As a teacher, it concerns me that the New York State United Teachers union has withdrawn its support for the Common Core standards. According to Politico and the New York Post, NYSUT doesn’t simply oppose the Common Core standards, but it is the way that they have been implemented that they oppose. Admittedly, the implementation of the standards in New York State has been botched, but I disagree with the union for pulling its support for the standards.
Common Core standards began as an initiative of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and were developed with the input of teachers through their major national teachers unions, the NEA and the AFT, in addition to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Council of Teachers of English. The standards were designed to reflect “the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”
Much has been made over the years about how far behind our students lag other countries, especially in science and math. The latest Program of International Student Assessment results show that the US average score in mathematics is lower than 29 other nations and higher than 26, putting us right in the middle, and “that pattern has not changed much since the PISA test was first given in 2000” while 18 other countries saw their scores increase between 2009 and 2012. The results are much the same for science and a little better for English, although there still has been no movement in our English test scores. Obviously, this is not the time to be withdrawing support for more rigorous standards.
So, why would NYSUT pick this time to withdraw its support? As noted, the implementation of the standards has not gone well in New York. The state realigned its testing last year to the Common Core curriculum, and, as expected, student scores went way down. As an ELA teacher, I sat in many meetings with parents warning them that student scores would go down while promising to do the best I could to prepare students for a test we knew little about. In fact, our scores did go down, but remained above the state median. The test was difficult, but it was not out of reach for good teaching with good professional development and preparation for teachers.
NYSUT would like to see a three-year moratorium on the high-stakes consequences of these tests so that all teachers can be brought up to speed. So far, New York State Education Commissioner John King has not agreed to this, although he did say that “he would work with the legislature, governor and Board of Regents to “make necessary adjustments and modifications to the implementation of the Common Core“” after NYSUT voted “no confidence” in King and called on the Board of Regents to remove him.
Whether King stays or goes, this is no time to withdraw support for the more rigorous Common Core standards. Instead, this is the time to work to implement those standards so that our students’ standing in the international community improves. When New York State implemented a law requiring seat belt anchors in all cars in 1961, not all car manufacturers provided them. Should the state have backed off its law? How many lives might have been lost if it had? Regardless of the problems with the implementation of the Common Core standards, we must not go back. Work on fixing the implementation issues, but don’t throw the standards baby out with that bathwater. Our children’s future depends on their ability to succeed at college and compete in the global economy.