"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Friday, April 25, 2014

For Teachers Only

I met with the Alpine Education Association (AEA) last week.  I have appreciated their support and their collaboration with our district through some very difficult decisions.  I have been pleased to work with these very good people who serve in the AEA.

The biggest concern of the AEA was that teachers feel frustrated by my vocal, but honest, opposition to Common Core.  As a teacher, you have to implement Common Core.  The district has to implement Common Core.  (I did support funding for new textbooks for Common Core.) The AEA stated it has to put out fires when teachers and parents have concerns.  They wished I wouldn't say anything about my opposition to the Common Core Reform Package.  It increases their workload to have to address the questions of parents and fellow teachers who hear my concerns, I think.  It would be better for the district leadership (including those of us on the board) to not voice our concerns about Common Core when it just has to be done. Additionally, they added that if one of you were to be vocal about your opposition to Common Core, it wouldn't bode well for you, professionally, and those in the family of Alpine District would view you differently.

This is precisely my point.  As an employee, perhaps you can't speak out, if you find things amiss.  It's your job; you have to do it.  It's the same with my job.  Sometimes, you have to just put a smile on your face and do what needs to be done, whether you agree with it or not.  I completely understand that.  Do I wish it weren't the case? Yes.  But I acknowledge the reality of it.  Elected officials, however, are elected for a reason.  We can't be fired or lose our job for speaking out, except at the hands of the voters.  If anyone is going to stand up for teachers against a program that isn't good, it must be the elected officials.  And every new change, program, or implementation that comes along really should be debated, discussed, and vetted all the way along the line, especially at the local level. 

Let's take something we probably agree on: teacher evaluations being tied to SAGE testing.  This is wrong.  I've said so.  I will continue to say so.  It, too, is state law.  We have to do it.  But it's horribly wrong.  Placing so much of a teacher's evaluation and thus, his/her livelihood, on a single (pilot) test is absolutely the worst use of a standardized test.   Like Common Core, should we just go along with it and be supportive?  I know you all will do the best you can, trying to not focus overly much on the test and still teach as professionals, but it's got to weigh you down.  The direction we are going is that once all education and all educators are evaluated on a single test, funding will follow.  It's nice and simple, but still wrong.  I can't sit by and be supportive.  I have to find a way to scream from the rooftops that this can't work, and that it gives way too much authority to the test makers over teachers, over local boards, over HOW standards are taught in the classroom.

Let me give you an example.  Several years ago, my son had a phenomenal teacher.  He LOVED class, loved her lessons, enjoyed nearly every moment.  He learned a lot and enjoyed it.  She even expressed appreciation that he had shushed the rest of the class one time because he wanted to learn what she had to teach.  Do you think I cared what he got on the CRT's that year?  Nope.  I don't think I even looked at them.  He had a wonderful year with a wonderful teacher.  That was worth more to me (and to him) than any standardized test score.  And I am afraid that, despite her best efforts, that love and that thrill of teaching will be reduced to making sure she can keep her job by getting higher test scores.  (Note: She was/is his favorite.  But he's had many, many others who were just as wonderful, just as dedicated, and just as appreciated.)  I don't choose and evaluate my kids' teachers by their test scores. 

So, back to Common Core.  It is top-down, which violates the principle of local control.  A little bit of local control isn't local control.  And just to be clear, my opposition isn't just with the standards. The Common Core standards come in a nice little package along with tying test scores to teacher evaluations, courtesy of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Waiver.  The other two parts of that package are 1) a longitudinal database on students and teachers and 2) "improving" low-performing schools (determined by the test scores and "improved" by shutting them down and bringing in private enterprises, and redistributing successful teachers to these "failing" schools).  The entire package is flawed, and it's flawed on principle.  You, as a teacher, need to be able to have the freedom to connect with your students--the freedom to do what you know is best, regardless of where the student falls on the 'testing' rubric.  The Common Core Standards are just one tree in that forest of standardizing everything: tests, schools, teachers, curriculum.  Already, there are calls to use the copyright of the Common Core standards to 'certify' curriculum.  And, in the end, if your wonderful lesson plan doesn't deliver the results on the test (even if it delivers the results you, your students, and your students' parents want), it won't be around for very much longer.

You got into teaching because you love kids, and you wanted to be able to affect their lives for the better through education. You have natural talents and professional training on how to make that human-to-human connection that makes teachers irreplaceable. We need more of the individual attention you provide. Common Core, with its associated numbers-driven, top-down, accountability to the state, not parents, can only take education in the wrong direction. The Common Core standards, and the rest of the NCLB Waiver package, will reduce teachers to standards-implementers, test-preppers, and data points. I realize this is your job, and you have to make the best of whatever is presented to you.  But that is why we have school boards and a political process.  It is my job to fight against policies that interfere with the parent-child-teacher partnership. I am happy to do this job. I hope you will understand that my opposition to Common Core and its "package" is to support you as the professional you are. Our community must stand strong and eliminate all obstacles that stand in the way of you doing your job and realizing the highest aspirations that originally brought you into education. You may not be able to do it, but I should.


