In the midst of her first swing through California, the incoming president of the National Education Association praised the Common Core State Standards and California’s measured approach in implementing them while warning that the nation’s largest teachers union would fight efforts to use the new tests for the standards in ways that “harm kids” and punish schools and teachers.

A former elementary school teacher and Utah Teacher of the Year, Lily Eskelsen García, 59, has scheduled events with teachers and the news media today in Los Angeles and the Bay Area later in the week. She takes charge of the 3-million-member union next month.

“I was impressed with Common Core,” Eskelsen García said in a telephone interview this week, and found “nothing sinister” about the standards. But she said she share the concerns of many of her friends and colleagues, who predict that in many states the new tests, like the Smarter Balanced assessment that California will give, will be used to declare schools failing and hold students back a year – “one more test that means very little with big consequences and punishments.”

California is different, she said, because, unlike New York, another heavily Democratic state, it didn’t hastily develop poorly designed Common Core tests and hold teachers and schools accountable for the results before teachers were trained in the standards.

“California said, ‘All right. The standards seem to be OK, but we are going to take it one step at a time. We are going to call a moratorium on any high-stakes consequences. We’re going take time to train people … to align the curriculum,’” Eskelsen García said, referring to a one-year hiatus, possibly longer, on giving tests not required by the federal government. And, she said, California is taking its time in deciding “what really makes sense in terms of consequences” for the standards and how to assess them.

The Smarter Balanced tests will be given for the first time next spring. Test designers say the new tests will measure critical thinking and problem solving. If, however, they turn out to be another multiple-choice test, “it will be a disaster of Biblical proportions,” Eskelsen García said, and the union will lead the opposition.

“People I taught with say, ‘You know, politicians are going to corrupt this. It doesn’t matter if they are good standards or bad standards. They are going to make this one more silly thing that takes away from teaching and true learning.'”

Eskelsen García takes charge of the union next month at a time of rising backlash among the ranks against standardized testing. Testing becomes “toxic,” she said, when multiple-choice exams become the basis for holding back students a grade, such as in Florida and Michigan, and declaring teachers failures, even though the tests weren’t designed to evaluate teachers.

California is different, Eskelsen García said, because, unlike New York, another heavily Democratic state, it didn’t hastily develop poorly designed Common Core tests and hold teachers and schools accountable for the results before teachers were trained in the standards.

A dissenting teachers group that claims it has 50,000 members, the Badass Teacher Association, has called for an abandonment of Common Core and the elimination of standardized testing. Eskelsen García said their hearts are in the right place, and their suspicions, after more than a decade under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, may be warranted, but the union realistically must play “the adult in the room or they (politicians) are bound to get it wrong.”

It’s not just teachers, but also some PTAs and school boards, that are angry about standardized testing and are taking stands against it, she said. “The movement has begun.We don’t have to light too many matches to throw in” to ignite it, she said. As a result, she claimed, conservative and liberal political leaders are “scrambling right now to fix what they broke.” The NEA shouldn’t have to reach out to Democratic leaders who have split with the union on testing and other issues, she said. “They should be coming to us, hat in hand, saying you’re right … now help us fix it (education).”

A chief target of their anger is U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. At the NEA national convention in Denver last month, delegates approved a resolution calling for Duncan to resign. Similar resolutions in past conventions were not passed.

Soon after the vote, Eskelsen García and current president Dennis Van Roekel had “a very intense conversation” with Duncan. “It was up to us,” she said, “to explain what was behind all of that, the true, honest feelings of our members, that they have been left behind, that they have been demonized, made to be the bad guys in this. And we wanted to say that some really bad policies have been passed, local, state and national, and it all seems to swirl around this almost religious faith in scores on standardized testing.” Eskelsen García said she knows Duncan has no intention of quitting, and, having conveyed the members’ perspective to him, “ I have every intention of working with the secretary going forward.”

Eskelsen García marshals Texas teachers at a civil rights and education rally in Austin in 2010.

Credit: National Education Association

Eskelsen García marshals Texas teachers at a civil rights and education rally in Austin in 2010.

While she says she often cites California as an example of a state that does things right, California is also home of Vergara v. California, the lawsuit challenging five state laws establishing teacher tenure or due process rights after two years, requiring layoffs by seniority and creating due process protections from firings. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge’s tentative ruling (a final decision is due later this month) voided the laws, stating they are unconstitutional because they harm children. The ruling inspired a similar lawsuit in New York. It also has become another source of friction between the union and traditional Democratic allies, among them Duncan and retiring California Congressman George Miller, who issued statements (here and here) supporting the decision.

