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Education Nation highlights AFT's views on school reform

The AFT's vision for reclaiming the promise of public education, with a special focus on proper implementation of the Common Core State Standards, was on full view at NBC's 2013 Education Nation Summit in New York City on Oct. 6-7.

AFT President Randi Weingarten spoke at a number of events during the summit, and more than 60 AFT members participated in a Teacher Town Hall and workshops on the Common Core. As Weingarten noted in an interview on MSNBC, "The tone and tenor of this year's Education Nation is very different. The teacher's voice is really being heard."

Education Nation

The challenge of making those voices heard as states transition to adopting the Common Core standards was a theme for Weingarten in an institute on the Common Core as well as a panel discussion on testing. "We all agree that the Common Core is a way to help kids, particularly poor kids," Weingarten said during the panel discussion, but she added that more states need to follow the lead of Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature in California. There, she noted, they said, "Let's really make sure teachers are prepared, and then we'll have the stakes" attached to test results.

"New York didn't do that, and other places didn't do that," so it shouldn't come as a surprise that communities in states like Louisiana are rejecting the Common Core standards "because people think it is a testing regime," she said. "When the emphasis is on testing, things like rote memorization" get disproportionate attention in the classroom.

When it comes to Common Core standards, teachers are demanding the training, smaller class sizes and other resources needed to make the ambitious new standards work, Weingarten said. "We are big believers in the Common Core—done right," she explained. But when it comes to new standards, "you can't just announce it from on high" and expect progress. You need to couple standards with supports.

United Federation of Teachers member Stuart Kaplan echoed Weingarten's message. "What we need," he said, "are adequate resources and meaningful professional development."

In addition to the Teacher Town Hall, Education Nation included a series of workshops for educators designed to provide expert guidance on the Common Core State Standards and related shifts in classroom instruction. AFT member William McKinney from New Haven, Conn., was one of the presenters on math, demonstrating an eighth-grade lesson on expressions and equations. He also touted the AFT's Share My Lesson site as a good source of Common Core resources. [Leslie Getzinger, Mike Rose, MSNBC, Dan Gursky/NBC Universal photo]

October 8, 2013