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A s members and union leaders, we are all familiar with the stereotype that teachers’ unions are only concerned with salaries,
benefits and grievances. We are also aware that this
stereotype is wrong.
I have always believed that the union should
be leading the profession, and I have advocated
for us to play that role. As a union of professional
educators, we are equally concerned with improving
the profession and the quality of education for our
That is why NEA President Dennis Van Roekel
has called upon educators to work to make sure that
every local association not only works on contract
and grievance issues, but also has a strong group of
members who are focused on the professional issues
we are facing, such as new evaluations, developing
implementing the Common
Core State Standards and
preparing for the new
Partnership for Assessment
of Readiness for College and
Over the past year, our
organization has spent a great
deal of time on educator
evaluation. As many MTA
members know by now,
however, the Common Core
standards and PARCC tests are at the heart of the
instructional changes we are seeing in our schools.
The rollout of these two initiatives provides our state
and local associations with a perfect opportunity to
demonstrate to our members and the public the role
of the union in promoting excellent instruction and
The CCSS are voluntary national standards in
English language arts and mathematics. To date,
45 states, the District of Columbia, Department of
Defense schools and four territories have agreed to
adopt them. In 2011, the standards were adopted as
the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, with the
addition of pre-kindergarten standards.
Districts should already have begun aligning
their curricula with the new frameworks. If yours
hasn’t done so, time is of the essence. Affected
educators should insist that adequate time and
resources be devoted to making sure that what
they are teaching matches what their students are
expected to learn and be able to do.
In the spring of 2014, Massachusetts and
13 other states will be field-testing PARCC tests
to measure student performance relative to the
In Massachusetts, the PARCC tests may
eventually replace the MCAS tests in ELA and math.
If that happens, students will have to pass PARCC
tests to graduate from high school, and student
growth percentiles will be incorporated into educator
CCSS and the PARCC tests matter. It’s important to
get this right.
Fortunately, the teacher voice has been
prominent in the development of both the CCSS and
the assessment system. The NEA and the American
Federation of Teachers were partners in the creation
of the standards, as were the International Reading
Association, the National Council of Teachers of
English and the National Council of Teachers of
In Massachusetts, the CCSS have not
represented a dramatic change because our state’s
standards were considered among the best in the
country and were relied upon heavily in developing
the national ones. Arguments for the CCSS include:
n State standards have been widely criticized for
being “a mile wide and an inch deep.” The CCSS
developers looked at standards in other countries
that have superior student performance and found
that they generally cover fewer topics but in greater
depth. The Common Core standards do the same.
n State standards vary widely. Students in some
states are being held to lower standards than others.
Lower expectations result in lower achievement.
The hope is that establishing high standards for all
students will lead to better performance by low-achieving students and help narrow achievement
n We live in a highly mobile country and a
globalized economy. It makes sense for students to
be learning subjects in the same sequence so they
aren’t repeating some topics — or missing others —
if they move to another state while in school. It also
makes sense to prepare them for college and careers
in the 21st century, no matter where they live.
T he biggest objection to adopting the CCSS in Massachusetts has come from the Pioneer Institute, which expressed concern that
our state’s high standards would be lowered. State
education officials pledged that they would not take
part if the national standards were lower than ours,
and the feedback we hear from most classroom
teachers is that the new frameworks do not lower
After commissioning an independent comparison
between the former state standards and the CCSS, the
Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education voted
to recommend adoption of the CCSS.
The standards call on students to master both
content and important learning processes. For
example, only a limited number of specific literary
texts are listed in the standards, giving teachers
and schools the latitude to incorporate their own
materials. The CCSS also have literacy links to
history, social studies, science and technology.
The standards emphasize reading, writing and
speaking grounded in evidence from the texts, both
literary and informational. Those skills cannot be
“drilled” into students with test prep.
The PARCC tests are billed as “next generation”
assessments. According to the PARCC consortium,
“In ELA/literacy, the PARCC assessments will look
much deeper at student writing abilities and critical-
thinking skills. … In math, students will have to solve
complex problems, show their work, and demonstrate
how they solved the problem. Unlike pencil-and-paper
bubble tests, these new assessments will more closely
resemble high-quality classroom work.”
Understanding the new standards and
developing curricula and the lesson plans to address
them take time. That is why in June, the NEA and the
AFT joined a dozen other national education groups
in calling for a moratorium of at least one year on
any high-stakes decisions being made based on new
assessments pegged to the new standards.
They made this call after New York and Florida
began using new evaluation procedures that were
heavily tied to student performance based on the new
standards before all districts and teachers had aligned
curricula and assessments to them. Massachusetts,
thanks largely to the effective advocacy of MTA
members, has avoided the use of student data in a
Still, there is much to be done now and in the
coming years to align instruction with the new
standards and assessments. At the national and state
levels, we will continue our work to make sure that
timelines and expectations are reasonable and that
resources are available to support your 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 become
proficient in standards that aim to make sure all
students are ready for college or a career when they
graduate from high school.
Districts should already have
begun aligning their curricula
with the new frameworks. If
yours hasn’t done so, time is
of the essence.