A Connecticut middle school teacher who wrote that the Common Core State Standards are preparing students to be “workers, rather than thinkers” has touched a nerve throughout the country and intensified the debate further about the controversial new standards.
Elizabeth Natale, an English and Language Arts teacher at West Hartford’s Sedgwick Middle School, penned an op-ed in the Hartford Courant on January 17th that has resonated with teachers throughout the country who are exasperated with the Common Core standards and their impact on their teaching.
Natale, whose state participates in the Smarter Balance Common Core testing consortium, wrote, “Government attempts to improve education are stripping the joy out of teaching and doing nothing to help children.”
Until this year, I was a highly regarded certified teacher. Now, I must prove myself with data that holds little meaning to me. I no longer have the luxury of teaching literature, with all of its life lessons, or teaching writing to students who long to be creative. My success is measured by my ability to bring 85 percent of struggling students to “mastery,” without regard for those with advanced skills. Instead of fostering love of reading and writing, I am killing children’s passions – committing “readicide,” as Kelly Gallagher called it in his book of that title.
As a result of the focus on assessment and data collection associated with the Common Core, Natale wrote in her op-ed, “Today, I am considering ending my teaching career.”
Natale’s words reflect her concern about the important lessons her students will miss because of the new standards and their emphases, as well as the fact that classroom teachers will be evaluated based on their students’ performance on the Common Core-aligned assessments.
In a subsequent article about Natale’s op-ed, the Hartford Courant asked American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten about the concerns raised by Natale.
“I totally understand this teacher’s sentiment,” Weingarten said. “We have a toxic situation when everything is reduced to a test score; when no attention is paid to the social, emotional, nutritional and health needs of kids; and when educators are given inadequate resources, training and time to actually teach to the Common Core State Standards.”
Nevertheless, Weingarten added that “even with all of this, polls have found that an overwhelming majority of teachers support the new standards, but too many feel unprepared and unsupported.”
Other information reported by Breitbart News, however, suggests that Weingarten’s statement that an “overwhelming majority of teachers support the new standards” is not accurate and that a schism may be growing between union leaders who support the Common Core standards and rank-and-file union members.
In an email interview with Breitbart News, Natale provided further insight into how the Common Core standards are affecting her students and her teaching:
Breitbart News: Supporters of Common Core say the standards are “rigorous” and teach “critical thinking,” and will prepare students for “college and career” and a “global 21st century economy.” You said in your op-ed that Common Core is “a system that focuses on preparing workers rather than thinkers, collecting data rather than teaching and treating teachers as less than professionals.” What about this huge discrepancy in how the standards are viewed?
Elizabeth Natale: I’m not opposed to rigor and critical thinking. Given the emphasis on non-fiction reading, however, I don’t think this curriculum is preparing students for college and career or for the global 21st century economy. Since when is reading and analyzing fiction irrelevant in the 21st century? Students need to do this type of critical thinking in their careers, in college, and in the 21st century. When I worked in public relations at Trinity College in Hartford, the alumni magazine ran a story about graduates employed on Wall Street. The largest percentage of them were religion majors. Why? Because religion majors have to think critically. They can be trained to do the work in any sort of career.
BBN: It seems that many parents still don’t know much about the new standards. Are parents becoming more informed and, if so, what’s your impression of their reactions to them?
EN: I don’t think the majority of parents know that much about it. I especially don’t think they know much about the SBAC [Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium] testing. Again, my argument is less with Common Core than with the associated testing. I have had a few parents write to me about talking with their children about SBAC for the first time after reading my piece and being shocked at the negative comments made by their children. Parents should sit down and look at the test with their children. They should ask their children what they think about it. I also have had a few parents write to say they are “opting out” when it comes to SBAC testing.
BBN: If a parent came to observe your classroom, would he or she see a difference because of Common Core, and what would that difference be?
EN: I’m trying to resist changing everything I know is good just because of Common Core, but the test looms over all of us. We give many more assessments to collect data. We give the student assessments that are contrived to resemble SBAC testing, which is so counterproductive. I’m more stressed, and I know the students sense that. I don’t think learning has to be “fun” every minute, but Common Core and testing is certainly hurting everyone’s ability to be excited.
BBN: The article about your op-ed reflects the fact that some teacher union leaders, such as Randi Weingarten, are, in fact, supportive of the Common Core, and quotes statistics stating that most teachers like the new standards. Is there a schism growing between teachers and union leaders on Common Core?
EN: I would be lying if I said I know what the union’s position is on this. It’s true that not everyone is opposed to Common Core. Even I think the notion of rigor and critical thinking is correct, and most of the Common Core curriculum is something we all teach anyway. That said, I’ve spoken to no one who is enjoying having all subject teachers on the same page at the same time for the sake of collecting common data that is used to evaluate students and teachers. In general, I haven’t heard from union leaders.
BBN: Do you think you will really leave teaching?
EN: I want to stay. For 14 years I have loved the students and the learning I can help them do. I can’t, however, do what is being asked of me and still be a good teacher and someone who is able to be her best for her family and friends. Nothing would make me happier than to have the educational and political leadership stand up and do what is right for children and learning. Other states are forging their own paths. Why can’t we?
What is the point of certification if teachers need to be evaluated as they are being evaluated now? I have an evaluation binder. What lawyer has an evaluation binder? What doctor has an evaluation binder?
As Breitbart News reported earlier in the month, the state of Connecticut has offered a $1 million contract for a public relations initiative to promote the Common Core standards in the state. However, when the new legislative session begins on February 5th, state Sen. Joseph Markley (R) will introduce a bill to block officials from spending taxpayer funds on an advertising campaign for the Common Core.
“Why should the government spend a million dollars of taxpayer money to convince people why they should like Common Core?” Markley told Breitbart News. “They passed it without asking us, the educators or parents.”
A statewide Common Core seminar is planned for Saturday, February 22nd at 12:00 p.m. EST at the Senior Center in Portland, Connecticut. More information about the seminar can be found here.