Letter to person touting Common Core

Ms. Susan Carlson, Exec. Director

Arizona Business & Education Coalition

3030 N. 3rd Street, Suite 965

Phoenix, AZ 85012 1957 E. Victoria St.Chandler, AZ 85249

October 13, 2014

Dear Ms. Carlson,

My friend and I attended your talk on Common Core to the Chandler Chamber of Commerce on March 22, 2013. I retired two months later from 25 years of teaching. Common Core and your presentation of it did not lead me to that decision but it did not dissuade me either. Common Core is nothing for a good and dedicated teacher to look forward to. The path of Common Core since that meeting has simply got rockier despite the institutional support for it, not to mention big money.

By this time you have seen many eloquent statements about what CC is doing to education. I am including some that are not so eloquent but rather desperate, and they come from teachers who are not protesting CC but trying to keep their jobs in the face of the demands of CC. What you presented was the kindly face of CC, all about high standards and wanting the best for students. What we face is something different, what I call “Common Core on the ground”. We might compare it to the board in the War Games room versus the mud and blood actually happening on the battle field.

Having come to teaching later in life, I have a somewhat broader understanding perhaps of what the public thinks happens in classrooms. The business community which supports not only CC but also charter schools, vouchers, and anything else which might disrupt the collective power of teachers, seems to think teachers respond to the Golden Circle motivation approach: sell enough insurance policies and you get a raise and a trip to Hawaii. You would understand that that does not work with teachers, because you have worked in schools, which makes it puzzling to me why you are promoting this blinkered approach to resolving problems in U.S. education.

Notice I did not put a comma after “the business community”; that is because not all business people support this. Some actually understand, but they are not organized to stand up to the corporate power structure behind this CC wave, which in turn is part of the reform movement, which in turn is tied into the political and economic agenda of a large swath of leaders.

My purpose here is not to take on the attempt to ignore poverty as the responsible party for low test scores, but as an educator you know very well that American schools serving stable communities teach very well indeed. Averaging in the test scores of blighted communities is necessary to convince the public that our schools are in trouble and to raise the question of who is to blame. If all of our schools are in trouble, where are the personnel responsible for this mess? I have e-mails from some of us to share with you.

Looking over the ABEC website, and seeing some familiar names on there, I realize that a lot of educators have been enlisted in this effort to destroy public education. Many, including yourself, may have good motives or at least have convinced yourselves that being in service to the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM – a jocular acronym proposed by Pasi Sahlberg) might somehow help students, but I would urge you to pause for a moment and put on your citizen’s robes. As the teaching profession is being gutted, will Teach for America save it? Can we suddenly offer $100,000 to $150,000 salaries to restock the supply of teachers once the veterans, like me, have retired? Perhaps we can pay students directly for high test scores. Why not? That’s how the Golden Circle works – the more sales, the more money, so by analogy, the higher the test scores, the more weekly allowance kids get. That concept is no emptier than the notion that if we just give teachers strict guidelines to follow and support troubled schools……………

Remember the troubled schools? NCLB was to help with that. I thought about that when my son-in-law took a job last year in Stanfield, Arizona. With a masters, his first year teaching brought his family $37,000 a year and a two hour drive every day. He fled just to save on gas, because who would want to live in Stanfield? My wife went out to help him set his room up and discovered it was the same spot she landed on sixty-five years earlier as a little girl riding a truck convoy from Texas to pick cotton. She even recognized the school’s bus barn as the Colored School she attended the mercifully one year she spent there. And guess what? The conditions in the town and in the school have not changed; NCLB left Stanfield behind. Minority kids, poor people, no equipment in the school, low pay for staff, and lousy working conditions, but the fault is …….. what would you say, Ms. Carlson? Shall we just average in Standfield’s test scores (without computers to even take the tests) with the scores of the school my grandkids go to, San Tan? Would that give us an accurate picture of our public schools?

Not only the business community but the media play parts in the game of transferring education money into private hands. My last year in public school teaching (I spent five more in a private school), I visited the state legislature as a delegate of the Mesa Education Association. I spoke to a legislator who later became mayor of a major Arizona city, a solid sort of politician, and he asked me what school I taught at; when I told him Westwood, he said, “Oh, yeah, that’s a ghetto school.” Funny, because I had a couple of his family members in my classes! Where did he get that idea when he could have just asked his young relatives or visited the campus? From the media and the like-minded people who cannot or do not want to understand that a classroom full of kids requires a great deal of work. I did that work for 25 years and got results, and every time someone asked me to justify my results, I had them sit in my class, interview my students, or look at my lesson plans. I was busy, every day, every evening, every weekend, for 25 years. No one except one person ever told me my results would be confirmed by a test other than my own tests, and that person was put in his place by my principal.

In order to judge entire districts and entire school systems, we obviously need masses of data that will tell us what is going on in the classrooms. Experts on testing tell us standardized tests do not do that, but the GERM will not listen because they gather useable data from their factories and plants and sales forces and do not understand why useable data from schools are not easy to come by and why teachers do not have time to do data collecting; they are too busy teaching.

Just to back up anecdotally what I said about losing an irreplaceable work force: my son recently took a job in a large district in Phoenix. He said the district is sixty teachers short and five new hires have already quit. It is a tough job and takes years to get right.

Now after all that, we are no longer talking about Common Core, are we? Now it is Arizona College and Career Readiness Standards. What will it be in five years…….. or less? I write this to ask you to support teachers, not the pipe-dreams of business men and politicians. Several factors besides age pushed me into retirement and this test-obsession and documentation-in-place-of-teaching were sure part of it. I am happy, but will our community and nation be when those people like me and my friend, a 30 year veteran of the classroom, who worked out of inspiration and a sense of service and challenge, are driven out by the mean-spirited and pinched attitudes of people hostile to teachers and ignorant of the education process, and, most of all, unwilling themselves to face the real problem in American education: childhood poverty.

With all sincerity,

Patrick Barrett (Ret.)

Teacher of Latin, Spanish, and Russian

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