AFT Mulls Officially Abandoning Support for Common Core

Friday, 11 Jul 2014 04:02 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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A vote on Sunday could lead to the American Federation of Teachers backing away from Common Core standards, despite having been a staunch supporter of the controversial program for years.

The union plans to underwrite grants from $20,000 to $30,000 to encourage teachers to design projects to rewrite and improve the standards, AFT President Randi Weingarten plans to announce at the union's annual convention Friday, reports Time. 

AFT hasn't yet opposed Common Core, but Weingarten said the option hasn't been ruled out. On Sunday, an hour-long open debate is planned, which may end in a vote officially condemning Common Core in its entirety.

Local chapters have been calling for the AFT to end its support for Common Core, and while that hasn't quite happened, the union has been distancing itself from standards the Obama administration emphasizes as its key priority for education.

Common Core has also sparked in-fighting among Republicans. More than five years after U.S. governors began a bipartisan effort to set new standards in American schools, the Common Core initiative has morphed into a political tempest fueling division among Republicans.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce leads establishment voices — such as possible presidential contender Jeb Bush — who hail the standards as a way to improve student performance and, over the long term, competitiveness of American workers.

Many archconservatives — tea party heroes Rand Paul and Ted Cruz among them — decry the system as a top-down takeover of local schools. The standards were developed and are being implemented by states, though Common Core opponents argue that President Barack Obama's administration has encouraged adoption of the standards by various parameters it set for states applying to get lucrative federal education grants.

Even if the AFT backs away completely from Common Core, that doesn't mean the standards will be over thrown completely. But Michael Brickman, the national policy director at Fordham Institute, said Common Core state policy directors could be affected, and states could choose not to tie the standards to teacher and student evaluations.

"It's one thing to have really great standards on paper, but if they're not tied to anything meaningful in terms of accountability, not a lot is going to improve," he said.

And backers have said the union support validates Common Core, and if the policy if repudiated, it would reflect most teachers' opinions.

"We do know that it's a significant shift," said Amy Hyslop, a policy analyst at New America Foundation who works on Common Core told Time. "The AFT has objected to using the tests for evaluations, but this is first time they've been critical of the standards themselves."

The AFT has also not ruled out joining in the National Education Association's demand for the resignation of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The unions, which at one time had backed Common Core and President Barack Obama, have been backing away from both for some time. Common Core, they said, was too difficult to implement and also complains companies profit from the reworked tests and books.

Also, the policy ties student process to teacher performance evaluations, and also grades student performance based on Common Core test scores.

The AFT has also called in the past to repeal another federal law, No Child Left Behind, which was passed during the Bush administration to mandate annual tests for elementary and middle school children.

Common Core does not require such tests, but instead more hands-on problem solving. Further, the standards describe what all students are expected to know.

Originally, 45 states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards, but several have dropped them. Meanwhile, Common Core will be completely implemented this school year,
Time reports, with evaluations for teachers and students linked in for 2015-2016.

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