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Dennis Van Roekel’s Continued Common Core Crush

February 19, 2014

Today, National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel once again reinforced his devotion to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Mind you, he tried to make his open letter appear to be a “learning experience” in which he had “listened”; however, what Van Roekel is actually doing is publicly reiterating his allegiance to a set of hastily-constructed, untested standards for which the equally-hasty rollout was “botched.”

Just last month— January 2014– Van Roekel maintained that no one could tell him any specific standards that were problematic– and that anyone objecting to CCSS had to offer “a better alternative” even though he referred to CCSS as a “best guess.”

In his current letter, as far as Van Roekel is concerned, it’s all about the “botched rollout”– never about the forced implementation.

Van Roekel is careful to never mention any teacher as having any valid, experience-based negative reaction to the standards themselves.

In short, Van Roekel’s letter is a calculated CCSS sales job– nothing more than another effort to Save the Standards.

Throughout his letter, Van Roekel refers to statistics from his biased NEA survey– which I dismantle here.

Van Roekel opens his letter with, “During my 23 years as a high school math teacher….”

Such an opener is undeniably an effort to establish credibility, as though to say, “You can trust me, teachers. I am just like you.”

However, Van Roekel’s time in the classroom ended by 2003. As such, he was barely touched by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and certainly has zero firsthand experience with CCSS.

By 2003, Van Roekel was working full time as NEA’s vice president. In FY 2004, Van Roekel earned a salary of $213,930 and reported additional expenses and allowances of $156,941.

It is 2014. Van Roekel left the classroom over a decade ago.

CCSS does not touch his everyday life.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop him from trying to make the sale. Indeed, Van Roekel tells “educators” that “we” want CCSS (educators, not teachers, since educators is the chosen term for grafting non-teaching privatizers into the teaching profession). Not only did “we” want CCSS– “we” were thrilled to have it:

So when 45 states adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), we as educators saw the wonderful potential of these standards to correct many of the inequities in our education system that currently exist.  Educators embraced the promise of providing equal access to high standards for all students, regardless of their zip code or family background.

We believed the standards would help students develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills they need to succeed in the fast-changing world.  NEA members overwhelmingly supported the goals of the standards because we knew they could provide a better path forward for each and every student. The promise of these high standards for all students is extraordinary.  And we owe it to our students to fulfill that promise. [Emphasis added.]

So, we “know” CCSS will work because “we” feel it will??

Here’s why I think “we” cling to CCSS:

The NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education

Date: July 2013 
Purpose: to support a cohort of National Education Association Master Teachers in the development of Common Core-aligned lessons in K-5 mathematics and K-12 English Language Arts 
Amount: $3,882,600 

Almost four million “reasons,” straight from the Gates Foundation.

If  “we” forsook CCSS, “we” might have to return $4 million to Bill.

Moreover, there is no telling, my friends, what back-room, career-promoting “arrangements” have been made to prompt Van Roekel to unyieldingly force feed teachers this CCSS-pseudo-empowerment pap.

Van Roekel pretends to desire for teachers to have “a voice” in CCSS. Nevertheless, that “voice” does not include the right to question whether “we” should ditch CCSS completely. Instead, Van Roekel tells “us” that “we” are keeping CCSS and that “our” “expertise” is only necessary to implement CCSS:

Imagine that:  The very people expected to deliver universal access to high quality standards with high quality instruction have not had the opportunity to share their expertise and advice about how to make CCSS implementation work for all students, educators, and parents.

Consequently, NEA members have a right to feel frustrated, upset, and angry about the poor commitment to implementing the standards correctly.

What “we” don’t get to feel is utter disgust at having yet another union president cram CCSS down out throats.

Next, Van Roekel plays a clever game in acknowledging CCSS opposition: He writes of it in the passive voice. This way, he does not have to acknowledge who is opposed:

NEA has been called upon to oppose the standards.

Moreover, he simply calls those who do not want CCSS “detractors”:

It would be simpler just to listen to the detractors from the left and the right who oppose the standards. 

