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At the Chalk Face: Weingarten Wants Common Core; Lewis Says We’re Done

In spring 1991, I completed my student teaching at Ascension High School in Gonzales, Louisiana. I taught Lord of the Flies, a creepy novel about the dangers of groupthink.

So often when I think of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) Unity Caucus mindset of unquestioned (and unquestionable) allegiance to a single position on an issue impacting teachers and the teaching profession, I think of Lord of the Flies.

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten hails from that Unity Caucus mindset, and it has shown itself time and again (and again and again) in her unwavering allegiance to the never-tested, secretly-c0ncocted, corporate-benefiting Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Then there is Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis.

CTU once had its own Lord of the Flies Unity Caucus. However, according to Lewis, the CTU Unity Caucus died with her re-election in 2013.

I can’t imagine Lewis bending to groupthink.

I first came to “know” Lewis through writing my book, A Chronicle of EchoesThe book includes three chapters on the history of mayoral control of education in Chicago. Lewis is a major part of that history.

In February 2014, I had the pleasure of meeting Lewis for the first time during her travels to New Orleans for the AFT Executive Council meeting. We had dinner one evening, and I asked Lewis to dump CCSS. She told me that she needed to act in a manner that supported her constituency, and if her teachers were going to be saddled with CCSS, she would need to support them in that situation, which might include securing teaching materials.

I cannot stand CCSS because I know what it is: a business deal designed to benefit gluttonous, monopolistic corporations like Pearson. So, I really wanted to hear Lewis say, “Yes, CTU will drop CCSS.”

I did not get to hear those words from Lewis in February.

I also did not get to hear those words when I again had dinner with Lewis at the 2014 Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Austin in March.

But I did get to read them today as part of an official CTU communication:

CHICAGO – Today, members of the House of Delegates (HOD) of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) passed the following resolution that enjoins the city’s educators to growing national opposition to the Common Core State Standards, saying the assessments disrupt student learning and consume tremendous amounts of time and resources for test preparation and administration.

Now that the resolution has passed, the CTU will lobby the Illinois Board of Education to eliminate the use of the Common Core for teaching and assessment; and be it further and will work to organize other members and affiliates to increase opposition to the law that increases the expansion of nationwide controls over educational issues. …

“I agree with educators and parents from across the country, the Common Core mandate represents an overreach of federal power into personal privacy as well as into state educational autonomy,” said CTU President Karen Lewis, a nationally board certified teacher.  “Common Core eliminates creativity in the classroom and impedes collaboration. We also know that high-stakes standardized testing is designed to rank and sort our children and it contributes significantly to racial discrimination and the achievement gap among students in America’s schools.”

Here is the resolution, in full, a fine piece of writing. Savor it, and notice the last line in particular:

Resolution to Oppose the Common Core State Standards

WHEREAS, the purpose of education is to educate a populace of critical thinkers who are capable of shaping a just and equitable society in order to lead good and purpose-filled lives, not solely preparation for college and career; and

WHEREAS, instructional and curricular decisions should be in the hands of classroom professionals who understand the context and interests of their students; and

WHEREAS, the education of children should be grounded in developmentally appropriate practice; and

WHEREAS, high quality education requires adequate resources to provide a rich and varied course of instruction, individual and small group attention, and wrap-around services for students; and

WHEREAS, the Common Core State Standards were developed by non-practitioners, such as test and curriculum publishers, as well as education reform foundations, such as the Gates and Broad Foundations, and as a result the CCSS better reflect the interests and priorities of corporate education reformers than the best interests and priorities of teachers and students; and

WHEREAS, the Common Core State Standards were piloted incorrectly, have been implemented too quickly, and as a result have produced numerous developmentally inappropriate expectations that do not reflect the learning needs of many students; and

WHEREAS, imposition of the Common Core State Standards adversely impacts students of highest need, including students of color, impoverished students, English language learners, and students with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, the Common Core State Standards emphasize pedagogical techniques, such as close reading, out of proportion to the actual value of these methods – and as a result distort instruction and remove instructional materials from their social context; and

