Anthony Cody sums it up pretty well. The column is really about how the national teachers' unions, as usual, are on the wrong side of this:
The Obama administration's education policies have been, by and large, a disaster. And Republicans are poised to rev up their attack machine on these grounds and teacher unions will be smeared right along with the administration so long as they are on board.
The problem is many of us AGREE WITH conservatives on much of their critique. Or we ought to. We are not opposed to loose curricular guidelines, but we should NOT be in favor of the sort of highly prescriptive standards and high stakes assessments that are coming with Common Core. And we also need to be concerned about the shift of resources away from classroom professionals and into technology, and the huge expansion of data systems, both of which are part and parcel of the Common Core project. And they are also correct about the undemocratic process that has been pursued to develop the Common Core, and the way the Department of Education has used Race to the Top bribes and NCLB waivers to coerce states into adopting the Core. We also disagree with some of their critique. But we cannot put forward a clear, compelling vision so long as we [teachers] are on the sidelines in this debate - much less if we are on the wrong side altogether.
The NEA and AFT have positioned themselves as the "expert implementers" of the Common Core. That essentially means the unions are standing by Duncan's side and saying "we are the professionals. You just tell us what to do, and we can do it better than anyone." That renders us politically powerless. We have given up our opportunity to advance an independent vision for accountability and school reform.
Some have suggested that the standards are not the problem. We can work on implementing the standards, but focus our objections on the high stakes tests that may come later. There are a couple of problems with this. First of all, politically, the battle over the Common Core is happening now, and it is being defined primarily by people like Glenn Beck. The unions are being defined as allies, aiders and abettors of the Common Core, and unless union leaders and members speak out about our concerns, that will be accurate.
Secondly, the tests are already arriving, as we have seen in New York. And they are terrible. We were promised a "next generation" of assessments that would be so much smarter. Tests that adjust their difficulty as students respond. These are the very sorts of tests that the teachers and students in Seattle are boycotting. The hours spent on testing is doubling, tripling. We are testing third graders on computers. I spoke with kindergarten teachers last week in California who must spend an hour and a half testing each child in their class three times a year. That turns into three weeks of testing, repeated fall, winter and spring. Nine weeks of teaching lost! As parents become aware of these tests they are up in arms. The opt-out movement is gaining strength rapidly in New York, as the new tests arrive.
We also need to be very concerned about the expansion of data systems containing vast amounts of information about students AND teachers. This will be used not only to closely monitor students, but also to track teacher "effectiveness," for all sorts of high stakes decisions, including teacher evaluation and pay. There is a growing backlash as this sort of project is uncovered, as seen last week in Louisiana.
I have written before about how I see a battle being fought now for the soul of American public education. On one side are humanists, and on the other technocrats. I think there are some humanists who sincerely support the common core as an ideal, and I can understand their thinking, but it is naive support. The common core is a creature of the neoliberal technocratic mindset, and it will be used as one tool among many now being deployed to further dehumanize the education provided in our public schools, whatever propaganda is spewn to deny such an intent.