"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, February 10, 2012

Professional Betrayal on the Heels of Political Betrayal

All across the U.S., state after state is falling victim to the accountability juggernaut fueled by the Common Core standards movement.

The Obama administration, led by Secretary Duncan, has proven in the past three years that promises of hope and change were mere masks for increasing the very worst of No Child Left Behind (NCLB)—now manifesting themselves as Race to the Top and opting out of NCLB. Many of us, however, are not completely surprised by political betrayal, but we are more stunned by the growing professional betrayal we are witnessing in our professional organizations, such as the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

The most recent evidence of that failure is a message to NCTE's members from the Council's president, Keith Gilyard. This statement reminds many of us of Obama's and Duncan's ability to offer messages that address social equity and human agency while masking actions that work against them both.

Supporting Common Core standards sends messages that reinforce the current move to de-professionalize teachers, since the implicit point of adopting new standards suggests that somehow we have been teaching the wrong content, that we are unable to know what we should be teaching, and that some central authority must provide the core of our profession for us.

Nothing could be further from the truth, however.

Focusing on new standards also distracts education reform from the genuine problems facing schools. Education is not failing from a lack of quality standards, nor a lack of quality tests.

Education is struggling against the hurdles posed by impoverished children, persistent gaps in equity and outcomes for children of color, special needs students, and the rising population of English language learners—all of which correlate strongly with the inadequacies of high-stakes, standardized tests.

Standards and testing mask and will perpetuate education problems; they cannot and do not address them.

But the betrayal doesn't stop at the unpardonable mismatch of solutions to problems (and the insanity of doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results). The betrayal includes this comment from Gilyard:
"Of course, I am aware that the course we are on as we negotiate admittedly rugged educational terrain is unsatisfying to some bloggers and commentators who would prefer that our organization expressly condemn, for example, policies such as the common core standards. We have never endorsed those standards; neither do we profit financially from them. And I should hardly have to add that any accusation that we implicitly embrace them because we have not publicly opposed them is an obvious either-or fallacy. What we have done is to focus on what we are best equipped to do: support teachers in their work environments and make reasonable arguments about education to the stakeholders who are willing to listen to us in good faith."
It appears that once veteran teachers of English raise their voices against insane solutions, those teachers become "bloggers and commentators"—their professional autonomy not just denied, but obliterated.

And then, Gilyard makes a statistical claim that suggests only majority views are ethical views:
"A recent polling of a random selection of NCTE members indicates that about twenty percent of our members are moderately pessimistic or pessimistic regarding how new standards will influence their teaching or their students' learning. By contrast, fifty-nine percent reported that they were moderately optimistic or optimistic about the potential influence of new standards."
I have learned, however, from James Baldwin, Howard Zinn, and Martin Luther King, Jr., to name only a few, that being right is often a minority stance.

NCTE appears poised to view being right as a popularity contest, and the organization is blinded by its claim to be a part of the process, thus unable to see that the organization and its members' professionalism are not influencing the accountability/standards/testing process now underway but are being used by the political and corporate elite to serve their interests at the expense of American students.

Common Core standards and the maniacal testing process that history shows us is to follow feed the "bureaucratization of the mind" that Paulo Freire has warned us against. Any support of Common Core is indirect and direct support of children being held accountable for standardized tests still poisoned by racial, social, and gender bias; of teacher accountability for their students subjected to that inequity; and of the perverse swelling of profits for textbook and testing companies.

NCTE's members deserve professional support for professional autonomy. For now, that promise is dying.

Previous Pieces on NCTE:

-----. (2011, November 21). "[N]ot the time...to follow the line of least resistance." Daily Kos. Reposted at Schools Matter and truthout.

-----. (2011, April 5). A case against standards. The Answer Sheet/Washington Post. 


  1. I've been trying to figure out common core -- and was quite surprised when I read the statement from NCTE last week myself. Why are they pushing it? I (naively) don't get it -- and I would like to hear more about your position, too.


  2. i have wondered what would happen if you had a group of students boycott the tests? do you know if it is a "legal" requirement that students take the test? would the parents be prosecuted?

    i know that if the honor and "AG" students had boycotted the test in the school i worked at in durham - the passing rate would have been about 20% or lower.

    it befuddles me how much time is spent on the "remediation" effort for the tests and the total shutdown of everything else for the test to be given. for example, me as a librarian/technology facilitator to be pulled to read aloud a test in english to students that can barely speak english and expect them to pass - what a joke.


  3. "A recent polling of a random selection of NCTE members indicates that about twenty percent of our members are moderately pessimistic or pessimistic regarding how new standards will influence their teaching or their students' learning. By contrast, fifty-nine percent reported that they were moderately optimistic or optimistic about the potential influence of new standards."
    WHAT POLL? Published? Details? What were the questions?
    NCTE members enthusiastically supported our resolution that NCTE oppose common core at business meeting in Orlando in 2010 (only a "state of the house" resolution unfortunately) and NCTE made sure the identical resolution was not presented to the business meeting the next year.

  4. A couple years ago I submitted an article to English Education that examined California's content standards in Literary Response & Analysis. My conclusion was (and still is) that they were pseudo-literate statements that, with their preponderance of jargon, were meant to sound intelligent. Dig a little deeper, though, and it rapidly became clear that many of the standards either A) made no apparent logical sense, or B) represented a view of literature instruction that rejected much of what we now know about how students make meaning of texts.

    My article draft was not without its flaws, but more concerning to me was the statement I received from my English Education reviewer that standards documents were not meant to be subjected to such scrutiny and analysis. Today we see history repeating itself, in new standards that will do more harm than good to quality teaching, and NCTE's apparent unwillingness to say a single negative thing about these political documents that diminish our profession.