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English Teachers' Group Sidesteps Common-Core Opposition

Catherine Gewertz offers an accurate account, but I would just like to say that the resolution against Common Core would not have happened had it not been written by a New York teacher who dared to speak up, Carol Mikoda. We lost, but, thanks to Carol, we put up a good fight. 

A note on how NCTE operates. Here is the sequence of how they ignore the voice of members.

1) Members are invited to submit resolution proposals. Here is part of the official, friendly invitation:

The 2011 NCTE Committee on Resolutions encourages NCTE members to propose a resolution for consideration during the Annual Convention in Chicago, Illinois. 

If you have concerns about issues that affect your teaching, or positions you would like to support, and you think NCTE should take a stand, you have an opportunity to be heard! You can initiate action to deal with these issues by proposing resolutions which may be voted on and passed at NCTE's Annual Convention. The Committee on Resolutions urges individual members and affiliate groups to begin preparing and submitting their resolutions now. [emphasis added]

2) Two of the resolutions proposers are invited to attend meeting of the Committee on Resolutions at the annual convention. 

3) Before this meeting, NCTE rewrites the resolution, not allowing the proposers to see this rewrite until they show up at the meeting.

See How NCTE Resolutions are Submitted and Processed, to wit, The committee on Resolutions. . . will also edit resolutions for consistency of form and quality of writing style.

4) After this meeting of the Resolutions Committee NCTE rewrites the revised resolution, and proposers don't see this revised revision until they go to the business meeting late in the day.

Get it? Those unnamed NCTE functionaries opposed to the resolution have ALL DAY to strategize and to plan subtle ways of adding loopholes (They are very good at Doublespeak. . . oops they call it "editing for consistency of form and quality of writing style.") 

Somehow, I think something besides consistency of form and quality of writing style is going on when Resolution: NCTE will oppose common core standards and national tests gets changed to Resolution on Challenging Current Education Policy and Affirming Literacy Educators' Expertise 

As usual, Stephen Krashen nicely sums up the matter. I echo his sentiments about NCTE's official behavior--

Really pissed off.

Reminder: Here's the resolution we presented to NCTE. Please notice the clear, direct language: Oppose common core standards and national tests. The NCTE version, which purports to join two resolutions, avoids mentioning the Common Core, instead circumlocating to actions of the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers. So we end up a resolution the public will interpret as "teachers not wanting to be evaluated"--instead of a resolution concerned with students being robbed of an education. Our resolution pointed out the very high cost of national testing. NCTE's resolution asks for more money. And so on. 

Read this part very carefully:

publicly voice its critique of and opposition to educational reform policies that mandate standards, curriculum, and means of student assessments that adversely affect social and educational equity

This is weasel language and comes very close to qualifying NCTE for the Doublespeak Award. 

I am as concerned about equity as anybody but NCTE uses it here as a red herring. So mandated standards, curriculum, and assessments are okay if we can't hire a panel of lawyers to prove they adversely affect equity? Ask teachers in New York City, who won the equity issue (filed in 1993) in the courts, how the paper victory is working out for them. The Common Core adversely affects all students. Get that? We don't need to prove inequity. Our resolution expressed direct concern for all students: The standards that have been proposed and the kinds of testing they entail rob students of appropriate teaching, a broad-based education, and the time to learn well. [emphasis added] 

Resolution Submitted to NCTE Resolution: NCTE will oppose common core standards and national tests 

Resolution on National Standards and Tests 

Submitted to National Council of Teachers of English, Committee on Resolutions, via e-mail, on October 10, 2011. 

The movement for national standards and tests is based on these claims: (1) Our educational system is broken, as revealed by US students' scores on international tests; (2) We must improve education to improve the economy; (3) The way to improve education is to have national standards and national tests to reveal whether standards are being met. 

Each of these claims is false. (1) Our schools are not broken. The problem is poverty. Test scores of students from middle-class homes who attend well-funded schools are among the best in world. Our mediocre scores are due to the fact that the US has the highest level of child poverty among all industrialized countries. (2) Existing evidence strongly suggests that improving the economy improves the status of families and children's educational outcomes. (3) There is no evidence that national standards and national tests have improved student learning in the past. 

No educator is opposed to assessments that help students to improve their learning. We are, however, opposed to excessive and inappropriate assessments. The amount of testing proposed by the US Department of Education in connection to national standards is excessive, inappropriate and fruitless. 

The standards that have been proposed and the kinds of testing they entail rob students of appropriate teaching, a broad-based education, and the time to learn well. Moreover, the cost of implementing standards and electronically delivered national tests will be enormous, bleeding money from legitimate and valuable school activities. Even if the standards and tests were of high quality, they would not serve educational excellence or the American economy. 


