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A fascinating article in Education Week describes a verbal tiff between the Council of Chief State School Officers and the leaders of the two major teachers’ unions.

The Chiefs, as they are known, are the state superintendents. CCSSO received at least $32 million from the Gates Foundation to “write” and advocate for the Common Core, and no matter how much parents and teachers complain and demand revisions, the Chiefs “won’t back down.” They made their certainty and intransigence clear to the union leaders.

The AFT and the NEA also were paid millions by Gates to promote the Common Core, but the unions have members and both Randi and Dennis have vocally criticized the implementation of the Common Core. In some states, the rollout has been nothing short of disastrous.

Randi Weingarten was unusually outspoken in criticizing the rush to impose the Common Core, and she warned the Chiefs that the standards were in serious jeopardy. The article makes clear that while Randi is listening to teachers, the Chiefs are not. Their attitude on full display was “full steam ahead, the critics are wrong, there is nothing but anecdote on their side.” You would think they might have reflected just a bit on the terrible results of Common Core testing in New York, where only 3% of English language learners passed the tests, only 5% of children with disabilities, only 16-17% of African American and Hispanic students, and only 31% of all students.

The advocates of Common Core claim that the new standards teach critical thinking and reflection, but there was no evidence of either critical thinking or reflection from the CCSSO or the other organizations paid to promote the standards.

Andrew Ujifusa writes:

“Anxiety over the Common Core State Standards was on full display Tuesday during the Council of Chief State School Officers’ annual legislative conference. Leaders of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, the nation’s two largest teacher unions, squabbled with state K-12 chiefs over how teachers and the general public perceive the standards, and how well they are being implemented in classrooms.”

Weingarten told those present that they do not understand how angry many parents and educators are. During the discussion, Weingarten “said that in cases like New York state, the poor rollout of the common core had led to “immobilization” among teachers and a distrust that those in positions of authority knew how to do the job right.

“Weingarten added that she expects that many of her members would call for outright opposition to the standards during the AFT’s summer convention, even though both the AFT and NEA support the standards and Weingarten said she wouldn’t back away from the common core.

“On the subject of transitioning to the common core, Weingarten told the chiefs, “The field doesn’t trust the people in this room to have their backs.”

“During the same discussion, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, while he said the union remained squarely behind the standards themselves, also expressed concern that teachers were not getting enough time to learn the standards themselves, to find common-core aligned curricular materials, and to talk to parents as well as each other.

“Those remarks triggered an irritated response from Massachusetts K-12 chief Mitchell D. Chester, who said that the two national unions seemed to be “condoning” strident and vocal common-core foes “at the peril of those [teachers] who are moving things ahead,” an accusation Weingarten denied……

“Weingarten responded that attacking her for being the messenger of concerns about the standards missed the point, telling the state chiefs, “People think we are doing terrible things to them, parents and teachers alike.”

Kati Haycock of Education Trust defended the Common Core. The Gates Foundation paid Education Trust $2,039,526 to advocate for the Common Core.

Michael Cohen of Achieve, which helped to write the standards, strongly defended them.

Gates has paid many millions to Achieve to write and promote the Common Core:

“Gates money also flowed to Achieve, Inc.; prior to June 2009, Achieve received $23.5 million in Gates funding. Another $13.2 million followed after CCSS creation, with $9.3 million devoted to “building strategic alliances” for CCSS promotion:

“June 2012

Purpose: to strengthen and expand the ADP Network, provide
more support to states for CCSS implementation, and build strategic national
and statewide alliances by engaging directly with key stakeholders
Amount: $9,297,699″

This exclusive news appeared this morning on politico.com’s education site. When Randi spoke at the Network for Public Education conference in Austin, she told the audience for the Common Core panel that she would ask the AFT executive board for permission to do exactly what is described here. She understands that many members of the AFT do not trust the Gates Foundation, do not like Bill Gates’ public statements such as encouraging larger class sizes, or his unwavering commitment to measuring teacher quality by student test scores, despite the lack of evidence for its efficacy. I welcome this change and thank Randi and the AFT for severing ties with the Gates Foundation. Gates and Pearson have bought most of American education. Those who represent teachers should be free of their influence.

By Caitlin Emma

With help from Stephanie Simon

EXCLUSIVE: AFT SHUNS GATES FUNDING: The American Federation of Teachers ended a five-year relationship with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation after rank-and-file union members expressed deep distrust of the foundation’s approach to education reform. AFT President Randi Weingarten told Morning Education the union will no longer accept Gates money for its Innovation Fund, which was founded in 2009 and has received up to $1 million a year in Gates grants ever since. The Innovation Fund has sponsored AFT efforts to help teachers implement the Common Core standards – a Gates priority – among other initiatives.

