Tag Archives: Common Core

Chicago Teachers Union Rejects Common Core Standards

…and all the testing that comes with it.

Below is the Press release from the Chicago Teachers Union.   Proud of all the hard work we put into this over the past couple of years.  Especially the work done by @msgunderson, @PhillipCantor @XianB8 @AnthonyCody. @Sarah4Justice (Chambers).

See y’all at AFT in July.  Anyone want to hit up NEA in Denver on the way out?

2012 Suzuki C50T, my other ride is my father's Honda CB750...needs work but pictures to come!

2012 Suzuki C50T, my other ride is my father’s Honda CB750…needs work but pictures to come!


Chicago Teachers Union joins growing national opposition to deeply flawed Common Core Standards


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.

Common Core’s origins can be traced to the 2009 Stimulus Bill which gave $4.35 billion to the federal Department of Education which created the “Race to the Top” competition between states. In order to qualify for funding, the states needed to adopt Common Core  with the added incentive that participating states would be exempted from many of the more onerous provisions of George Bush’s “No child left behind” program.

“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.”

The official text of the resolution follows:

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.

I just took the Practice PARCC exam, and boy, do I feel…

On March 13th, the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers published sample PARCC tests, and so I decided to make an *honest* attempt at it tonight.  But I also took notes along the way in case you’re interested.  Most might not make sense…until you take it yourself (which I am hoping you do, so we an rant about it over beers next week!)

SPOILER ALERT: Whatever I did or didn’t do (sign in so the NSA can track me, perhaps?), I don’t actually know my results.  I don’t know why.  At this point, I really don’t care.  I am pretty sure I blew it though.  Yeaaap, so.   Now it’s time to cry myself to sleep.



Notes as I take the ELA Practice PARCC for 11th graders.

3/25/2014 ; Start: 6:10pm

23 two-part questions.

Why does this start out with a question about DNA and enzymes.  We won’t study this in social studies class.  Like ever.

Questions are way too complex, response options don’t make sense. 

Took me four times to drag and drop supporting evidence.  Said “not all supporting details would be used,” but all of them were.

“Add enzymes” vs add enzymes to a sample being studied” (but this was a summarized option), very confusing.

Question asks for “steps required in DNA ident…”  but how did this turn into, “why it’s possible,”  and  “how easy it’ll be.” for Part B?

Daedalus & Icarus….Only cause I already know the story does this make ANY sense.

Instructions: “Today you will read two poems about Greek Mythology” but the second is actually an Anne Sexton poem.

Central idea: Only bc I know the context of what Icarus’ story has inspired.  Incredibly complex! I feel like I’m flying into the sun right now.

13 questions in…I’m pretty tired.  Stamina low…now, TWO essays.  Holy crap.

Abigail Addams “stood up for those who lacked power like slaves, women, and the colonies.”  Um, OK, so now the test is making sweeping judgments about complex systems of race, sex, and diverse communities, & who has power within them?!

Frankly I am disappointed in the historical reading.  This is low-grade textbook stuff, rife with assumptions about the Addams’ and early American society that the reader is to take as truth, without citations.  No document based analysis.

I skimmed this piece…getting exhausted.  Don’t care about how well I do, just going to guess (6:48p, question 15).

I just realized (Question 18) that I am supposed to be reading a new document- a letter from Abigail Addams (primary source), but I had no idea.  Looks the same from the instructions.

Question 19…just guessed.  Test fatigue set in.

Question 20, I think these are all different letters from Abigail.  This is boring as shit, and I always love teaching about the Addams’ !

Question 22, I used the “Evidence” to justify the claim, even though it said to to do the opposite…we’ll see if that little bit of test-trickery pays dividends!

And then I was instructed to write 3 essays to which I simply wrote, “I hate you PARCC, I hate you Common Core, I hate you TestNav.”

I ended the test at 6:59pm. (49 min.)

Tried looking for an answer key and I couldn’t find one.

