The landscape surrounding the Common Core State Standards has become an "alternate universe" for too many policymakers: one that equates testing with reform, one that eclipses the resources and time needed by educators to help students reach ambitious new standards, AFT President Randi Weingarten told reporters on Nov. 4 in Washington, D.C.
Speaking at a panel discussion sponsored by the Education Writers Association, Weingarten warned that the Common Core could be undercut by this cavalier, dismissive view about what's required to make the new standards work. This is an attitude harbored by too many officials who lay down rules without listening closely to those on the front lines, who are responsible for helping millions of students reach the high expectations underpinning the Common Core. This approach has minimized supports that could make the Common Core a success—for example, wraparound services for students and the time educators need in the school day to work together on strategies that unpack the new standards for classroom use.
"Regardless of what we say here, teachers have not been given the time and tools" to effectively implement the new standards, Weingarten said. "We're living in an alternate universe right now," one where the standardized test is overused and has become the sine qua non for achievement, and where opportunities for teachers to engage their students in rich opportunities like project-based learning are muscled to the margins of school life.
"Testing is not the reform," she reminded the audience; but that misperception remains stubbornly in place, and it shows up in ways that deny children a rich, well-rounded education. Many of these lost opportunities are evident at the earliest grades, observed Weingarten, who pointed to ways that test anxiety has percolated down to the preK-2 level, a time when children "need to focus on creativity, playing, working with their hands and working with their minds."
Many of Weingarten's comments on implementation of the Common Core underscored points she made in her most recent column appearing in the New York Times. Other panelists featured in the session, "Opportunities and Risks—Practical Issues with the Rollout," were former Michigan Gov. John Engler, Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery and Michael McShane of the American Enterprise Institute.