- Weingarten said she didn’t believe Gates funding influenced the Innovation Fund’s direction, but still had to sever the relationship. “I got convinced by the level of distrust I was seeing – not simply on Twitter, but in listening to members and local leaders – that it was important to find a way to replace Gates funding,” she said. Weingarten plans to ask members to vote this summer on a dues hike of 5 cents per month, which she said would raise $500,000 a year for the Innovation Fund.

- The Innovation Fund isn’t the only AFT initiative funded by the Gates Foundation. Since 2010, the union has received more than $10 million. The AFT’s executive council hasn’t formally voted to reject Gates funding for other projects, but Weingarten said she would be very cautious about taking such grants. “I don’t want to say ‘never never ever ever,’” she said, but “this is a matter of making common bond with our members and really listening to the level of distrust they have in the philanthropies and the people on high who are not listening to them.”

- Vicki Phillips, who runs the Gates Foundation’s education division, said her team is “disappointed by Randi’s decision.” She called the AFT “an important thought partner” for the foundation. “We continue to applaud the work of the Innovation Fund grantees to engage teachers in improving teaching and learning in their local communities,” Phillips said.

Cami Anderson, the state-appointed superintendent of Newark public schools, has grown increasingly high-handed in recent weeks. In driving through her so-called “One Newark” plan, she suspended principals who dissented, she stormed out of a meeting of the elected advisory board, and now she has announced she will no longer meet with the board. Read Politico’s account here.

Randi Weingarten sent the following letter to Governor Chris Christie, calling for an end to two decades of state control of New Jersey’s largest city.

“Letter from Randi Weingarten to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on the school crisis in Newark”

February 26, 2014

The Honorable Chris Christie
Governor of New Jersey
PO Box 001
Trenton, NJ 08625

Dear Governor Christie:

There is a crisis in Newark. And that crisis was made worse by your schools Superintendent Cami Anderson opting not to attend last night’s School Advisory Board meeting to hear the concerns and desires of parents, educators, students and the people of Newark.

Governor, you have complete and total control over the schools—the way they are managed, the way they are funded. The Newark community has met state requirements to regain local control twice now, in 2011 and 2013. But your administration kept changing the bar, and the state remains in control.

At the very least, then, your superintendent has the obligation to listen to the people of Newark—the people who send their children to our schools, and the people who spend their working lives trying to make a difference in children’s lives.

So we’re clear, please know I don’t condone disrespectful behavior, be it at a school board meeting or when, in my opinion, you bullied teachers. However, the potential that some at a school board meeting could be boisterous does not justify the superintendent skipping it entirely.

The people of Newark want their schools back. They don’t want the One Newark plan, and they have lost faith in the way Superintendent Anderson has managed the city’s public schools.

Let me explain. Superintendent Anderson dismantled the Global Village—a smart, community-driven effort to provide children with much-needed wraparound services. She ended the Newcomer program, which provided support for English language learners. Her “renew” schools efforts have yielded poor results. She quickly spent the sizable donation from Facebook. She suspended several administrators who disagreed with her, and she made backroom deals with charter operators. She is forcing through her One Newark plan despite public outcry. And now, under the guise of so-called budget problems, the superintendent has asked out-going state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf to allow her to waive our contract and state law, and wants to replace experienced teachers with new Teach for America recruits, who have never stepped into a classroom and have no qualifications to teach in the Newark schools.

We worked on that contract together. We agreed that it put into place policies that would be good for students and for teachers. You said yourself that it would “improve the quality of education across the City of Newark.” This is a failure of management, a failure of fiscal stewardship and a failure of instructional leadership.

Rather than deal with the fact that Newark students are suffering, school buildings are crumbling and staggering inequities persist, Superintendent Anderson would instead blame and mass fire the people who have devoted their lives to helping Newark’s children.

Instead of driving deeper divisions and distrust in Newark, we need to be focused on solutions that work—early childhood education, wraparound services, project-based learning, professional development and more. We need to make Newark schools places where kids can build trusting relationships with each other and with adults, where they can learn the critical-thinking skills they need to compete in the 21st century, and where they develop the persistence and grit they’ll need to deal with adversity.

Governor, the Newark community has made it known: They don’t want mass closings, mass firings or mass privatization. They want to regain local control of the district. They want to reclaim the promise of public education in Newark.

I ask you to listen. Give the people of Newark their schools and their future back.