WHEREAS, despite the efforts of our union to provide support to teachers, the significant time, effort, and expense associated with modifying curricula to the Common Core State Standards interferes and takes resources away from work developing appropriate and engaging courses of study; and

WHEREAS, the assessments that accompany the Common Core State Standards (PARCC and Smarter Balance) are not transparent in that –teachers and parents are not allowed to view the tests and item analysis will likely not be made available given the nature of computer adaptive tests; and

WHEREAS, Common Core assessments disrupt student learning, consuming tremendous amounts of time and resources for test preparation and administration; and

WHEREAS, the assessment practices that accompany Common Core State Standards – including the political manipulation of test scores – are used as justification to label and close schools, fail students, and evaluate educators; therefore be it

RESOLVED that the Chicago Teachers Union opposes the Common Core State Standards (and the aligned tests) as a framework for teaching and learning; and be it further

RESOLVED, the Chicago Teachers Union advocates for an engaged and socially relevant curriculum that is student-based and supported by research, as well as for supports such as those described in the Chicago Teachers Union report, The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve; and be it further

RESOLVED, the Chicago Teachers Union will embark on internal discussions to educate and seek feedback from members regarding the Common Core and its impact on our students; and be it further

RESOLVED, the Chicago Teachers Union will lobby the Illinois Board of Education to eliminate the use of the Common Core State Standards for teaching and assessment; and be it further

RESOLVED, the Chicago Teachers Union will organize other members and affiliates to increase opposition to the Common Core State Standards; and be it further

RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be sent to the Illinois State Board of Education, the Chicago Board of Education, the Governor of Illinois, and all members of the Illinois legislative branch; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that should this resolution be passed by the CTU House of Delegates, an appropriate version will be submitted to the American Federation of Teachers for consideration at the 2014 Convention. [Emphasis added.]

Reading that resolution did my heart a world of good, like apples of gold in settings of silver.

I spoke to Lewis moments ago, and she noted that the resolution passed unanimously and that she fully expects the resolution to be submitted to AFT at the July 2014 convention.

This news brings us back to Weingarten’s allegiance to CCSS. In March 2014, Weingarten appealed to the CCSS co-copyright owners, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), to address the issue of “faulty implementation” of CCSS. However, make no mistake that Weingarten plans to “protect CCSS” at the July 2014 AFT convention:

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. [Emphasis added.]

That was March 2014, and CTU had not yet drafted a formal resolution opposing CCSS.

So, now we have CTU’s capable and forthright Karen Lewis declaring war on what she clearly terms “a federal overreach of power,” and AFT’s unity-pushing Randi Weingarten saying that she will not “back away” from CCSS even if her constituency “calls for outright opposition.”

Here is what AFT and Weingarten formally declare and support:

The AFT believes that, if implemented carefully and with the needed supports and resources, these new standards will help improve education for all students. In 2010, president Randi Weingarten created the AFT Ad Hoc Committee on Standards Rollout to initiate an action plan so that all levels of the union—and our partners at the local, state and national levels—can ensure that the CCSS are implemented as part of a comprehensive standards-based system. This committee, which consisted of AFT state and local presidents, higher education representatives, state education issues coordinators and classroom teachers, met with the writers of the standards, (notice how “writers” are distinct from “teachers”) representatives of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), members of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and other experts to develop recommendations for the appropriate rollout of the standards.  [Emphasis and commentary added.]

AFT’s Weingarten “believes” that “if implemented carefully,” CCSS will “improve education for all students.”

CTU’s Lewis stands on a resolution that notes CCSS “was developed by nonpractitioners” and “adversely affects students of highest need.”

Weingarten plans to defend CCSS.

Lewis plans to lobby against it.

CCSS Lord of the Flies may have just met its match.

This much is true: My interest in July 2014 has just risen several levels.

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Mercedes Schneider

Mercedes Schneider is a Louisiana public school teacher and education activist. She holds a Ph.D. in applied statistics and research methods and has taught for th...