Randi Weingarten walks to the podium during day one of the Democratic National Convention.
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Randi Weingarten: Common Core should be a guide, not a straitjacket

Updated

In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers joined msnbc.com to answer questions directly from the community. You asked about a variety of issues around education reform, from Common Core to struggles with standardized testing, and even how to remain passionate as an educator amid the struggles fought each day in the classroom. Check out the conversation below. 

@aliciakoglesby on msnbc.com: Can educational standards be implemented without rigidity? What are the benefits of having educational standards such as Common Core? How can teachers maintain creativity in their lesson plans and still insure students are receiving an appropriate equitable education? 

RW: Here’s the reason I’m for the Common Core, as I said last night on All In with Chris: In the 21st century, we need a set of high standards in order to make sure our kids have the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills they need to prepare for life and citizenship, college and career. These standards, if implemented right, can help. No instructional strategy is a silver bullet, nor does any work if not implemented well. However, the standards can help level the playing field, by making access to these skills and this knowledge available to all children, regardless of their social or economic status. 

But the Common Core standards should be a guide, not a straitjacket. They should inspire creativity for teachers and students. And in places where teachers are given the support and resources they need to get the Common Core right and there isn’t a rush to high-stakes testing, they do. Unfortunately there are too many instances where they do not.

The AFT runs the fastest-growing sharing site for educators, Share My Lesson. On the site, educators can find more than 30,000 Common Core resources to help them get inspired and be creative. Check it out.

Kathie15201 on msnbc.com: How is it that Common Core learning standards were developed for K-3 children without including even one Early Childhood Educator in the process?

RW: Standards are only meaningful once you see them in real practice. That’s why so many of us question why the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers—the very people who oversaw the writing of the standards—copyrighted them, rather than encouraging change and adjustment as educators saw the standards work in practice. The K-2 standards seem developmentally inappropriate for our youngest children, and educators and parents report that they are having a disproportionately negative impact on our younger students. Without doubt, this is a place where we need course correction and where the voices of early childhood educators must be heard.

I’ve heard from pre-K and kindergarten teachers alike that the Common Core is inappropriately pushing written literacy standards when the focus should be on the development of oral literacy skills. And that’s actually delaying the development of literacy.

Betty Wu-MacGyver from Facebook: When will educators be able to have policies made by educators?

RW: Education—much like law or medicine—should be a profession governed by professionals. Unfortunately, too many policies, even those that are well-intentioned, come from the top, leaving out those closest to the classroom, who have the greatest insight into how to provide a high-quality education for all students. Whether it’s teacher preparation, evaluation, testing, Common Core or a host of other issues, the AFT is working to be a voice for educators, by ensuring they have a place at policymaking tables.

Betty, I’m not sure if you are an educator, but if you are, or if you’re a parent or a community member, your voice is needed. Your local school board is making policy decisions right now, as is your state. The only way to make sure we have top-down policies that reflect those who are actually affected is if you’re at the table. 

Bridget Ingram from FacebookWhen will we ever be able to gain the power to stop using high-stakes testing for students and future teachers? I know several exceptional future teachers that are struggling with useless OAE tests that only serve to burn them out before they even begin.

RW: Bridget, I hear and share your frustration. For teachers, parents, administrators and students across the country, the culture of high-stakes testing has become untenable. No other nation in the world tests every student nearly every year. No other nation relies so heavily on a test score to rank and sort teachers. Yet, we continue to move down this test-and-punish path. 

“Kids are not test scores and teachers are not algorithms, but we continue to put them in these boxes. This has to stop.”
Randi Weingarten

Standardized testing is at cross purposes with many of the most important purposes of public education. It doesn’t measure big-picture learning, critical thinking, perseverance, problem solving, creativity or curiosity, yet those are the qualities great teaching brings out in a student.

Kids are not test scores and teachers are not algorithms, but we continue to put them in these boxes. This has to stop. I’d invite you to join a growing movement of parents, students, teachers and community members who are turning away from market-based reforms like high-stakes testing and are charting a new course for public education—one that’s based on solutions that work. You can learn more at www.aft.org/promise.

Susan Theresa Ray from FacebookMy question would be: Why is the state of education in America so utterly pathetic for so many? 

RW: In my visits to hundreds of schools and school districts across the country, I’ve seen that—despite privatization efforts and the lack of funding, both of which are hurting our kids—there is tremendous success and effort in the classroom. The bottom line is that kids want to learn and teachers want to teach. So, they find ways to overcome the obstacles to do just that. I could show you school after school after school where absolutely incredible education is taking place. It’s no wonder that the United States test scores are the highest they’ve been in 40 years and our high school graduation rate is also at a record high.

Yet many people would like us to believe that public education in the United States is terrible. It’s a divide-and-anger strategy. Market-based reformers are capitalizing on people’s justified frustration to force unjustified changes to our public schools.

So, I suppose I’m saying, “Don’t believe the hype.” Yes, our public schools need more resources. Yes, our teachers deserve more respect. Yes, our students need better learning environments. No, we can’t be satisfied with a market-based strategy that promotes winner and losers. Yes, we want every child to have access to a high-quality public education. But all is not lost. There’s a growing, groundswell movement of teachers, parents, students and community members working to reclaim the promise of public education—not as it was 50 years ago, not as it is today, but as it should be to enable every child to dream his or her dreams and obtain them.

Carol Zeolano from FacebookWhat can be done to make sure that teachers are passionate about teaching? Teaching shouldn’t be the safety net, it’s not there in case you do not find your dream job. Maybe raising wages and making it a job that requires higher qualifications like some places in Europe.

RW: Over the past 29 years, I’ve been an educator, union activist, union lawyer and union president. I’ve met tens of thousands of teachers, and I don’t think that I’ve ever encountered a single one for whom the job is a safety net. Sure, just like there are bad lawyers, bad doctors and bad politicians, there are people who aren’t cut out to be teachers. But by and large, the people who are called to be teachers are passionate about the profession.

To be sure, higher wages are needed. But what teachers tell us is that they want time, tools and trust—professional development opportunities, meaningful parental engagement and time to collaborate, for example. And we’ve found that in districts that really listen to teachers and provide them with what they need to be creative and effective in the classroom, teachers are happier and more passionate. 

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Randi Weingarten: Common Core should be a guide, not a straitjacket

Updated