AFT’s 10 Myths: Unyielding Devotion to the Common Core
In my hands I am holding the latest issue of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) quarterly publication, American Educator. It is open to page 43, Tools for Teachers: 10 Myths About the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
The piece was written by AFT’s Educational Issues Department.
Their position is one of unreserved support for CCSS.
I find it remarkable the degree to which AFT and Randi Weingarten will go in order to protect and promote CCSS. One of the more telling pieces is a post Weingarten wrote for Huffington Post entitled, Will States Fail the Common Core?— As though CCSS is a personality, complete with feelings that will be hurt by states’ betrayal.
In that post, Weingarten maintains that CCSS is “not a silver bullet” but that the problem is not with CCSS but with “bad execution.”
Here’s a question– How can Weingarten state with such certainty that CCSS is not the issue? Has she or anyone else piloted these so-called standards?
If CCSS is “not a silver bullet,” why have neither AFT nor Weingarten herself published anything remotely appearing to be a critical evaluation of CCSS, standard by standard, grade level by grade level, for both English Language Arts (ELA) and math?
Now that would be a critical examination.
Instead, the AFT/Weingarten tact resembles that of the Fordham Institute’s President Chester Finn, who states that CCSS is “not perfect” and even grades it accordingly– then promotes it without reservation.
Ergo, the AFT propaganda, 10 Myths about the Common Core State Standards.
CCSS Is Not Meant to Stand Alone
An important component to making this propaganda work involves divorcing CCSS from other reforms. After all, by itself, CCSS more easily appears innocuous. However, do not forget that in June 2009, the National Governors Association (NGA) promoted a set of “internationally benchmarked standards and assessments” as part of a larger reform package that includes teacher evaluation/pay for performance, “turning around” schools (i.e., handing traditional public schools over for charter operation), and building data systems.
These reforms are meant to be a set.
The federal government was at that 2009 NGA symposium. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan endorsed the spectrum of reforms and even commented about “more enlightened union leadership” in regard to the NGA effort.
CCSS is a critical component in the vehicle of American education privatization. So, don’t be distracted by AFT/Weingarten insistence of the innocence of this single reform component.
No carburetor alone ever drove a car off of a cliff. No flint alone ever burned down a building. No bullet alone ever shot a human being.
However, introduce the carburetor, the flint, and the bullet as components of a given destructive system, and each contributes toward an end result of destruction.
That, my friends, is CCSS: A component of a dangerous, NGA- and Duncan- (and Aft/Weingarten-) promoted system.
In its 10 Myths, AFT steers readers away from CCSS as part of an intended reform system. I cannot emphasize this enough.
For now, let us consider what AFT is promoting in each of its 10 “myths.”
AFT Myth One
In Myth One, AFT maintains that “the standards tell us what to teach” is a myth. AFT regurgitates the oft-heard CCSS slogan that CCSS “defines what students need to know.”
Where is the evidence for this? What students need to know for what? The outcome assessments that PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia are throwing together? PARCC is supposed to field test this school year, as is Smarter Balanced. Florida dropped out as PARCC’s fiscal agent. Maryland took over, as a “favor to Obama.”
AFT maintains, “Teachers will have as much control over how they teach as they ever have.”
Says who? AFT cannot guarantee this, and AFT cannot prove this. What they are trying to say is that the inflexible, copyrighted CCSS allows for teacher freedom within the classroom.
On one level, AFT is right:
Most prisoners are allowed to pace inside their cells.
What teachers don’t get to do is modify CCSS based upon their own expertise and for a given set of students in a given class in a given school in a given district in a given state.
One size fits all. And AFT’s answer: You could always pace, and you still get to do so. Pay no attention to the fact that you’ve been placed in a cell.
AFT Myth Two
The second so-called myth is that CCSS “amount(s) to a national curriculum.” Here AFT goes for the “voluntary adoption” of CCSS.
For the sake of space, let me outline only one key point here:
If CCSS were truly “voluntarily adopted,” it could easily be “voluntarily un-adopted.” However, CCSS “adoption” is primarily tied to federal, Race to the Top (RTTT) funding, the contract for which is quite detailed.
If CCSS adoption is truly voluntary, why is Weingarten partnering with former Michigan Governor (and businessman) John Engler to tell governors to “stay the course” with CCSS?
