The board of the New York state teachers union this weekend unanimously withdrew its support for the Common Core standards as they have been implemented — a major blow for Common Core advocates who have been touting support from teachers as proof that the standards will succeed in classrooms nationwide.
“We’ll have to be the first to say it’s failed,” said Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers.
Iannuzzi said he has talked with union leaders in other states who may follow suit. “We’ve been in conversations where we’re all saying our members don’t see this going down a path that improves teaching and learning. We’re struggling with how to deal with it,” he said.The board also unanimously voted no confidence in New York Education Commissioner John King Jr. and urged the state’s Board of Regents to remove him from office.
The move on Common Core put the New York union at odds with the national teachers unions, which have steadfastly promoted the new academic standards for math and language arts instruction, now rolling out in classrooms nationwide.
Amid fierce and growing opposition to the standards — fanned by conservative political organizations — promoters of Common Core have counted on teachers to be their best ambassadors and to reassure parents and students that the guidelines will lead to more thoughtful, rigorous instruction.
Now, one of the biggest groups of educators in the country is on record saying it’s not working.
The NYSUT, which represents about 600,000 teachers, retired teachers and school professionals — and accounts for 15 percent of national teacher union membership — is demanding “major course corrections” before it can consider supporting the standards again.
It wants more time for teachers to review the Common Core lessons the state has been promoting, and it’s demanding more input on whether they are grade-appropriate. Parents and teachers have complained that the standards push the youngest kids too fast, demanding so much work from kindergarteners that there’s little time for the play that’s deemed essential for young children’s development. On the other end of the scale, they have complained that the high-school math trajectory laid out by the Common Core leaves out key math concepts and does not push top students to take calculus.
The union is also demanding that all questions on the new Common Core exams be released so teachers can review them and use them to shape instruction.
Students across New York performed miserably on the first round of Common Core exams, given last spring. The NYSUT is insisting on a three-year moratorium on the high-stakes consequences attached to the exams; the union argues that no teachers should lose their jobs and no students should lose their chance at graduation because of poor performance on the tests during a transition period.
Iannuzzi said the union still believes “the potential is there” for the standards to succeed, but said that won’t happen unless the state brings everything to a halt and effectively starts from scratch.
In response, Commissioner King issued a statement suggesting flexibility; he said he would work with the legislature, governor and Board of Regents to “make necessary adjustments and modifications to the implementation of the Common Core.” But he did not back away from his staunch support of the guidelines, saying that “now is not the time to weaken standards for teaching and learning.” The statement, issued jointly with Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, continued: “Our students are counting on us to help them develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in life. The higher standards the Common Core sets will help them do just that.”
The Common Core standards are a central plank in President Barack Obama’s education agenda.
They were developed by nonprofits and organizations representing states, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but have been heavily promoted by the White House and by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.