Van Roekel is careful to keep the “we” separate from any CCSS opposition.

As far as both national teachers unions are concerned, absolutely no acknowledgment that any teachers opposed CCSS is allowed.




We must have CCSS, and do you know why?

Allow Dennis to fill you in:

NEA has been called upon to oppose the standards.  It would be simpler just to listen to the detractors from the left and the right who oppose the standards.  But scuttling these standards will simply return us to the failed days of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), where rote memorization and bubble tests drove teaching and learning.  NEA members don’t want to go backward; we know that won’t help students.  Instead, we want states to make a strong course correction and move forward. [Emphasis added.]

We must have CCSS in order to avoid having tests drive teaching??

I’m seeing flies buzzing around this steaming pile.

Consider these words from the CCSS memorandum of understanding (MOU) that is part of the Race to the Top (RTTT) application:

The intent is that these standards will be aligned to state assessment and classroom practice. The second phase of this initiative will be the development of common assessments aligned to the core standards developed through this process. [Emphasis added.]

CCSS is married to assessment– at many more grade levels than was NCLB.

Is Van Roekel advocating that these tests will not be “bubble” tests? Or is he promoting the illusion that one can quality-machine-grade extended response items?

Either way, the CCSS tests are a vehicle to promote a shallow, automated public education experience.

In addition, I am not sure where Van Roekel gets “rote memorization” as being associated with NCLB. Yet here is a question: Why attempt to standardize public education if the goal is not to slap America’s classrooms with  “common assessments”?

I mean, couldn’t “we” follow the unique-education-experience, personal-attention, smaller-class-size, not-even-a-thought- of-standardizing model of the upper crust private schools– say– like Exeter Academy?

No time for such discussions. Van Roekel is back to offering the I-was-once-a -teacher-so-you-can-trust-me line. Yet his logic is seriously lacking:

Not surprisingly, as a math teacher I have some strong views about the proper sequence of things—not only in my classroom, but also when it comes to implementing this kind of systemic change in public education.  Start with high standards, create a curriculum that supports them, then focus on assessments that are aligned to what is taught and that really measure learning, then evaluate progress in teaching and learning, and finally pledge to make continuous adjustments to improve teaching and learning for each and every student. [Emphasis added.]

See, here’s the rub:  Neither Van Roekel nor any other CCSS pusher has provided any evidence that CCSS delivers on the “high standards” promise in its overused sales pitch.

Assembly line education = “high standards”?


At the end of his letter, Van Roekel offers several “suggestions” for “improving” CCSS, including “reviewing” and “recommending improvements”; “developing implementation collaboratively”; using teachers to “develop aligned curriculum and assessments”; nixing “outdated NCLB tests,” and “actively engaging educators in field testing of assessments.”

The fatal flaw in all of his suggestions is that he allows no room for teachers (I’m tired of his term, educators) to completely step away from being “standardized.”

Van Roekel might as well sum up his suggestions by writing, “We want to offer teachers the opportunity to voluntarily kill off that which makes their teaching unique. We want to offer teachers the chance to exercise their professional judgment in these controlled forums dominated by the ‘groupthink’ mentality in order to produce singular solutions that likely fit no one well, all in the name of ‘engaging educators.'”

He should also add, “By the way, I will feel no direct effects of forcing CCSS “solidarity” onto the contemporary public school classroom.”

I am a current teacher, and I resent the forceful push of those outside of the classroom to make my classroom the same as other public school classrooms nationwide in the name of “winning” some race to the top of something.

Van Roekel closes with a real “solidarity” ending. Here’s my favorite line:

I know that NEA members are committed to seeing the promise of the standards fulfilled.

The “promise of the standards” is a creepy effort to standardize teaching and learning.

How about this, Dennis: The day that Exeter Academy standardizes, that day will I consider becoming standardized. Not one day sooner.