Note that Weingarten and Engler offer no cautions about governors signing on for CCSS before it was finished. They offer no encouragement for governors to critically consider what exactly they have signed onto with the now-completed, inflexible CCSS, especially as concerns the cost of implementing CCSS, monetary and otherwise.
On to so-called Myth Three.
AFT Myth Three
Here’s AFT’s Myth Three: “The standards intrude on student privacy.”
One reminder here: Carburetors don’t drive cars off of cliffs. CCSS is part of the package of reforms that includes increased data collection efforts— Data Quality Campaign.
Consider this excerpt from a 2009 speech by Duncan:
The Data Quality Campaign, DQC, lists 10 elements of a good data system. Six states, Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, and Utah, have all 10 elements. Other states are also making progress. For example, Arkansas has a data warehouse that integrates school fiscal information, teacher credentials, and student coursework, assessments, and even extracurricular activities.
The system has allowed for better student tracking to enable the state to identify double-count enrollments and is saving it more than $2 million in its first year.
We want to see more states build comprehensive systems that track students from pre-K through college and then link school data to workforce data. We want to know whether Johnny participated in an early learning program and completed college on time and whether those things have any bearing on his earnings as an adult. [Emphasis added.]
AFT wants to downplay this issue of unprecedented data collection and tracking by observing that “some states already had data systems.”
Never before has any group of general-populous Americans run the risk of being tracked by the federal government from cradle to grave like this current cohort of American citizens of ages preschool through young adulthood.
The public should be concerned.
AFT Myth Four
Now, for Myth Four: “The English standards emphasize nonfiction and informational text so much that students will be reading how-to manuals instead of great literature.”
Here AFT gets it right. However, the idiocy behind CCSS proportions of nonfiction and fiction amazes me every time I write about it.
In order to determine proportions of nonfiction and fiction present in CCSS, some CCSS “architect” decided to model these proportions after the proportion of nonfiction vs. fiction questions on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
For example, since 70 percent of the questions for grade 12 on the 2009 NAEP involve nonfiction, inexperienced CCSS creators decided that there would be some magic in having seniors exposed to 70 percent nonfiction and 30 percent fiction across all subjects, that these proportions would somehow guarantee that seniors would graduate (tongue in cheek) “college and career ready” with “the knowledge and skills to help students succeed.”
Now keep in mind that NAEP is not the CCSS assessment. Keep in mind that even if NAEP were the CCSS assessment, this attempt to match proportions with NAEP is a partial-lobotomy rationale for proportions of nonfiction vs. fiction included in CCSS.
AFT offers no explanation for how the above “logic” supposedly “prepar(es) them (students) for college and work.” However, AFT insists that it does.
AFT Myth Five
For Myth Five: “Key math concepts are missing or appear in the wrong grade.” AFT explains this away as an artifact of shifting from standards for 50 states to one set.
If the goal is to standardize, something has to go. Oh, well.
AFT notes that “educators and experts alike” are fine with the CCSS math standards. AFT cites no particular studies. I wonder who those “experts” are who are not “educators” (a term already loose enough to include those who never taught). I’m guessing one is Chester Finn of the Fordham institute. He actively promotes CCSS even though calculus is missing from the math standards and even though other state standards outrank CCSS math in Fordham’s own published estimation.
Here is what CCSS “lead architect” David Coleman had to say at the 2011 Institute for Learning (IFL) senior leadership meeting– in a keynote address, no less– about his company’s central involvement in writing CCSS :
Student Achievement Partners, all you need to know about us are a couple things. One is we’re composed of that collection of unqualified people who were involved in developing the common standards.
With one foot in mouth, Coleman continues:
I’ll probably spend a little more time on literacy because as weak as my qualifications are there, in math they’re even more desperate in their lacking.
Feel free to watch the entire Coleman train wreck for yourself: http://vimeo.com/35318592
And here is more information on SAP, “founding partner” Sue Pimentel, and the $4 million from GE.
AFT Myth Six
Moving on to supposed Myth Six: “Common Core is a federal takeover.” AFT writes, “The federal government had no role in developing the standards.”
Bill Clinton said, “I did not have sex with that woman.” While technically true (ahem..), Clinton’s words were carefully chosen with the intent to deceive.
So too are AFT’s words in this case. Here is what AFT attempts to downplay: Duncan is undeniably and deeply involved in promoting CCSS and its assessments. Duncan publicly defends CCSS. Duncan awards money for CCSS.
American Enterprise Institute (AEI) “Scholar” Rick Hess has even advised the federal government to “come clean” regarding its involvement with CCSS.