Eskelsen García called the lawsuit “an interesting distraction from the real issues.” The focus on tenure is misplaced, she said, because “the majority of teachers are good teachers; they’re dedicated people who care about their students. What we want to see the debate around is how do we recruit fabulous people, how do we keep them in the classroom, how do we make them constantly improve their profession?”

Easing the burden on financially strapped college students so that they can consider teaching is one theme of Degrees Not Debt, a new NEA campaign that Eskelsen García will detail at CSU Northridge this week. The campaign calls for more need-based federal Pell Grants, lower interest rates for student loans and expanded loan-forgiveness programs for all college students. But Eskelsen García, who put herself through school with student loans and scholarships and by performing as a folksinger in coffee shops (she brings along her guitar to NEA rallies), said she will make the pitch for new or expanded scholarship programs for students willing to teach in high-poverty schools.

“We’re hoping we can show states and even the federal government where they can invest in scholarships so that we can start talking about how we can increase the pool of talented people who want to spend their lives changing the world by making it a better place for someone else’s child,” she said.

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  1. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    Her characterization of Vergara as "an interesting distraction from the real issues" is strange given the watershed implications of the ruling, should it be upheld. In any case, I've heard this criticism before - which is that it (Vergara) doesn't deal with the real issues of recruiting, retaining and improving high quality teachers. No doubt that is the challenge of every profession and teaching is no exception. Though I don't see the logic in … Read More

    Her characterization of Vergara as “an interesting distraction from the real issues” is strange given the watershed implications of the ruling, should it be upheld. In any case, I’ve heard this criticism before – which is that it (Vergara) doesn’t deal with the real issues of recruiting, retaining and improving high quality teachers. No doubt that is the challenge of every profession and teaching is no exception. Though I don’t see the logic in criticizing Vergara on that basis when future policy subsequent to the ruling is arguably possible to exert a strong influence on improving teacher quality. Her lukewarm response stands in stark contrast to the heated dialogue typically heard about the litigation. Maybe I’m reading too much into it or perhaps she’s forecasting that the ruling will stand and she wants to triangulate her position when it comes to replacing the statutes with something amenable to the unions. This would be a dramatic move to the center where hard and fast was the rule.

    Replies

    • FloydThursby1941 2 years ago2 years ago

      It’s a quiet way of being against it to say it doesn’t address something. It addresses a lot. Yes, we need to pay attention to recruitment, merit pay, bonuses for attendance, home life, study hours, interesting curriculum and a number of other things, but this doesn’t take away from the positive influence of this historical decision and it shouldn’t be minimized or trivialized this way. It addresses one important issue.

      • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

        So you don't support mandating by the federal government, but apparently you do support coercion - because that is how the USDE got states to adopt CCSS via competitive grant programs, i.e. RTTT. The Feds have used block grants since, I believe, the Great Society, but they never used them (those are our tax generated dollars) to have states compete for support. I am totally against these forms of coercion, especially as it turned out … Read More

        So you don’t support mandating by the federal government, but apparently you do support coercion – because that is how the USDE got states to adopt CCSS via competitive grant programs, i.e. RTTT.

        The Feds have used block grants since, I believe, the Great Society, but they never used them (those are our tax generated dollars) to have states compete for support. I am totally against these forms of coercion, especially as it turned out to be part of a much larger agenda to have de facto nationalized standards (no matter what others say about it not being nationalized de jure). One of the primary principles of States Rights is to allow competition. The competitive grants used a trumped up version of competition and turned it into crony capitalism – states that will go along will get along.

        I’ve read parts but not all of the standards. Frankly, I found it hard to make an assessment of their worth as I don’t have the background knowledge to make such an assessment. But I’m against them in principle anyway because I’m strongly opposed to a nationwide federally “inspired” standard. I really against most large federal programs as they remove any influence I may have as an individual citizen and destroy local grassroots action. And how often do the Feds ever do well in such massive programs? Usually they are gigantic platforms for waste, fraud, and abuse. It allows for philanthropists, well-meaning or not, to exert undue influence in a sphere where they have no business unless they plan to make a business of it.