  1. christine permalink

    I am a parent of two public school kids whose education is being derailed by ccss. Anyone experiencing ccss unsoftened by a good teacher knows how the standards are wreaking havoc with previously working math and language arts programs. What a lousy job Coleman and company did on ccss. What a terrible, lying sell job everyone from Obama to our BOEs have pressed on us. Keep going Mercedes. Speak the truth. Thank you.

  2. Joseph permalink

    This organization (NEA) worked in conjunction with the Carnegie’s and Rockefeller’s, Harvard, Stanford and the University of Chicago to standardize schools in 1917 in the “Education Trust” to “impose on the young the ideal of subordination”, said a scientist in 1918. This is not what Exeter is all about, but it should be a teachable moment for teachers.

  3. It is my hope to connect with other educators that refuse to be bribed and bought. I am just starting this blogging experience but also going back to school once again to sustain our fight against CCSS. I see it as curriculum abuse, and the children and teachers fall prey to the power hungry and financially articulate.

    • Tracy permalink

      @juliannnc”…are you a memeber of BATs or BAPs or BAMs (BadAss Teachers, BadAss Parents, BadAssMoms..on FB and the web)? If not, they are nationwide movemenst of 38,000+ teachers, parents and moms/dads ..”that refuse to be bribed and bought”…check them out!

      • BadAssGranny permalink

        Where are the BAGS? BadAssGrannnys? Or BadAssGrandparents? I’d be all over that! 🙂

      • Tracy permalink

        LOVE IT! BadAssGrannies…that would strike fear into the hearts of many 😉

    • David Sudmeier permalink

      I invite you to join with others who are joining the revolution!

      Sign the “Declaration of Independence from Corporatist/Behaviorist Education” at:…rist-education/

      More and more teachers, parents and administrators are awakening to the threats to our democratic society that CCSS and corporatist forces represent.

      Together, we can become the minutemen of the new Revolutionary Army!

      David Sudmeier

  4. Time to replace Van Roekel.

  5. ira shor permalink

    Teacher union leaders represent corporate profiteers, not the teachers; their job is to manage labor so that the business climate remains good for business. These leaders are paid very well to keep the nation’s 3 mil teachers compliant, obedient, swallowing the data-driven drivel.

  6. Thank you for calling Van Roekel out on this, Mercedes. If anybody happens to be in Massachusetts, we have a vigorous challenge underway to dislodge our corrupt leadership.

    Does anybody else have a grassroots NEA uprising to share?

  7. Harlan Underhill permalink

    Another wonderful expose, Mercedes.

  8. Gracias, Mercedes!

    About upchucked reading that 100% pure bovine excrement spewing forth from Van Roekel’s mouth. Goddamn there is so much just dead wrong in what he says. Guess he’s gonna become a politician next. As much as a true union, not the pseudo union that NEA is, supporter, as I am, those would be fighting words if I were a member. Come on all you NEA supporters, oust that bastard.

  9. Thank you for this post. His statement about the implementation of the core being faulty is merely an attempt to control the direction of our voices. We cannot allow him to sidetrack our progress through this sham!

  10. Love this article – thank you for saying what some (many???) of us on the ground are thinking. One quick point of reference, not that it necessarily makes a huge difference: NEA refers to educators as opposed to teachers because NEA covers a broad spectrum of educational professionals such as ESPs, food service workers, and secretaries. I don’t have a problem with DVR referring to educators because I believe that we all work together and make an impact on students.

    I also want to echo the BAT shout-out!!!

    • Hi, Jax. Thanks for commenting.

      I realize that NEA has members who are not classroom teachers.

      I have a problem with “educators” such as food service workers and secretaries being included in an endorsement for a set of standards. This feeds into the general abuse of the term “educators” as being used to mislead the public into believing teachers are “overwhelmingly” endorsing CC.

  11. Joseph permalink

    Posted this to OptOut Long Island. They are no longer buying his BS.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Schneider and Greene on Van Roekel’s Common Core Repositioning | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Schneider and Greene on Van Roekel’s Common Core Repositioning | Educational Policy Information

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