Resolved that the National Council of Teachers of English 




  • oppose the adoption of national standards as a concept and specifically the standards written by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers




  • alert its members to the counter-productiveness of devoting time, energy and funds to implementing student standards and the intensive testing that would be required.


    Carol Mikoda 

    Susan Ohanian, recipient of NCTE's George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language 

    Bess Altwerger 

    Stephen Krashen 

    Joanne Yatvin, NCTE Past President 

    Richard J Meyer, Incoming president of Whole Language Umbrella 

    The only place this resolution saw the light of day was on this website. Here is the revised revision submitted to NCTE members attending the business meeting. Any similarity to the original is coincidental. 

    Resolution adopted at NCTE Business Meeting 

    Resolution on Challenging Current Education Policy and Affirming Literacy Educators' Expertise 

    2011 Annual Business Meeting in Chicago, Illinois 


    The National Council of Teachers of English has a long history of taking strong positions on the best practices in the teaching of literacy. It has a long history as well of voicing its opposition and proposing alternatives to educational reform based primarily on so-called "standards" of performance as measured by high-stakes testing. That approach has become the de facto law of the land as both state and federal government have pressured school districts and teachers to submit to accountability measures based on a narrow range of criteria. 

    In particular, the "standards" approach fails to include myriad conditions of education, including the gap between rich and poor, public support for education, and the day-to-day conditions of teaching. From the Reagan administration through the Bush, Clinton, and Bush administrations, key elements of educational reform have been ignored. 

    The consequences of the standards-and-tests approach have been exacerbated by the policies of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. These policies run counter to the great body of NCTE position statements and have been further reinforced by the actions of the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, who devalued teachers' wisdom while proceeding with undifferentiated descriptions of what all students should know and be able to do. 

    The 2009 Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing, states, "Quality assessment is a process of inquiry. It requires gathering information and setting conditions so that the classroom, school, and community become centers of inquiry where students, teachers, and other stakeholders can examine their learning--individually and collaboratively--and find ways to improve their practice." Be it therefore 


    RESOLVED, that the National Council of Teachers of English call upon the Obama administration, the National Governors' Association, and the Council for Chief State School Officers to support policies that 




  • end high-stakes testing and the evaluation of teachers and schools based on students' test scores;





  • support ongoing classroom-based assessments consistent with the NCTE/IRA 2009 Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing;





  • evaluate teachers based on comprehensive measures of effectiveness, such as observations of instruction, teacher portfolios, parent response, and increases in achievement as evidenced by curriculum-based authentic assessments;





  • promote school/home/community partnerships by valuing the voices of all stakeholders who take part in the education of children;





  • support curriculum that develops every student's intellectual, creative, and physical potential; and





  • provide equitable funding for all schools.


    Be it further resolved that NCTE 




  • publicly voice its critique of and opposition to educational reform policies that mandate standards, curriculum, and means of student assessments that adversely affect social and educational equity;





  • reaffirm its commitment to supporting all literacy educators so that pedagogical and subject matter knowledge, as well as an understanding of the school community and students, are primary influences in school and district plans to advance literacy learning; and





  • work assiduously to make the wisdom of NCTE members with deep knowledge of effective teaching and assessment practices influential at every stage of curricula, assessment, and standards development.


    A lot more could be said here about the two resolutions, but I leave the rest to Education Week reporter Catherine Gewertz. Her opening sentence clearly explains what happened. NCTE operatives didn't allow our resolution to see the light of day. It was carefully hidden from NCTE members who took the trouble to attend the annual meeting. 

    By Catherine Gewertz, Education Week blog 

    The National Council of Teachers of English was asked by a group of its members to take a strong stand against the common standards, but it declined to do so.[emphasis added] 

    The decision unfolded at the organization's annual convention this past weekend in Chicago. As it does every year, the group accepts proposed resolutions from members, which are then debated at the annual meeting and considered for adoption by its resolutions committee. Those that secure two-thirds approval become policy. 

    This year, one of the resolutions called on the NCTE to "oppose the adoption of national standards as a concept," and, specifically, oppose the set of standards drafted as part of an initiative spearheaded by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. (As you know, all but four states have already adopted those standards.) 

    The resolution was put forth by a group led by activist Susan Ohanian and retired education professor Stephen Krashen. When they introduced the same resolution last year, it passed only as a "sense of the house" resolution, meaning it's not binding policy on the NCTE. 

    Adoption of the resolution this year would have been at odds with NCTE's current policy, which is officially neutral on the standards themselves, but pledges to support teachers whose states and districts are implementing them. Many of the sessions at the conference focused on helping teachers understand and teach to the new standards. 