        As for people moving around being the reason why we need a standard – that’s pure bunk. How can you support a massive and historical federal intrusion into education on the basis that people move? States don’t offer the same benefits as the same levels nationally. Should the Feds mandate that all such state-funded means-tested benefits to be equalized? What an overreach of Federal power. Why should education be the exception? If you don’t like the education offered in a state don’t live there.

  2. el 2 years ago2 years ago

    I have had the deep privilege to hear Lily Eskelsen García speak on several occasions, and to speak with her at length one on one. She is the real deal, incredibly bright, thoughtful, with a deep understanding of the issues, and someone who genuinely cares about kids and has real insight into kids in a variety of situations and circumstances. It's great to see her rise to the top of NEA - my only regret … Read More

    I have had the deep privilege to hear Lily Eskelsen García speak on several occasions, and to speak with her at length one on one. She is the real deal, incredibly bright, thoughtful, with a deep understanding of the issues, and someone who genuinely cares about kids and has real insight into kids in a variety of situations and circumstances. It’s great to see her rise to the top of NEA – my only regret is that Obama didn’t tap her to be Secretary of Education.

    She is someone I would love to sit with for days on end and try to absorb some of her essence and insight.

    Replies

    • FloydThursby1941 2 years ago2 years ago

      When push comes to shove she's completely automoton-like owned by the unions. She will never truly challenge the issue of teacher quality and the issue of differential effort among students. She thinks you can magically make something interesting and solve all problems. It's a noble goal but she ignores key issues and doesn't really even address them. She's a rubber stamp for the status quo. She won't close the achievement … Read More

      When push comes to shove she’s completely automoton-like owned by the unions. She will never truly challenge the issue of teacher quality and the issue of differential effort among students. She thinks you can magically make something interesting and solve all problems. It’s a noble goal but she ignores key issues and doesn’t really even address them. She’s a rubber stamp for the status quo. She won’t close the achievement gap if she’s appointed. At least Arne Duncan is making progress.

      • el 2 years ago2 years ago

        Seriously dude, you know this how? You've decided she's an automaton based on this one post someone wrote about her? Or based on the job she holds? She's been blogging for years, and YouTube is full of videos of her giving talks. At least take the time to know something about her before you slap her in that box. Here are some suggestions for you: http://lilysblackboard.org/2010/02/read-across-america-to-reach-across/ http://lilysblackboard.org/2010/01/did-you-do-it-on-purpose/ http://lilysblackboard.org/2010/01/closing-what-gaps/ http://lilysblackboard.org/2009/11/the-first-language/ And this in particular is a good story that explains how she feels … Read More

        Seriously dude, you know this how? You’ve decided she’s an automaton based on this one post someone wrote about her? Or based on the job she holds?

        She’s been blogging for years, and YouTube is full of videos of her giving talks. At least take the time to know something about her before you slap her in that box.

        Here are some suggestions for you:
        http://lilysblackboard.org/2010/02/read-across-america-to-reach-across/
        http://lilysblackboard.org/2010/01/did-you-do-it-on-purpose/
        http://lilysblackboard.org/2010/01/closing-what-gaps/
        http://lilysblackboard.org/2009/11/the-first-language/

        And this in particular is a good story that explains how she feels about standardized tests:
        http://lilysblackboard.org/2010/06/doing-something-about-it/

        When I taught 6th grade in Utah, we gave a standardized test in the spring. One year, I was told that the Social Studies section would cover the Civil Rights Movement.

        This was good to know since our textbook had very little on the Civil Rights Movement. So, I developed a curriculum that covered segregation and Jim Crow and lunch counter sit-ins and voting rights. You should have heard these 12 year olds arguing about things they had never even thought of before – about civil disobedience and the ideals of America and our responsibility to those ideals.

        Then we got the test. There was one question on the Civil Rights Movement. This was it:

        Which of the following won the Nobel Peace Prize?
        A. Rosa Parks B. Martin Luther King, Jr. C. George Washington Carver D. Charles Drew

        In that entire week of study, I had never once mentioned that Martin Luther King, Jr. had won the Nobel Peace Prize.

        Almost all my kids missed that question, because after a week with me, they assumed they knew everything about Dr. King, so he was the first name they eliminated. After that, they just guessed.

