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President's Viewpoint

Common Core: Too Much at Stake to Risk Getting It Wrong


I learned some important lessons during my 23 years in the classroom. One of the most important was that effective teaching and learning required me at times to be the teacher and at other times, the student. I listened closely to my students because they were the ones who told me what was working and what wasn’t. I’m no different than any other NEA member—we all want the best for every student in our classrooms and schools.

So when 45 states adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), we educators saw the wonderful potential of these standards to correct many of the inequities in our education system that currently exist. We believed the standards would help students develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills they need to succeed in the fast-changing world. NEA members overwhelmingly supported the goals of the standards because we knew they could provide a better path forward for every student.

As educators, we also had high hopes that our policymakers would make an equal commitment to implement the standards correctly by providing students, educators, and schools with the time, supports, and resources that are crucial to make changes of this magnitude to our education system.

Over the last few months I have done what my students and fellow educators taught me: I listened closely. I joined state leaders in member listening sessions, observed dozens of member focus groups, and invited hundreds of thousands of NEA members to share their views about how CCSS implementation is going. There was a resounding consensus that the standards are the right way to go, and implementation has gotten in the way.

As one educator said: “My frustration is not with the standards themselves; they are a huge improvement in the right direction. I am worried about implementation.” As another educator put it: “What has been difficult is the ‘building the plane as we fly it mentality.’ … Implementation is rushed, half-done and very stressful.”

NEA members have a right to feel frustrated, upset, and angry about the poor commitment to implementing the standards correctly. In an NEA Today essay, I argue that implementation of the Common Core State Standards initiative was botched and in need of a course correction. I offer common sense recommendations for getting implementation on track. I know that NEA members are committed to seeing the promise of the standards fulfilled. But we can’t do it alone. Elected officials, school administrators, and other stakeholders are part of the accountability system, too, and that means stepping up and accepting more responsibility to get CCSS implementation right. There’s too much at stake to risk getting this wrong.

—NEA President Dennis Van Roekel

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