Sincerely,

Randi Weingarten

cc:

Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson
Education Commissioner Chris Cerf
Newark Teachers Union President Joesph Del Grosso
AFT-New Jersey President Donna Chiera
State Senator Ronald Rice
State Senator M. Teresa Ruiz
State Senate President Steve Sweeney
State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto

(fYI: No mention of the increasingly toxic CCSS; could this be a change of course? First, NEA, now AFT? A sign of change or oversight?)

WASHINGTON—Statement by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, urging governors to provide the same access to a quality public education for all children as is done in other industrialized countries. The National Governors Association is meeting in Washington, D.C., this weekend.

“Governors can and should make a difference in the lives of every child in America by giving them access to a high-quality public education that includes programs and services to mitigate poverty. Continuing to ignore the lessons of top-performing industrialized nations impedes our children’s opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to compete in the 21st century global economy.

“The 2014 agenda of every governor should address the needs of today’s students by ending futile policies of over-testing, closing schools and sanctioning teachers and by supporting programs that actually will move our kids forward. As is done in the top-ranked industrialized nations, we should address socio-economic disparities by providing wraparound services in schools to meet students’ health and social service needs—which are essential given a U.S. child poverty rate of 23 percent. States should direct resources to the schools and students with the greatest needs, ensure that teachers are well-prepared and supported, provide all students with a robust curriculum, expand and enhance partnerships with parents and community, provide multiple pathways to graduation like career and technical education, and ensure there is high-quality, universal early childhood education.

“Governors must summon the political will to embrace what works in high-performing countries so that we can reclaim the promise of public education.”

In an article in “Politico Pro,” which is behind a paywall, AFT President Randi Weingarten applauded the decision of the New York State United Teachers, which passed a resolution of “no confidence” in New York State Commissioner John King.

She said that NYSUT was right to withdraw support from Common Core unless there are “major course corrections.”

The implementation of the standards was badly botched, she said, and neither King nor Board of Regents Chair Merryl Tisch was listening to the public or teachers.

Randi was especially outraged that King is pushing ahead with the Common Core standards at the same time that budget cuts have caused the layoff of thousands of people who provide important services for students.

Weingarten was insistent that the standards had to be delinked from the new tests.

A reader who calls himself or herself “Democracy” left comments criticizing me for defending Randi Weingarten–or perhaps for not attacking her.

Here is my response to Democracy:

Democracy, you ask a good question, and I will answer as best I can..

As you know, I have criticized the Common Core in many posts. I have criticized the lack of transparency and the lack of educator participation in its development. I have criticized the fact that the Gates Foundation paid out nearly $200 million to develop and promote the CCSS, which really means they are the Gates Standards. I have said that rigorous standards will not solve–let alone address–the economic dysfunction at the root of educational inequality–and is likely to exacerbate it.

Randi Weingarten is certainly more positive about Common Core than I am. She is the president of the AFT and has been willing to engage on the issues, while the NEA has remained supportive of Common Core and silent.

I have long believed that Randi would ultimately change course, and she has done so recently. First, she called for a moratorium on testing. only days ago, she came out in opposition to VAM, saying that VAM is a sham. She has followed her reasoning to its logical conclusion, which is that Common Core should be decoupled from testing. If Common Core is in fact decoupled from testing, it loses its power as a means of rating and ranking students and teachers and principals. It becomes a set of standards that may or may not prove useful but has no power to ruin lives and careers

The next, inevitable step is to recognize that Common Core must be amended by teachers and scholars. As it currently exists, it is an infallible edict encased in concrete. No standards are so perfect that they need never be updated.

I will not attack Randi, not only because she is a personal friend, not only because she is showing the capacity to evolve and change her mind, but because we who object to the current demolition derby can’t prevail without the support of at least one of the major unions. In short, we need her leadership. To turn against her is to wound our cause irreparably, our cause being the survival of public education and the teaching profession. To attack one of our few national leaders in the middle of a crucial war will aid those who are attacking public education and teachers. If we who are allies fight one another, we lose. I prefer success to defeat. Too much is riding on the outcome of these questions to indulge in ideological purity and cast out those who are not in complete agreement.

Randi Weingarten believes in the promise of the Common Core standards, and she has strongly defended them.

But she recognizes that the rushed implantation, notably in New York, jeopardized the standards.

In this post, Randi says that the standards must be separated from the testing.

They must not be used to rank and rate teachers or to apply value-added measurement, where teachers are judged by computer-generated algorithms.

She writes:

“It’s time to call the question. Will the powers-that-be continue to be more concerned with creating a testing and data system that ranks and sorts schools and educators, in the quest for the perfect industrial algorithm to judge teachers, students and schools? Or will they look at the evidence and join educators, students and parents in fighting to reclaim the promise of public education?

