States should adopt rigorous, common academic standards so that students can be better prepared to compete in the global economy, AFT president Randi Weingarten said on April 29 at a House Committee on Education and Labor hearing.
"We live in a highly mobile, instantly connected world in which knowledge travels on highways we can't even see. Our students need to be able to navigate through that world-to study, work and live in states other than the one in which they were educated, if they so choose or if circumstances demand it," Weingarten testified. "Their ability to do that, and to do it well, will be limited if we don't change our current patchwork of varying state standards."
Weingarten's testimony was not the AFT's first call for common standards. The union has been evaluating the clarity and specificity of state standards since 1995. The AFT has found, according to Weingarten, that "As a nation, we have made too little progress in developing standards in a way that will improve teaching and learning."
One of the main problems with typical state standards, Weingarten noted, is that they aren't comprehensive enough to serve as the basis of a sound education system. "Knowledge builds on knowledge. The more you know, the more you can learn. Teachers know this better than anyone. It is, therefore, imperative that standards offer carefully sequenced content from the beginning of kindergarten (or, better yet, pre-K) through the end of high school."
In addition to the challenges posed by varying state standards, the AFT president also pointed out the inconsistent way student achievement is measured under the No Child Left Behind law, where the benchmarks for making adequate yearly progress (AYP) vary from state to state. "Imagine the outrage if, during the Super Bowl, one football team had to move the ball the full 10 yards for a first down while the other team only had to go seven," she explained. "Imagine if this scenario were sanctioned by the National Football League. Such a system would be unfair and preposterous."
Since being elected AFT president, Weingarten has stressed the need for common standards in a variety of public venues, including a February 2009 Washington Post op-ed column.
To develop these standards, Weingarten suggested forging partnerships among elected officials, educators, community leaders, and pedagogy and content experts. These partners would work together to create the standards and make them available as a national model. She also expressed support for Education Secretary Arne Duncan's plans to make "Race to the Top" funds available for the development of common standards. (he day before her testimony, Weingarten sent a letter to Duncan reinforcing the AFT's support for rigorous common state standards.)
A system of common standards is one of several essential tools that must be addressed simultaneously to boost student performance, Weingarten said in her testimony.
"In the quest for the magic reform, we have divvied up or isolated the components that comprise public education and have treated each as if it were in a vacuum," she said. "That is a mistake."
She emphasized the need for innovative ways to retain and recruit teachers, more relevant professional development, rich curricula, improved working and learning conditions for teachers and students, programmatic supports like early childhood education and wraparound services, and accountability frameworks.
April 29, 2009