  1. Wow! Thank you. We need someone willing to go to bat. CCSS is by far taking our country the wrong direction. It's adopting common standards that will eventually weed out all the different things that help make out state so great. How can we learn from one another if we are all taught the same thing, in the same way.

  2. Thank you. I appreciate you standing up - I wish more people would (on the board, in the district, principals, the state, etc). I began teaching because I love it. When I stop loving it, I will stop. I am so grateful that I work in a charter school where we are told the truth about what it going on by the administration. We do it - the testing - because we have to. It's such a waste. Our students took 5 hours to take the writing test! Do you know how much content I could've taught in 5 hours? All of our computer classes in the school have basically been cancelled since March because of the testing - and only 30 computers. It is another unfair program by the government. But, tying my standings and pay and that of other teachers . . . it is ridiculous. Please keep standing up for those who can't speak out, without the fear of losing their livelihood.

    1. Thanks, Christy. I'm so sorry that we are placing teachers in such an untenable position. Let me know how I can help further.

  3. Great analysis Wendy. I absolutely agree with your point that common core is wrong because it is top down.

  4. I like how you acknowledge you're making our jobs harder but tell us that you're going to keep doing it anyways. Thanks for nothing. Your criticism of the Common Core directly implicates me. I am just doing my job and you're implying I'm contributing to the downfall of society. I get it: The Common Core is bad. So, explain to me... If I teach the core does that make me evil or stupid? What if I think the core is a good thing and that my students are being challenged more than ever? I must be an Obama loving progressive, right?
    Wrong. How much time have you spent walking the halls of the schools in the district? I haven't seen you in mine.

    What is your goal in all this? Are you thinking that if you just convince enough people then ASD will be able to opt-out of the core? That's not going to work. My guess is that you're not going to be content until the state of Utah opts-out. Fine, but your primary job as a school board member should be to help my students, their parents, and me--this isn't a soap box for your personal agenda. I don't appreciate being your little pawn as you play politics all day long.

    And what exactly do you mean by local control? Do you wish you had greater flexibility in firing me? Are you trying to turn every school in ASD into a charter school? My guess is that you won't clearly define what you mean because as a politician you're focused on getting reelected.

    Here's my biggest complaint: You are unreasonable. No one can reason with you. It doesn't matter that developing the Common Core was a bipartisan effort. It doesn't matter that the decision to adopt it in Utah was made by duly elected representatives. It doesn't matter that parents were asked for input for years before the decision was made. It doesn't matter that I am still a dedicated and hard working teacher who cares deeply about my students and our great country. The only thing that matters to you is your agenda. Well guess what? My job is hard enough without you making it worse.

    1. Dear Anonymous

      Thank you for taking the time to put a voice to a perspective that certainly exists among some of the teachers. My goal in opposing common core is to restore the task our teachers face from having to be accountable to a national agenda to fulfilling expectations reflected by our patrons on a local level. That's what local control means to me. I believe all public officials need to be public and transparent to ensure an informed voter. My goal is not to make teachers' tasks more difficult, but to inform the public of my opinion so they can make informed decisions come election time. In your case this election, you will have three fine choices of candidates who support common core and one who does not. If I were not public about my opinions, you would not be empowered to vote against me. Either way, I do value your perspective and encourage you to actively support that candidate who best reflects your opinions.

  5. dantollett@gmail.comJune 4, 2014 at 9:45 AM

    Thank you for your analysis and for your openness to address the issues. I agree with your position that school board members must be champions for children and teachers and for what seems right to them. We need more such board members who are willing to stand tall for what is right regardless of the other side. I cannot see how your opposition to common core and the standardization of everything possible in education makes the job of the AEA or individual teachers harder. The AEA should be deeply concerned about the impact of standardization in public schools and the enormous waste of time and money that it brings. Think what schools could do with that time and money if it were wisely spent on worthy educational objectives. Consider how much technology could be added to our schools with the money we are wasting on standardized testing. Think about how many teaching materials could be purchased for classrooms if we weren't paying millions of dollars to private companies for developing and scoring standardized testing to help us label students, teachers and schools in a harmful and inaccurate manner.
    Dan Tollett, Hendersonville, Tennessee.

  6. I am a Tennessee teacher and I want to thank you Wendy for your support and words of encouragement to your teachers. We have wonderful BOE members where I work as well- and I wish that all of them have your understanding and lack of fear to speak truth to power. I feel a deep sense of sorrow for the teachers who do not support you, as they are, indeed, killing their own professions- perhaps from fear- perhaps because they genuinely like the CCSS.

    There are many factors to consider- of course- every coin has two sides.

    Just- thanks. From a TN BAT ^0^