Paul Toner is the former president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. He is now president of New Voice Strategies, a nonprofit seeking to dramatically increase classroom teachers’ participation in important policy decisions about public education, through the VIVA Project. This post also appears on the VIVA Project blog.
In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a huge paradigm shift in education. Over the past five years, the widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards or some state variation of them has impacted every classroom in America–even in the handful of states that haven’t yet embraced them. Whether you’re still on the fence or deeply embedded in your opinion of the standards, consider this: The Common Core State Standards are a historic opportunity to prove to the public just how valuable educators and their unions are when shaping education policy and practices. We’re all familiar with the negative stereotypes that paint teachers unions as only being concerned with salaries and benefits and disavow being held accountable for student performance. But we also know these stereotypes are wrong. As a former local and state union leader, I’ve always advocated that as a union of professional educators we should be the ones leading change in our profession and fighting to provide our students with a quality education. The Common Core State Standards are voluntary national learning goals in English language arts and mathematics. To date, 43 states (44 if we include Minnesota, who adopted the English standards, but not math), the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense schools, and four U.S. territories have adopted the standards. This is why educators need to ensure that every local and state association has a strong group of members focused on the professional issues we are facing, from implementing the new standards and preparing for their affiliated assessments, to developing appropriate measures of student and school performance to be used in new evaluations.
It’s time for educators to own these standards. Districts should have already begun aligning their curricula with the new frameworks. If yours hasn’t, time is of the essence. Affected educators should insist that adequate time and resources be devoted to making sure what they’re teaching matches what their students are expected to learn. Last spring, states began field-testing new Common Core-aligned assessments to measure student performance relative to the standards. In my home state of Massachusetts, PARCC tests may eventually replace our current MCAS tests in ELA and math. If that happens, students will have to pass PARCC tests to graduate from high school. In addition, student growth on these and other measures of student performance will be incorporated into educator evaluation and school accountability systems. Therefore, these assessments will be a crucial aspect of education for the foreseeable future. There is much to be done now and in the coming years to align instruction with new standards and assessments. At the national, state, and district levels, we must continue to ensure that educators are leading the way on implementation. Timelines and expectations must be reasonable, and resources must be made available to support our work. Your local association should be at the forefront in advocating for the professional development, common planning time, and individual preparation time you need to help your students meet these new learning goals, so that they’ll be ready for college or a career when they graduate from high school. I believe educators are the best resource our nation has for improving education and improving the lives of our students. Standards and assessments, no matter what they are called or how they are developed, will be meaningless without educators actively engaged in their implementation. It is essential that educators get them right and ensure that they are used appropriately to improve and guide teaching and learning in our schools.
Add Your Voice
Teachers, add your voice! VIVA is seeking out educators to weigh in on Common Core and the rollout of these standards across almost the entire country. Make your voice count.
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Paul F. Toner, is the executive director of Teach Plus Massachusetts, where he works to engage and elevate the voices of teachers in local, state and national education policy. Toner has dedicated his career to seeking collaborative, innovative solutions to improving public education. Prior to working at Teach Plus, Toner, a middle school social studies teacher and lawyer, served as vice ...