Well, I am NOT feeling confident about this.

There are definite issues with content and context.  No text is without context, because if we want readers to engage with or appreciate any text they need to know what motivated the author to put quill to paper in the first place.  These readings are just as bad as any other standardized test. Only MUCH longer. The complexity of the texts and the questions are not age or grade appropriate. 

The instructions are confusing.  The language in the social science text is bigoted.  The TestNav platform is awkward and not intuitive.  Details like the background colors; text font don’t allow for me to recognize transitions to new material (e.g. Addam’s letter, scroll bar) compared to if this were a paper and pen test the new material would have the visual-tactile cue of page-turning.

So what do we do with a series of bad tests?  I applaud Indiana for backing out of Common Core– even though I don’t approve of the conservative reasons behind it.  We all need to do the same, and institute portfolio assessments and locally-designed curriculum moving forward.

Hearts and Minds: Teaching and Learning the Relevant and Valuable

Share widely, and please let me know what resonates with viewers in the comments below. Thx!

Special thanks to many, many groups and individuals who helped both -knowingly and not- in the production of this film including:

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Mikva Challenge & Center for Action Civics, Meira Levinson & Facing History
The Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE)
Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce
Save Ethnic Studies of Arizona

Catalyst Chicago, National Louis Univ., and Teach+

More specifically, and in no particular order: Steve Zemelman, Mark Larson, Jill Bass, Anton Miglietta, Xian Barrett, Shanti Elliot, Liz Brown, A.C. Knapik, Hannah Willage, Pam Konkol, Sarah Slavin, Sabrina Stevens, Jose Luis Vilson, Meira Levinson, Elizabeth Robbins, Bill Keundig, and Amber Smock…for so much I have learned from you all.

Design Lessons for Students, not Standards

Happy Friday, all.  This one was originally posted on the VIVAteachers blog.  I’ll ask some students if I can feature their projects up here next week.

For more on CCSS, see previous post.    



Design Lessons for Students, not Standards

I consider most conflicts to be problems of design.  As a teacher, my first task is always to design lessons that are engaging.  Some teachers do this very easily with humor, or great storytelling.  I do this by prioritizing relevant and valuable ideas shared by the students in the room, and I excel at that…  or so my students and their parents tell me.  If my designs are off, my lessons will not be engaging and my students will not learn.  And, believe me, students are quite effective at letting me know when my lessons are not engaging.

In general, learning standards are implemented as a design solution for a problem that never was.  In my nine years of teaching social studies and Spanish, I have had to learn and prioritize the Illinois Learning Standards – of which there are six different sets for the social studies ‑ along with socio-emotional standards, the ACT-aligned College Readiness Standards, and now the Common Core State Standards for literacy.  (There are no social studies standards for this newest set, so by default, I am directed to use the non-fiction reading and writing standards.)  As part of my evaluation, all of these standards are to be accounted for in my lesson plans, as if they add value that wasn’t already there in the lessons I’ve been teaching.   Please consider the value and relevance of the following lesson currently happening in my classroom.

I teach Financial Literacy as a semester-long social studies course for high school juniors in a Chicago public school.  The first quarter, which just finished on October 31st, focused on professional skills; the second quarter revolves around money management.  This week my students – who have just completed their mock interview for a future career – must go through the steps of determining a place to live on a fixed salary, and then present their decision to their peers in the form of a brief PowerPoint presentation.

To complete this project, the students must first determine their biweekly net pay and cost of living expenses (determined by scale based upon their grade from last semester, e.g. students who received an “A” earn $42,000, and performance in the mock interview), and then they must find a place to live.  To do this, students scour the Internet for classified ads on webservers like Craigslist. They quickly realize that the students who did really well in the mock interview have an easier time finding a desirable living arrangement, while the ones who didn’t do so well might have to find a classmate willing to be a roommate.  Some even have to explain in their presentations why they are living at home in their parents’ attic!

