Teaching and Learning Over Testing
I'm often asked how I can be in favor of the Common Core State Standards while opposing the standardized-testing fixation in education and other failed market-based education strategies. The question is as revealing as the answer; unfortunately, the standards have come to be associated with testing rather than the deeper learning they were intended to promote.
If we believe that public education is an anchor of democracy, a propeller of our economy and the vehicle through which we help all children achieve their dreams, then we have to make public education about three things: helping our students build trusting relationships--with both their peers and adults; equipping them with essential knowledge and the tools to critically think and problem solve; and perhaps most important, helping them develop persistence and grit--the ability and means to deal with disappointment and lack of success.
At its heart, the Common Core is a set of standards designed to help make the transition from just knowing and memorizing information to having the skills and habits to apply knowledge, which is critically important in today's world.
Many distrust the motives of those promoting the Common Core because there's been a rush to test and measure educators and students on these standards before educators have had the time or tools to make these standards come alive in classrooms. Instead of being valued and trusted, educators are simply being told to just do it, and their criticisms are being ignored or disparaged. As a result of botched implementation in places like New York, many parents, teachers and students are beginning to view the Common Core as something destructive instead of something that will actually help children succeed in college, career and life. There are far too many stories about teachers being handed 500-page binders and told to read the scripted lessons verbatim, and about children coming home crying and saying they no longer love school. And now the Koch brothers and deep-pocketed conservative activists are attempting to use that anxiety to push an anti-public education agenda of vouchers, privatization, and attacks on teachers and their unions.
While we believe strongly in the promise and potential of the Common Core, and we've seen good implementation firsthand, these standards will be meaningless if policymakers keep reducing them to a test score.
Even worse, we are losing the promise and purpose of public education--and the joy--by trying to reduce everything about teaching and learning, whether for students or teachers, to a number or algorithm.
Test scores and black box algorithms can't help children critically think and problem solve. These strategies don't help children build trusting relationships and instill confidence and persistence. And they ignore the countless other ways educators nurture and develop our children.
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Randi Weingarten is President, American Federation of Teachers