Teacher Union President: The Right Is Not Going To Be Won Over On Common Core

But American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten says the emphasis on testing is damaging Common Core’s reputation elsewhere.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Rebecca Cook / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Conservatives won’t ever support Common Core on ideological grounds, but hearts and minds are still winnable when it comes to the education standards.

At least that’s what Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in an interview with BuzzFeed.

The Common Core education standards, meant to teach students critical thinking skills and move away from the memorization-focus of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, have faced a sharp backlash this year. The standards have put the teachers union in a unique position: Although they support Common Core, the AFT broadly opposes immediate testing-based implementation when it comes to federal education standards.

Weingarten said the backlash against Common Core is part ideological and part based on poor implementation and organizations that put too much emphasis on testing.

“The right’s vitriol is ideological. The losing of parents and teachers is a matter of incompetence,” Weingarten said. She attributed the program’s poor reception to groups like the Gates Foundation “wanting to measure more than wanting to teach.”

The last few weeks have been tough for Common Core and its proponents. Near the end of May, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley banned Common Core after the next school year. In Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill banning the standards, effective immediately.

Opposing Common Core has become a rallying cry for conservatives, who sometimes dub the standards as “Obamacore.” Even governors who initially supported the program, like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, are now walking back their previous stances.

“All these conservative governors left to their own devices initially supported the standards,” she said. “What changed? The Koch brothers decided not to support the standards, ALEC didn’t support the standards, others who fund right-wing causes don’t support the standards.”

But Weingarten wasn’t as concerned about losing conservative states like South Carolina or Indiana, where she said those in charge will do anything to “undermine public schooling in America.” She emphasized that no matter what she does, the right will be against her, framing it in personal terms.

“There’s not anything I stand for that [people on the right] like,” Weingarten said. “From the fact that I’m a gay leader of a teachers union, to the fact that I’m Jewish and actually religious about that, but not in the orthodox kind of way. My partner’s the rabbi of a gay temple…and I’m the head of a labor union and I’m a public schoolteacher. So there’s just nothing about me that the Tea Party will ever like.”

The union’s strategy, instead, will be to work to make Common Core successful with left-leaning states more receptive to the concepts behind federal education standards.

“I’m much more vitriolic about the people who say that the teaching is so important, the learning is so important, the outcomes for children are so important, yet don’t spend a minute trying to help create the supportive systems…and just want to test, test, test,” Weingarten said.

States like New York where she said parents are turning against the standards are especially key. The state’s focus on testing, she said, is one of the key things John King, New York state’s education commissioner, got wrong.

“The testing got conflated with the standards,” she said.

An early round of Common Core testing in New York, from late 2013, showed 31 percent of the state’s third through eighth graders “met or exceeded the proficiency standard in language arts,” down from 55 percent in 2012.

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