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Bringing Common Sense to Common Core

Teachers want the power to teach creatively and deeply, and to help their students achieve a higher standard of success. They also want to ensure that every child, no matter who they are, where they live or how rich or poor they are, has the same level playing field as they reach to achieve their dreams through a good education.

The Common Core State Standards can be a vehicle to achieve that vision but we have to make sure they are done right and that their implementation is driven not by politicians but by the very people who work each day to fulfill the promise of our children’s future – educators.

As Common Core begins to unfold across the country, the NEA Representative Assembly is poised to take action this week to ensure that implementation of the new standards is done in ways that support teachers, that ensure we teach first and test later, and that we achieve the Common Core's promise of equity for all students. All students should be expected to learn 21st century skills and content, and the expectations we have for them shouldn't vary based on what state they happen to live in.

The standards, which have been adopted by 45 states by governors, Democratic and Republican alike, sets a higher bar for all students, spelling out the skills and information that students should know to be ready for college and career, and to make good on the promise of the American Dream. When the standards were develop NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) worked to ensure the voice of teachers was integral to their development. These standards are not a 'federal mandate' as some conservative politicians have espoused.

”The standards are obviously the work of teachers, said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. "Number one, they're clear. Number two, there aren't a thousand of them. And number three, they all can't be measured using a bubble test. That was not by accident. It's the input of the people who knew what had to be done."

But the standards -- and their promise of equity for all -- don't exist in a vacuum. Misinformation and just pure confusion has threatened to set back what could be a giant leap forward to improve teaching and learning in America's schools. What needs to be made clear is that the new standards must go hand in hand with appropriate student assessment and carefully aligned curriculum and it should all be shaped by the educators who everyday connect students with their dreams.

Standards describe WHAT we think students ought to know and be able to do. A curriculum provides suggested ideas about HOW to teach those specific standards. And assessments are the tests used to determine whether students have mastered the standards. To successfully implement any set of standards, we must do it in the right order. And we must do it in a way that is fully aligned. The adoption of the Common Core State Standards was just the start of this process and it is up to us to ensure we get it right.

NEA members made this point loud and clear in Seattle earlier this year when they mounted an energetic (and successful!) community boycott of the district's MAP test, an assessment tool that didn't measure at all what teachers were required to teach in the classroom.

"It wasn't about denying accountability," said Seattle teacher and union leader Jesse Hagopian at NEA's Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women on Sunday. "It was about doing what parents and teachers knew was best for our students."

In that same spirit and consideration of what's best for students, the NEA educators gathered in Atlanta this week for the annual NEA Representative Assembly (RA) will consider two measures. The first is aptly named "Commonsense Common Core Implementation," and it calls on states and school districts to do this right -- with the support of NEA. The second calls for a moratorium on the consequences of high-stakes testing associated with Common Core until states and districts have worked with educators to create authentic locally developed curriculum and assessments.

"We know that not every teacher will be working in buildings or districts where it's done well," said Dennis Van Roekel. With that in mind, the RA's anticipated action will ensure that teachers, parents, and community members will be supported in the standards' implementation and the development of assessments that match those standards. NEA understands that educators will need time to develop new and creative curriculum to teach the standards, plus time to practice new instructional tools that may be necessary or useful, plus time to design authentic assessments that measure the concepts students must master.

NEA's Great Public Schools network and its new Raise Your Hand campaign, which launches Tuesday, promises to provide an avenue for educators to access resources as they make that transition. Consider NEA's new partnership with BetterLesson, a Cambridge-based organization dedicated to working with NEA to distribute educators' teaching expertise across the country to aid in the effective implementation of the Common Core.

In the meantime, critics of Common Core should think hard about what they're criticizing, Van Roekel suggested. "Which standard shouldn't be there? Is there something missing? What isn't important for the students of this country to know?" he asked. "And what would you replace them with? If you say 'the current system,' then I say no. We need to do better for our students."



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