A Teacher’s View: We Need the Reforms

As a teacher, I know attendance is important – but I wasn’t at my school, East Bronx Academy for the Future, one day a few weeks ago.

I wasn't sick and I didn’t spend the afternoon at the movies: I testified in front of the New York State Senate Standing Committee on Education, bringing the often-ignored voice of teachers to the education policy table.

The public hearings are meant to “assess” the progress of New York State’s education reforms. Assess is the right word to use. After all, we are increasingly assessing our students, teachers, schools, and principals, so it only seems fair to evaluate the system itself.

From where I stand in front of my classroom, the reforms – specifically, the new teacher evaluation system and Common Core learning standards – have advanced both teaching and learning in New York public schools.

This year, many teachers in New York will, for the first time ever, have a candid conversation with their principals about what effective pedagogy looks like, about what their strengths and weaknesses as instructors are, and about how they develop areas of improvements.

Another first: the system will, attempt to recognize the diversity in our teaching force. We’ll receive one of four ratings, as well as tailored feedback and ways to improve if we are struggling. The phrase “common-sense” is thrown around a lot in public policy debates, but the notion of evaluating professionals based on their work and supporting them in improving is as genuinely commonsensical as it comes.

The evaluations of ‘how’ we teach come as we implement the new Common Core State Standards. One would think from the tone of the debate that a few greedy for-profit textbook companies are the only entities on earth that support the new standards. But I have some news for the professional Common Core–haters: it’s just not true. A recent poll conducted by the National Education Association – the country’s largest teachers’ union – found that about 75 percent of teachers favor the new standards.

I am one of those teachers.

It turns out that much of the rhetoric about Common Core is just that: rhetoric. Their claims have been repeatedly debunked, but they continue to crop up, reminding us that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting its shoes on.

What are some of these falsehoods? Teachers were not involved in writing the standards – false. Common Core was designed and forced on states by the federal government – false. Common Core is designed to be a federal government take-over of locally run school districts – false. Common Core is a curriculum – false. Common Core will inevitably lead to an erosion of students’ data privacy – false.

Of course, they have also come with real challenges, but they are no reason to delay or avoid fully implementing policies that will help New York schools. If anything, these challenges prove the need to go full speed ahead, with a willingness to adjust course when necessary.

I also would follow President Obama’s simple advice that came while he was visiting a Brooklyn school: “We should stay at it.” After all, I think our president knows something about pushing forward with reform even when a vocal minority purports to speak for everyone, and even in the face of implementation glitches.

During my testimony, I offered a different voice from the politicians and experts. It was an on-the-ground perspective from the one of the people living and breathing the state’s reforms. I hope my voice is heard because I know that what I have to say is important: the progress in New York’s schools is real and it needs to continue.