CTA President Dean E. Vogel
As an educator for more than 40 years, I’ve seen many things come and go when it comes to school reforms. Many sets of standards have been a part of my professional life, and more than a few flew out the window when the state introduced “brand-new” standards. Like other professionals, I learned to adopt them and adapt them, all the while trying to be the best teacher I could be. That part doesn’t change. As teachers, we are always finding new and better ways to reach our students, standards or no standards.
This year California, along with 44 other states, is moving on to the Common Core State Standards. I know the standards have provoked critics and champions, but the truth is, through it all we will continue to be the best teachers we can be. Some teachers, like myself, worked with similar approaches to teaching years ago and welcome the new standards as a return to flexibility, if implemented appropriately with educators in charge.
Others among us have a very different feeling about the CCSS, primarily because the implementation in their districts right now is a real mess. No doubt about it, the Common Core State Standards represent a major shift for us. Yet, ultimately, they can put teachers back in control of crafting and tailoring the education of their students. Critical thinking skills can now be part of our students’ educational foundation. That’s a good thing, and we can once again be the pedagogical decision makers in our own classrooms.
As we enter spring, we approach our first testing season having less than a year with these new standards. Now the good news is, unlike most other states, California has done it right, and in no small part that is due to you. We listened to you, heard you, and worked with Governor Brown, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, and Assembly Member Susan Bonilla to craft and pass AB 484, which suspends the use of California’s antiquated and out-of-sync student testing — including the California Standards Test (CST) and the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program. There will still be a field test this year of the new computer-based Smarter Balanced tests, but they will not be used for official assessment. In fact, it will be three years before any of the new tests are used for school accountability purposes. This will give us a chance to implement the standards before we implement the assessments. Imagine that! Let’s just call it Common Sense for the Common Core.
However, we all know it has not been done this way in many other states. As a result, Common Core has been met with confusion, skepticism and hostility. The uproar has prompted NEA President Dennis Van Roekel to agree with us and call for “a course correction” in the implementation process. (See Van Roekel’s comments.)
In addition to slowing down the implementation and working with chapters to ensure educators are on local implementation teams, CTA has been busy offering trainings on teaching to the standards and collaborating with local districts on professional learning opportunities. We want to make sure you are getting the resources in your classroom and the time you need to do it right. And we want to make sure we, as educators, are part of the ongoing dialogue about what’s working and what’s not.
I believe these new standards can be good for our students and our profession. They give us the opportunity to lead our profession, but we must continue to be smart and patient as we shape the implementation as well as the development of the right assessments. And we absolutely must stand up to district management teams that are doing it wrong and push back at every turn.
That’s why it’s so important we continue to hear from you — especially on how the field tests are going this year and how your district is doing with implementation. We know there are some bad actors out there.
We will soon launch a survey on the CTA website so you can tell us how it’s going. We will share your responses with Superintendent Torlakson and the State Board of Education. Our voice has never been more important, and we must make sure we are heard.
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