“We can’t reclaim the promise of public education without investing in strong neighborhood public schools that are safe, collaborative and welcome environments for students, parents, educators and the broader community. Schools where teachers and school staff are well-prepared and well-supported, with manageable class sizes and time to collaborate. Schools with rigorous standards aligned to an engaging curriculum that focuses on teaching and learning, not testing, and that includes art, music, civics and the sciences — and where all kids’ instructional needs are met. Schools with evaluation systems that are not about sorting and firing but about improving teaching and learning. And schools with wraparound services to address our children’s social, emotional and health needs.”

We know who “the powers that be” are. Will they listen?

AFT President Weingarten on PISA 2012 International Results

AFT’s Weingarten: “The crucial question we face now is whether we have the political will to move away from the failed policies and embrace what works in high-performing countries so that we can reclaim the promise of public education.”

WASHINGTON—Statement by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 results:

“Today’s PISA results drive home what has become abundantly clear: While the intentions may have been good, a decade of top-down, test-based schooling created by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top—focused on hyper-testing students, sanctioning teachers and closing schools—has failed to improve the quality of American public education. Sadly, our nation has ignored the lessons from the high-performing nations. These countries deeply respect public education, work to ensure that teachers are well-prepared and well-supported, and provide students not just with standards but with tools to meet them—such as ensuring a robust curriculum, addressing equity issues so children with the most needs get the most resources, and increasing parental involvement. None of the top-tier countries, nor any of those that have made great leaps in student performance, like Poland and Germany, has a fixation on testing like the United States does.

“The crucial question we face now is whether we have the political will to move away from the failed policies and embrace what works in high-performing countries so that we can reclaim the promise of public education.”

After the 2009 PISA report, Weingarten visited the top-performing nations of Japan, China, Singapore, Finland, Canada and Brazil to talk with teachers, principals, students and government officials about what makes their systems work for students, teachers and parents. Many of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s recommendations informed the AFT’s Quality Education Agenda and its Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education principles.

###

Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Randi Weingarten have co-authored a terrific article about why little children should not be subjected to standardized testing.

They write:

Young kids learn actively, through hands-on experiences in the real world. They develop skills over time through a process of building ideas. But this process is not always linear and is not quantifiable; expecting young children to know specific facts or skills at specified ages is not compatible with how they learn. It emphasizes right and wrong answers instead of the developmental progressions that typify their learning. 

Young children need opportunities to engage in active, age-appropriate, play-based learning. They need to figure out how things work, explore, question and have fun.

Such experiences have been shown to have significant educational and social benefits for children. And studies show that early childhood education provides a high rate of return for society’s investment.

They explain that standardized testing is counter-productive for young children.

This should be read by policymakers, especially in Washington, D.C., and state legislatures.

Parents don’t need to read it, because they already know that standardized testing is inappropriate to “measure” their child’s readiness for college-and-careers, or for anything else.

Early childhood educators know it too. They have issued statement after statement decrying the insistence by policymakers that little children who barely know how to hold a pencil should pick a bubble.

It is time to stop labeling children as “successes” or “failures” based on what the testing industry determines is right for their age.

One day, we will see similar articles about standardized testing for students in grades 3-12.

Standardized tests have their uses for older children, but only as an audit function, not as a measure of the knowledge and skills of individual children.

Students should be tested primarily by their teachers, who know what they were taught. The teachers can get instant feedback and use the information from their tests to help students who need help, and to recognize where their teaching didn’t click.

Isn’t it amazing that we became a great nation without standardized testing?

The nation’s mad love affair with standardized testing reaches the height of absurdity when children in the early grades and in pre-kindergarten are subjected to the tests.

Carlsson-Paige and Weingarten are right: Stop now. Let the children learn and play and develop as healthy, happy human beings.

Institutional Investors is a business magazine that reports on issues for the investment and banking industry.

In its current issue, it identified the top 40 people fighting either to defend defined benefit pension plans or to abolish them.

It selected Randi Weingarten as the #1 figure who is fighting to protect teachers’ defined benefit pensions. That means, to teachers, that they will have a pension when they retire no matter what happens to the market. Critics want teachers and other public employees to be required to adopt defined contribution plans, where teachers choose their investments and take their chances with the vagaries of the market.

Randi opposes the defined contribution plans because it puts the burden of investment on individual teachers, who may make bad choices and see their pensions evaporate, or may be the victims of an unstable market. In the article, she notes that West Virginia tried the defined contribution plan in 1990 but reverted to a defined benefit plan in 2008.

She has also taken the lead in criticizing hedge fund managers who collect fees managing defined benefit plans while supporting right-wing groups that want to dismantle those plans. The AFT has made clear that it will divest from funds that work both sides of the street.

You go, Randi!

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