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Weingarten sparks dialogue on Common Core standards

AFT president Randi Weingarten's call for a moratorium on test-driven sanctions tied to Common Core standards has sparked a groundswell of support from education's frontline and put a needed national spotlight on implementation problems that threaten to land Common Core standards "in the dustbin of abandoned reforms" if left to fester.

Weingarten's April 30 address in New York City before the Association for a Better New York reframed the discussion about standards-based reform and true accountability. She pressed for policymakers to be held accountable for their duty to prepare schools and communities for the launch of the Common Core standards—responsibilities that must be met before school systems are plunged into turmoil with high-stakes assessments tied to standards that schools have not been positioned to use effectively.

"The AFT believes there is a very important role for accountability, but the call for a moratorium is to make accountability real," the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote on the day of Weingarten's address.

"To lead with testing is an abomination. That's why American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten is calling today for a moratorium on the high-stakes part of high-stakes testing," the Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel weighed in the same day. "In other words, [Weingarten] argues we should first focus on properly implementing the Common Core standards."

Similar calls for responsible action also could be found in the community at large—from leading foundations and researchers at America's top universities to classroom teachers in schools around the country.

Common Core "supporters should take a sensible pause to address legitimate concerns about implementation, and then get on with the business of implementing an important educational reform," the Century Foundation, a nonpartisan research group, posted online following the AFT president's address.

"The AFT is absolutely correct that schools and teachers need time and resources to get the new standards right," said Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University. "The standards will not teach themselves."

New York University's Diane Ravitch, who attended the April 30 address, said the AFT's comments should prompt movers and shakers to rally behind practices that they know firsthand are prerequisites of success in private enterprise. The AFT president, Ravitch said, "urged the importance of a field test. She suggested to the business leaders [in attendance] that none of them would roll out a new product without field testing. The leaders with the power to make Randi's proposal into reality were in the room. Let's see what they do now."

Similar expressions of support have been voiced across the spectrum—from elementary school teachers to writers of the Common Core standards themselves.

Weingarten urged Americans to send a strong message to key leaders. In less than 24 hours, Weingarten's remarks had generated more than 20,000 letters to Education Secretary Arne Duncan and state commissioners of education, telling them that now is the time "to step on the accelerator of quality implementation and put the brakes on the stakes" tied to Common Core standards. [Mike Rose]

May 1, 2013