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Are Teachers' Unions Community Organizing Our Kids Under the Guise of Common Core Opposition?

There's been a curious development in the movement to oppose the Common Core State Standards across the country as the debate has become highly focused on the evils of testing and, in particular, the tests associated with Common Core -- the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced tests.

Many school districts are reporting significant numbers of parents opting their children out of the tests -- and in New Mexico, more than a thousand students walked out of schools and refused to take the PARCC test. The AP reported that "students...took to the sidewalks with signs and chanted as supporters honked their horns."

Pantograph.com reported on a student PARCC protest at a high school in Normal, Illinois:

Tanvi Singh, a NCHS junior and representative of the Bloomington-Normal Student Union, encouraged students to refuse to take PARCC although the Illinois State Board of Education and local educators, including District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly, have said that is not an option. She cited ISBE by-laws that state students can refuse to take standardized tests.

"Now they know that next week, when schools across Bloomington-Normal boycott the PARCC test, if any student is treated unfairly for refusing, we will be there fighting for them," she said. "To fix this, it's going to take students ... being defiant and disobeying and being disruptive and demanding that they be heard, and that's what we're doing today."

Singh said students must protest because they "have nothing to lose but our chain."

Singh complained about "high stakes testing" and "corporate education reform" as she rallied students, who marched around the school chanting, "1, 2, 3, 4, we are not a test score" and "the students united will never be defeated."

The Bloomington-Normal Student Union's website has a strong labor union theme:

aboutimage

Local school districts across the country have been scrambling to implement policies to handle the absences on test day and the missing test scores. Several states, responding to the anti-testing backlash, have proposed (or passed) legislation to limit the impact of the tests and to protect students, teachers, and schools from negative consequences that would result from low test scores.

On the surface, this sounds like a step in the right direction for those who oppose Common Core. I wrote the following about the entanglement of the tests with the federal government and how it will eventually lead to a national curriculum:

Two testing companies — Smarter Balanced and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) — agreed to create the tests and most Common Core states signed agreements to use one or the other. Some 40 million students nationwide will be subject to these two tests created with federal funding and under the influence of the federal government. According to Education Week, the U.S. Department of Education is providing guidance on the peer-review process for the standards and tests and “could exert a powerful influence on how states set academic expectations.”

Critics say this will result in “teaching to the test” on steroids. The tests will most certainly drive what is taught in classrooms, even though the standards do not have specific curricular requirements. The PARCC Assessment Blueprint and Test Specifications FAQ encourages teachers to use their materials to “guide thinking about classroom rubric use and design.” According to PARCC, “The ELA/literacy passage selection guidelines and worksheets should also be helpful tools to guide text selection for classroom instruction and assessments.”

In other words: if teachers want their students to succeed on the tests, they should use the PARCC-recommended materials in the classroom.

This is one of the worst developments in the history of American education and it should be strongly opposed if for no other reason than it is a frontal assault on federalism and it will chip away at -- and eventually destroy -- local control of education.

But many teachers -- and their powerful unions -- oppose testing for very different reasons. Two years ago I wrote about an event held in the nation's capitol in April of 2013:

A group called “United Opt Out” organized the Occupy the DOE event in front of the Department of Education in April. Their mission statement claims that they are “dedicated to the elimination of high stakes testing in public education,” saying that high stakes testing is "destructive to ALL children, educators, communities, the quality of instruction in classrooms, equity in schooling, and the democratic principles which underlie the purposes of public education."

Much of the rhetoric coming from this movement is anti-school choice in the extreme. Charter schools and vouchers are the enemy of public education, they say, designed by corporate marauders hell-bent on privatizing our wildly successful public education system that would be a Utopian paradise if only they had an unlimited pot of cash.

If you're a parent who is working to stop Common Core in your local schools, you must ask yourself if this is a movement you support. And are you on board with your children being community organized and encouraged to parrot the talking points of teachers' unions? Because although the students who are "organizing" and staging walk-outs and protest marches claim that their anti-testing movement is student-led, their complaints closely echo those of the teachers' unions.

And what about accountability? While the idea of a national test based on national standards that are heavily influenced by the federal government is reprehensible, are you against all accountability for teachers and local schools? Because that's what a lot of these groups would like to see.

I've seen this picture on a lot of Facebook pages recently, posted by parents who oppose Common Core:

cathy-fuentes-rohwer

Fuentes-Rohwer makes an excellent point in responding to one of the main claims of Common Core proponents -- that the new standards promise to make all students "college and career ready." What some of these parents may not know is that Fuentes-Rohwer, a public education advocate with the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, made the statement at a rally sponsored by this anti-school choice advocacy group at the Indiana Statehouse. She railed against Republican Governor Mike Pence and the Republican supermajority in Indiana and ticked off a list of grievances:

  • Legislators who receive thousands of dollars to represent those who profit from the choice of voucher and charter schools, curriculum, and testing.
  • ALEC -- the American Legislative Exchange Council.
  • Tying student test scores to teachers and school accountability.
  • The state legislature bleeding "millions and millions of our public school dollars to private voucher schools and charters."
  • Competition as it relates to school choice.
  • Indiana's three private school choice programs (tax-credit scholarships, vouchers, individual tax deduction).

Perhaps most disturbing, she compared school choice to Jim Crow laws, which is perhaps the most offensive and derogatory attack that opponents can level at the movement that is one of the few escape routes for disadvantaged children trapped in failing schools:

Our children should not be in competition for a quality education because no six-year-old should be on the losing end for equal educational opportunities. We cannot sustain three tiers of education -- charters, vouchers, public. We tried separate but equal, we found it un-American. We found it undemocratic. And that is what this is about -- dysfunction in our democracy.

Look, politics is often a game of sheer numbers, and addition -- not subtraction -- wins the numbers game. In order to advance your policies, it's imperative to build coalitions, which means you'll sometimes have to partner with people with whom you disagree on some issues. Eliminating PARCC and Smarter Balanced testing would be a step in the right direction for those of us who want to eliminate Common Core altogether, so there is common ground to be found. But in our haste to fix one part of a very bad education policy, we should be careful that we're not also advancing other policy proposals that would make things even worse -- like eliminating school choice and getting rid of all teacher and school accountability.

And we should be especially careful about allowing teachers' unions to influence how our children think about these issues. Make sure you child's teacher isn't using the classroom -- under the guise of Common Core opposition -- to indoctrinate him about the evils of school choice and the "corporatists" in the Republican Party who are ruining our "democracy."