are frustrated and fed up - and they're
making their anger heard, loud and clear.

The AFT will also consider a resolution - drafted by its executive
council - asserting that the promise of the Common Core has been
corrupted by political manipulation, administrative bungling,
corporate profiteering and an invalid scoring system designed to
ensure huge numbers of kids fail the new math and language arts exams
that will be rolled out next spring. An even more pointed resolution
flat out opposing the standards will also likely come up for a vote.

Supporters of Common Core say they hope union leaders will seek to
minimize anti-standards rhetoric. And they point out that union
discontent with the Common Core has been simmering for some time. The
AFT called more than a year ago for a moratorium on using Common Core
test scores to determine whether students deserve to advance to the
next grade - or teachers deserve to keep their jobs. And the New York
state teachers union earlier this year withdrew its support for the
standards as implemented.

Still, policy analysts see this weekend's moves as an escalation - a
stark signal that union opposition has switched into high gear,
potentially threatening an initiative that both conservatives and
liberals have supported for years and that has become one of
President Barack Obama's key education priorities.

Advocates of national standards have been working for more than two
decades toward their goal "and now that it's coming close to
implementation, it's all blowing up," said David Menefee-Libey, a
political scientist at Pomona College.

Added Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford: "It
certainly is a big, loud warning shot."

The AFT is also asking members to hike their dues to support more
aggressive political activism.

The AFT's actions come on the heels of a surprising vote this month
by the country's biggest teachers union, the National Education
Association, to demand the resignation of Education Secretary Arne
Duncan. The union, which poured resources into electing Obama, had
considered such a resolution in past years but it never came close to

A dump-Duncan resolution is not on the AFT's agenda yet, but union
members say they're certain one will be introduced.

The tone of the convention will likely be set early. AFT President
Randi Weingarten is expected to kick it off with a speech passing
harsh judgment on Duncan, who has served since the start of the Obama
administration. The president and his Education secretary have
supported the union on several issues, most recently speaking up for
them in the face of an adverse Supreme Court decision. But Duncan has
also promoted charter schools, required states and districts to
compete for education dollars and applauded a recent court ruling
striking down teacher tenure in California - all stances that have
infuriated union members.

Just days ago, Weingarten stood beside Duncan to endorse the
Education Department's plan to prod states to make sure the neediest
children have access to the most effective teachers.

Today, she is expected to say: "We need a secretary of Education who
walks our walk and fights our fight for the tools and resources we
need to help children. And we are deeply disappointed that this
Department of Education has not lived up to that standard."

Duncan brushed off the NEA's call for his resignation, saying he
doesn't get involved in union politics - and doesn't believe most
teachers do either. He has said he intends to work with union leaders
on shared priorities.

But union leaders don't appear to be in the mood for conciliation.

Weingarten, for instance, has repeatedly said she supports Common
Core, but she also made a deliberate decision to allow a long public
debate - which will be livestreamed online - on the standards. She
has said the AFT is a democracy and will adopt policies favored by a
majority of members, even if that means a dizzying about-face on the
Common Core.

"In both the NEA and the AFT, the leadership made the decision to
allow the frustration that some of the rank and filers are feeling to
spill out into the open," said Joe Williams, executive director of
Democrats for Education Reform, which has backed the Duncan agenda.
"They must be making the calculation that the frustration itself is
going to be something that helps them advance a political agenda."

A key item on that political agenda: Dismantling the federal law,
signed by former President George W. Bush, that requires every
student to be tested every year from grades three through eight and
at least once in high school.

The NEA voted at its convention to launch a campaign against "toxic
testing" by fighting testing mandates imposed at the federal, state
and local levels. The AFT will consider a similar resolution.

Critics find the unions hypocritical because they have pushed for
years for better tests to replace the multiple-choice,
fill-in-the-bubble exams that most states have used since No Child
Left Behind was enacted in 2002.

The new Common Core exams are supposed to be much more rigorous and
include more real-world, hands-on problem-solving challenges -
exactly what unions have demanded.

But now that they're here, some union members are protesting that the
new exams are too long, too hard, too punitive - and will make too
much money for a handful of testing companies. The AFT's draft
resolution declares it "outrageous" that "the promise and potential"
of the standards has been compromised by "a rush to cash in on the
Common Core by profiteers and corporate interests."