Year after year, this is one of the most popular lessons I do with my students because they consider it both relevant and valuable to their real lives.  Students will (hopefully) be moving out of their parents’ homes in a few years, and this lesson is usually the first opportunity they have had to navigate their possibilities for determining their living options.  This is an assignment that requires some adult support, but relies on students’ autonomy and ingenuity.  They love being able to compare who got the “better deal” on the “coolest” apartment.

They apply mathematical skill-sets of adding, subtracting, multiplying and proportioning for the paychecks; techno-literacy, geo-spatial mapping, and economic decision-making to determine a place to live; and communication skills both in the presentation of their PowerPoint and in the negotiations of “what’s fair” between roommates for who get different sized rooms.  Some of the students argue that since their partners/roommates are contributing unequal amounts money, than perhaps that person’s bedroom will be the size of a walk-in closet.  We all get a good laugh, and then move on to budgeting in the real world the following week.

If I have explained the purpose of this activity clearly, the reader probably wasn’t judging this lesson based upon their determining what standard I was trying to teach.  That’s because I’m not trying to teach a standard, I am teaching a valuable lesson to young people: how to find a place to live when you are on your own, something that most people have to do sometime in their young adult lives.

This lesson has changed very little over the years I have taught it.  Neither the Common Core nor the College Readiness Standards, and not even the Illinois Learning Standards have any bearing on the value of this lesson.  The standards are inconsequential.  The activities are not derived from or determined by standards; the lesson comes from the students’ needs to master content that is relevant and valuable to their lives.

Most of the lessons I design prioritize what is relevant to the content and valuable to students and our community.  But this is changing in my classroom, as it is across the profession, with the pressure either to align our current curricula to the standards, or to design different activities that justify the assessments (read: standardized tests). What then happens to valuable lessons like the one I’ve describes?   They get relegated to “extra credit” instead of being the subject matter of everyday learning, and teachers have to tailor classroom learning to the assessments that teachers most likely did not design.

This is not an appeal for more help in learning how to implement the standards better in my teaching.  If I wanted support for applying the Common Core in my classroom, I could get it.  I could ask my administration or my union, and both would be responsive.  I could attend any number of professional development sessions, or sign on for some webinars in my pajamas any night of the week.  Google turns up unlimited implementation ideas I could put in place immediately, and Education Week is forever advertising a new solution system for my administration to buy.  Yes, the Common Core has designed an entire market of solutions for a problem that didn’t exist five years ago.  What if all that money went directly into classrooms instead?

No, I don’t want support for Common Core. I simply believe we should not do it, because it does not prioritize the needs of the people in the teaching and learning process: students and educators.  In fact, I believe we should actively resist its implementation, and provide educators with the autonomy, support and time to design engaging lessons in the ways they know best: by prioritizing the people in the room.

AFT Research is a Call-to-Action: Testing is Out of Hand, Costly.

Today the American Federation of Teachers published “Testing More, Teaching Less: What America’s Obssesion with Student Testing Costs in Money and Instructional Time.”  It is an audit of the total time and money spent on testing and test-prep in two mid-sized districts given the pseudonyms, “Midwest District” and “Eastern District” and it validates what every student and teacher knows, what parents are furious over, and what legislators are quickly catching on to:

Americans are testing our children instead of teaching them.

The release of this study is also an exciting benchmark for me personally, as it the latest step in a collaborative labor of love spanning multiple states, both major teachers unions (AFT, and the larger National Education Association), policy-makers at every level, parents and students, and rank-and-file educators, all with the goal of getting transparency for taxpayers, stakeholders, and decision-makers who may often hear that “we’re testing too much” but don’t quite know what it looks like.  We started with the question, “Exactly how much of an impact is testing in our schools?”

