There is an interesting split on the Left over the Obama Administration’s Common Core education reforms. Many on the educational Left dislike it, including the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the editors of Rethinking Schools. Conversely, the president’s favorite think tank—the Center for American Progress (CAP)—is enthusiastic about it.
The “Common Core” being developed by the U. S. Department of Education, is a program of benchmarks and standards for math, science and language that states must adopt if they wish to continue receiving federal funds.
A recent event sponsored by the Center for American Progress featured several Core supporters, including: Leo Casey, Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute, Elizabeth Evans, founding CEO of VIVA Teachers, Kaitlin Pennington, CAP’s Education Policy Analyst, Teach Plus Memphis Executive Director Lisa Watts and teacher and union leader William Wong, who spoke on the future of teacher involvement in education policy.
Pennington claimed that before Common Core, teachers used to “feel like victims in the process instead of advocates” regarding curriculum and experienced relative isolation in policy input. Now, Common Core teaches “how to make teaching more dynamic” and makes room for teachers in the policy-making community.
Furthering the progressivism of Common Core, Pennington praised the program for its ability to “welcome a diversity of thought among its members”. Admitting that teachers’ organizations and teachers’ unions overlap, she could only say that both are aware of the overlap and deal with it in a professional manner.
Pennington showed a video testimonial about Common Core and the growing influence of teacher’s voice organizations in the education policy sector. Most of the teachers interviewed talked about how they could share a “boots on the ground perspective” with policymakers and how their “united front” counters the “policies [that] are inflicted upon us rather than be developed collaboratively with us.” Some added how both “teacher’s voice organizations and teachers’ union members could work together” to “instantly multiply and amplify your voice” in policy-making.
Lisa Watts, of the teacher’s voice organization Teach Plus Memphis, said that too many “teachers leave by year 3, before they hit their stride” in their development as a teacher. She explained that they are too discouraged when entering the teaching profession, with long hours and an imminent need to become organized.
William Wong, a teachers’ union president and leader of a teacher’s voice organization, said that both are working together to improve education and include teachers in policy-making.
Elizabeth Evans spoke of the disconnect between teachers in the view of society and teachers as individuals. She said that “teaching has a revered and valued role in society…We need to close the gap in perception between individuals and the collective,” in order to improve teaching over time.
Leo Casey highlighted the issues of teachers, noted how “teaching has mostly been a female occupation” and how they“have struggled from the beginning” to combat issues like lack of respect and other perceptions that male-dominated professions like law or medicine never dealt with.
Watts noted how, in the video presentation, “we heard a monolithic voice” and illustrated the “disconnect between what they [policymakers] hear” and what actually happens on the ground. Even though teachers are passionate about their profession, “for some reason, it hasn’t been heard”.
Evans declared that since “public officials…have been failing us” for years, policymakers and teachers should now “change the way that we work together.” Casey added that there’s “no doubt that teachers feel overwhelmed with the testing and tsunami around them” that further overburdens teachers.
Wong tried to correct perceptions of teachers’ unions and how they engage with teachers, stating that “there’s a lot of misconceptions of what these groups do”. Wong went on to say that “there’s not this magical box of status quo that we’re trying to protect” as unions, adding that they are trying to make better policy decisions. Casey supported his argument, saying that “teachers’ unions are democratic.” To address concerns about union ads and political leanings, Casey could only acknowledge that these concerns exist but did not give a cohesive argument as to why unions lean one way or the other.
Evans said that it is known that “there are imperfections in” working with unions, that “there are limited resources to go around” and there is a need to make one’s voice “outsized” to garner attention about your issues and concerns.
Casey suggested adding mandatory 1.5 hour collaboration and planning time every day, as the New American Academy in New York does on a daily basis. Watts ended the discussion by reiterating the importance of teacher’s voice organizations and how “there’s a hunger on all sides for the work that we are doing.”
Spencer Irvine is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.
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