The federal government is all over CCSS.
AFT’s line that CCSS was “created by state education chiefs and governors” is not true. These two groups own the copyright on CCSS, but that does not mean that they actually “created” CCSS.
AFT’s next point is that teachers “were included” in CCSS development.” So, who created CCSS? Governors? State superintendents? David Coleman and his Student Achievement Partners?
We must include teachers in the mix in order to sell the product.
AFT Myth Seven
In its Myth Seven, “Teachers weren’t included,” AFT is again careful with its wording. “Included”– to the degree that “many teachers report seeing their feedback added verbatim.”
That sounds impressive.
How about the feedback from teachers who did not agree with CCSS at all? Or feedback from those who thought CCSS was happening too fast? Or feedback from those who wondered why highly-paid non-educators were at the CCSS epicenter?
What happened to their feedback?
If “hundreds of teachers” were involved on state review teams, certainly not all agreed.
AFT presents the number “hundreds of teachers nationwide” as though it is impressive. So, let’s follow that vein for a moment.
In its CCSS survey, AFT reported surveying 800 teachers. It also reported that 75 percent “overwhelmingly support” CCSS. I take issue with this survey, but allow me to set that aside for a moment and pretend that 75 percent of 800 teachers do support CCSS.
That leaves 25 percent (or 200 teachers) who do not.
So, according to AFT, for every three teachers who support CCSS, one does not.
That would present notable dissension in a group of “hundreds of teachers nationwide who served on state review teams.”
Skipping to AFT Myth Ten (With a Splash of Myth Nine)
At the conclusion of its 10 Myths, in so-called Myth Ten, AFT states, “Unions support the Common Core because their members do.”
Not all of their members. Thus, according to AFT’s own reporting, AFT is willing to dismiss– to leave wholly unaddressed– the concerns of 25 percent of its teachers. AFT publishes nothing opposed to CCSS. Instead, AFT “opposition” is against faulty or rushed implementation– including the testing. (In supposed Myth Nine, “Common Core accelerates overtesting,” AFT does not write against CCSS assessments– it merely attempts to delay the testing.)
AFT cites other surveys of “teacher support” for CCSS (AFT is careful to avoid Gates’ name in connection with the Scholastic survey).
I dissect a number of these surveys:
NAESP CCSS survey (principals)
Each of these survey results has been shaped. It is easy enough to do via 1) Word selection in the question, 2) word selection and limiting response choices, and 3) select reporting.
(Unlike AFT in its 10 Myths, I provide references to support my assertions. Do read my work on the shaping of pro-CCSS survey results to see how malleable survey results truly are.)
Back, to AFT Myth Eight
I skipped around a bit. I don’t want to overlook Myth Eight: “The standards make inappropriate demands of preschoolers.”
However, let’s address what AFT offers. Indeed the current CCSS is for kindergarten thru grade 12. However, if CCSS is part of the reform package in which standardization is the order of the day (reread AFT’s Myth Five), and if Duncan has designs on extending data collection from preschool to age twenty, then why shouldn’t the public be concerned that preschool would be grafted into CCSS? After all, CCSS is finding its place in higher ed.
AFT attempts to explain, “[CCSS] were written for grades K – 12. Several states added their own guidance foe preschools.”
If CCSS is supposedly “state led,” why does AFT try to distance CCSS from the “state leading” of CCSS into preschools?
AFT Sell Out: Not a Myth
In supposed Myth Ten, AFT offers this sentiment: “Rank and file teachers don’t support it– and their unions sold them out.”
CCSS development did not follow the democratic process. Teachers are not key decision makers in CCSS. They have been relegated to a role on the fringes. Upon first glance, their “verbatim” commentary makes the CCSS paint-by-number appear to be an original work of art.
AFT and Weingarten never question why teachers are not key decision makers regarding CCSS. Their silence on this point is deafening. Instead, AFT and Weingarten are expending much effort in trying to preserve CCSS.
Well done, AFT. And well done, Randi Weingarten. For your attempts to sell out your constituency in an effort to preserve CCSS, I give you a solid “C.” Sure, your arguments could strain cooked pasta, but you persevere.
I’m sure your next pro-CCSS sales pitch is already in press.
Note: Randi Weingarten and I are to be members of the CCSS panel scheduled for Sunday, March 2, 2014, as part of the Network for Public Education conference in Austin, Texas, (March 1 and 2).
Come hear us.