At the 2012 American Federation of Teachers Convention, the Testing Cost Audit language (Resolution 5) was introduced from the floor of the convention, motivated by the Chicago Teacher Union.  The language, adopted from the New Mexico Senate Memorial 73, sponsored by State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez (D-23), called for a published audit of all time and money spent on testing, as well as a toolkit to be made available for rank-and-file members to conduct Testing Cost Audit in their own districts.  Earlier that July, New Business Item 82 which had similar language to AFT Resolution 5, passed in the National Education Association Representative Assembly as a grassroots collaborative effort sponsored by educators from New Mexico, Vermont, Washington, and Virginia delegations.  However, in AFT, while the amendment language of AFT Resolution 5 did not pass from the floor, it was summarily adopted as an amendment to the Exec Councils Anti-testing Resolution (#2) in late summer.  The report and the forth-coming toolkits for union locals are a result of the combined efforts of everyone from union rank-and-file members, to union leadership and staff.  This is member-driven unionism.*

The author of the study, F. Howard Nelson, Ph. D. also conducted a workshop around how to model the methodology for studying testing in members’ own districts.  Much of the  information for an Testing Audit is obtainable through disctricts’ public documents including included utilizing assessment inventories and testing calendars, as well as district budgets.  The tools created by Nelson are reproducible, to be put in an AFT Solution-Driven Unionism toolkit for locals planned for 2014, but members are encouraged to change and study what makes sense for their own contexts.  There are already some locals who have started to develop tools, including NYSUT’s web-resource Truth About Testing campaign, and Chicago’s More Than a Score coalition.  And organizations such as PUREparents have been advocating for testing transparency for years.

Workshop participants expressed interest in conducting the study in their own districts but noted that the study tools presented fell short of measuring all the conditions of over-testing that negatively impact instructional time for students.  The tools differentiate between standardized tests that are mandated by states, those that are mandated by local districts, and other “interim” (practice) assessments and benchmark tests.  Dr. Nelson acknowledged that while there was alot of information very accessible, there was “most likely, tests that districts give that aren’t even in [the study].”

Participants brainstormed a variety of other Testing Audit components they would want to identify for their districts such as the time loss due to testing of specialized populations including students with disabilities and English Language Learners, and the costs and time loss associated with the administration of “field testing,” exam questions, the practice of requiring students to take practice tests before the test-publishing company produces the mandated exam for that year.

The “Testing More, Teaching Less” study has a number of recommendations, including calling for a moratorium on high-stakes associated with testing, streamlining testing with teacher input, and eliminating benchmark and interim testing, but it also identifies the states’ adoption of Common Core “next generation” assessments as a way to mandate the “elimination of all duplicative out-of-date state assessments.”  However, education stake-holders and decision-makers must weigh that alongside the current push-back against the Common Core from educators and legislators who see the Common Core as both narrowing the curricula and an over-reach of corporate ed-reform interests (Liberal viewpoint) and Federal government (Conservative viewpoint) as well as the announcement yesterday that the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the Common Core Assessment producers will be doubling the cost of their tests for many participating states.

In any event, this is an opportunity for rank-and-file members to do ground-breaking, locally- and nationally-relevant research that can inform stakeholders – teacher, parents, students, policy-makers, and legislators – about the the schools we currently have, so that we can organize power – people and money- to fight for the schools we need and deserve.  This study and toolkit created to promote transparency in testing and test-prep is one of the necessary elements needed if we are to reclaim the promise of providing all public school students in America the opportunity for a high-quality, well-rounded and rich education experience.

*Special thanks go to Senator Michael Sanchez (D-29) and Elaine Romero, the New Mexico Education Association, the Washington Education Association and Julianna Dauble of Renton, WA, the Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN) caucus including Steve Owens and Rick Baumgartner, and the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) including Xian Barrett, George Schmidt, and Sharon Schmidt. (2012) I would also like to thank F. Howard Nelson and Ed Muir of the American Federation of Teachers, as well as the Executive Council of AFT and especially AFT President Randi Weingarten and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Jennings Lewis.