    Barbara Cambridge, the director of NCTE's Washington office, told me at the conference that the resolution, as adopted, is consistent with NCTE's existing policies. 

    The final resolution was a blended version of the Krashen/Ohanian resolution and another, longer resolution sponsored by Michael Shaw, an associate professor of education at St. Thomas Aquinas College, in Sparkill, N.Y. 

    The Shaw resolution asked the NCTE to declare a vote of no-confidence in U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, which the final resolution did not do. A good deal of the rest of the language in the Shaw resolution made it into the final resolution, albeit in edited form. 

    Interestingly, one of the pieces that made it through to the final without much editing involved high-stakes testing.That sentence says the NCTE will call on the Obama administration to "end high-stakes testing and the evaluation of teachers and schools based on students' test scores." 

    Top NCTE officials told me that this poses a slightly awkward shift from current policy, which says that teachers and schools shouldn't be evaluated based solely on students' test scores. 

    Cambridge told me that she could see how it could be interpreted as opposition to using test scores in any way in school or teacher evaluations. But she expressed confidence that when viewed in context of all of NCTE's policy positions, its stance on testing remains quite clear: Test scores shouldn't be the sole basis for judgments about schools' or teachers' performance. 

    Another chunk of proposed language posed potential problems for the NCTE, but those were avoided when the wording was tweaked. Proposed phrasing, at one point in the discussion, would have asked the NCTE to "publicly voice its critique of and opposition to educational reform policies that mandate standards, curriculum, and means of student assessments, particularly those that adversely affect social and educational equity." 

    That pretty much sounds like the NCTE would have had to oppose any policy that requires standards, curriculum, and tests, with particular opposition to things that undermine equity. 

    The final version calls on the NCTE to "publicly voice its critique of and opposition to educational reform policies that mandate standards, curriculum, and means of assessment that adversely affect social and educational equity." 

    So the NCTE wouldn't have to oppose standards, curriculum, or tests unless it views them as producing social or educational inequity. That's a comfortable place for NCTE, Cambridge said, since it's consistent with its neutrality on common standards. 

    The business of blending the two resolutions, however, left some of their most passionate sponsors pretty peeved. 

    "The correct term is pissed off," Krashen told me at the conference. "My first reaction, when I saw the final [version], was, 'Where's my resolution?' Because it had basically disappeared." 

    Official NCTE process allows for such blending; it's done routinely by the resolutions committee to minimize redundancy and also to avoid conflicts with policies adopted by another body: the NCTE's executive committee, which oversees things like legislative policy. 

    The resolutions committee has tremendous discretion in deciding which resolutions to move to the floor for discussion and how they will be edited, NCTE officials told me. And the committee blended the Shaw and Ohanian/Krashen resolutions the way it saw fit. 

    I can't give you a tally on the final resolution. NCTE officials said they only do a per-person count when a show of hands (cards, to be specific) suggests it's a close vote. When it's so lopsided as to be obvious, no count is made, and that is what happened this year. The resolution passed with strong support. 

    An open question, however, is what proportion of NCTE's 35,000 members share the sentiments in the resolution (or the original, proposed resolutions, for that matter). Only about 250 members were at the business meeting to vote on the final resolution. That's the way it works with NCTE resolutions; you have to be present to vote on them. 

    The final resolution is policy now, just like the resolutions approved by the executive committee. 

    Ohanian FOOTNOTE: Given that I've been told twice over the past few months that Save Our Schools would NOT oppose Common Core, I'm not surprised that they arecelebrating the NCTE resolution as a victory.

    Wonderful news from the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English), which held a convention in Chicago these last few days. The NCTE passed a resolution calling on the Obama administration and the two groups involved in developing the Common Core State Standards to "end high stakes testing and the evaluation of teachers and schools based on students' test scores" and to instead "support classroom-based assessment of students and to evaluate teachers based of measures such as observations, portfolios, parent response as well as student achievement as measured by 'curriculum-based authentic assessments.'" 

    You will be proud to know that several members of SOS, who are also members of the NCTE, worked long and hard to write this resolution and to get it passed. Cheers and many thanks to both groups![emphasis added] 

    Here's how you can help SOS follow the lead of the NCTE. If you are a member of a professional educational organization or association, you can be of great assistance in one of two ways. You can apply to be a presenter at your group's next convention, and, if accepted, you speak about Save Our Schools and its initiatives. You can also work with SOS members -- or other like-minded members -- within your organization to pass resolutions which support our four guiding principles. Email us at and we will provide resources to help you.


    — Catherine Gewertz, comments by Susan Ohanian
    Education Week blog





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    Susan Ohanian

    Susan Ohanian, a long-time public school teacher, is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Atlantic, Parents, Washington Monthly, The Nation, P...