Some analysts view such militant rhetoric as a cynical move, designed
to rally support for dismantling the testing and accountability
frameworks - such as A-F letter grades for public schools - that have
been put in place over the past decade by a bipartisan group of
education reformers. They argue that unions see tough accountability
standards as a threat to members' jobs and are fanning public outrage
to build support for an abrupt change in national policy.

"The unions try to create dissatisfaction through their public
relations campaign, by arguing that these things are extreme and
excessive," said Terry Moe, a political scientist who studies
education politics at Stanford. "They are pretty successful at
creating trouble for reformers."

When it comes to Common Core, both the NEA and the AFT have long -
and avidly - backed the standards, which are designed to guide
instruction in math and language arts from kindergarten through 12th
grade. Both have taken money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
to promote the standards.

The NEA declined to revisit the issue at its convention in Denver
earlier this month.

But the AFT, which is meeting in Los Angeles, has set aside an hour
on Sunday for a no-holds-barred floor debate. That could yield a
momentous vote to denounce the standards altogether, said Karen
Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, which is already on
record opposing the standards.

Even if the union continues to endorse the Common Core, the plan to
give teachers grants to rewrite or critique the standards sends a
clear message, activists said.

"This is a huge step because this time last year, they were gung-ho
for Common Core," said Mark Naison, a history professor at Fordham
University who helped launch the Badass Teachers Association, which
represents thousands of NEA and AFT members eager for their unions to
take a more militant stance against the standards and the education
reform movement. "The AFT realizes which way the wind is blowing."

The grant program does not need a vote from the membership to take
effect. Union officials say they expect to begin distributing grants
worth about $20,000 to $30,000 this fall. Local and state affiliates
are eligible for the grants; AFT officials are encouraging applicants
to build coalitions with parents and civic leaders, though teachers
are supposed to lead the work.

In an ironic twist, the grant money will come from the AFT's
Innovation Fund, which until recently was supported by the Gates
Foundation. Weingarten bowed to members' anger at Bill Gates earlier
this year and stopped accepting his foundation's money for the
Innovation Fund. The fund is now replenished with member dues and
grants from the Ford Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies, AFT
officials said.

The Council of Chief State School Officers, which helped write the
standards, declined to comment on the AFT's moves to undercut the
Common Core.

Michael Brickman, national policy director for the Fordham Institute,
which backs the standards, said he hoped the AFT leaders would
minimize damage to the Common Core movement by tempering their
rhetoric. The draft resolution put forward by the executive committee
does list some benefits of the standards, which aim to push students
to think more analytically and read texts more critically.

"If they continue to speak positively for standards, that's a
positive," Brickman said.

Brickman said he understood the anger surging through the AFT and
NEA. "The unions in general," he said, "have not had the best 2014 so

Indeed, it's been a tumultuous year for the teachers unions, which
represent a combined 3.8 million workers and retirees. (Most are in
the education field, but the AFT, which has sought to grow through
diversification, also represents nurses, maintenance workers, public
defenders, lifeguards and others.)

The judge's ruling striking down tenure and other job protections in
California was a major blow. The unions will appeal the ruling. But
in the meantime, activists are laying plans for copycat lawsuits in
other states.

A national public relations campaign against tenure is in the works,
too - and is being led by a firm founded by two former Obama
spokesmen. That development has left many teachers feeling betrayed
by their longtime allies in the Democratic Party.

To bolster the union's coffers for the legal and political battles to
come, the AFT leadership is asking members to support a two-stage
dues hike that would add $5.40 a year to their bills this year and
another $6.60 in 2015.

Most of the increase would go toward the "militancy/defense fund" and
state and national "solidarity funds," which support litigation,
political activism and lobbying.

"Unionized teachers are feeling very vulnerable," Menefee-Libey said.

In both conventions, Darling-Hammond said she sees a plea for respect
and engagement from an administration that has brushed aside some
union priorities and belittled some union positions. Both conventions
are sending the same message, she said: "We have serious concerns.
Take our concerns seriously."

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