        Knowing who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 is not as important as WHY he won the Peace Prize. We don’t live in a multiple choice world. We must teach complex, critical thinking skills that are relevant to students who might be reading a history book on the Civil Rights Movement or a website on the pros and cons of nuclear power or a newspaper on the Gulf Oil Spill.

        Lily really keeps her eyes on the big picture – which is getting the kids to graduate and into successful careers.

        http://lilysblackboard.org/2014/07/lily-eskelsen-garcias-netroots-nation-keynote/
        “When I die, I want to die in a faculty meeting. Because the transition between life and death would be so subtle. You would not even notice.”

      • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

        WTH? It makes no sense to say someone is owned by the union when that someone is the president of the union. She seems to me to be a thoughtful and knowledgeable choice. You, on the other hand, fit the bill perfectly as pertains to the old adage – “when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail”. You can’t wait to characterize her as you will.

      • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

        WTH, Floyd? It makes no sense to say someone is owned by the union when that someone is the president of the union. She seems to me to be a thoughtful and knowledgeable choice. You, on the other hand, fit the bill perfectly as pertains to the old adage – “when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail”. You can’t wait to characterize her as you will.

        Resubmitted response under correct comment

    • Manuel 2 years ago2 years ago

      el, she might be the real deal, but it seems that on the Common Core issue, she is out to lunch. OTOH, it seems that if the NEA were against the Common Core they would be accused of not wanting "better standards" or, the Goddess forbid, "teaching better." Damn if you do, damn if don't, I guess. However, I'd like her to not just be so cautious. Being the adult in the room is good, but being the … Read More

      el, she might be the real deal, but it seems that on the Common Core issue, she is out to lunch.

      OTOH, it seems that if the NEA were against the Common Core they would be accused of not wanting “better standards” or, the Goddess forbid, “teaching better.”

      Damn if you do, damn if don’t, I guess.

      However, I’d like her to not just be so cautious. Being the adult in the room is good, but being the silent adult is worse. At this point, she seems to be hedging her bets, but I hope that when Common Core is shown to be misused that the NEA will, under her leadership, take a stronger position than now.

      • el 2 years ago2 years ago

        Manuel, I think first you might consider that she comes out of Utah rather than California, and what that means in terms of standards, and that she is really looking at the standards just as standards and not necessarily the rest that is often bundled with it in terms of the hypertesting etc. I think you and she would agree on a great deal.

        (I posted another comment with some links and quotes that is awaiting moderation.)

      • el 2 years ago2 years ago

        She speaks to Common Core really nicely in this interview at about the 14 minute mark. You may not agree with her completely, but I think you'll appreciate the depth to her answer. http://youtu.be/kgJFak-6Wus One of the things she likes about the Common Core is how many of the standards cannot be assessed using standardized multiple choice tests - like a 9th grader should be able to enhance a presentation by using digital media. She's excited - … Read More

        She speaks to Common Core really nicely in this interview at about the 14 minute mark. You may not agree with her completely, but I think you’ll appreciate the depth to her answer.

        http://youtu.be/kgJFak-6Wus

        One of the things she likes about the Common Core is how many of the standards cannot be assessed using standardized multiple choice tests – like a 9th grader should be able to enhance a presentation by using digital media. She’s excited – because that means that the 9th grader is expected to give a presentation AND that they have access to digital media.

        If you do it right – and that’s a big if – it puts a lot more power into the local classroom, she thinks.

        She discusses NY as a cautionary tale, with their tests not actually aligned to Common Core, very much poisoning the well.

        “They’re all about punishment… that’s the toxic part …where people are saying, ‘I don’t want the federal government to tell me how to punish my kids.’ But the Common Core didn’t do that, the State legislature did.”

        (And she talks about Vergara at about the 30 minute mark and how permanent teacher status works in Utah.)

      • FloydThursby1941 2 years ago2 years ago

        Why is everyone so opposed to the Common Core? It's not like there weren't complaints about the system before NCLB or before that? It just seems that everyone is secretly hoping Common Core falls apart so we can put in a new system that is better. But will it be? Are you sure? But what if we put in a new system and people find flaws and are hoping it fails. We really need to … Read More

        Why is everyone so opposed to the Common Core? It’s not like there weren’t complaints about the system before NCLB or before that?

        It just seems that everyone is secretly hoping Common Core falls apart so we can put in a new system that is better. But will it be? Are you sure?

        But what if we put in a new system and people find flaws and are hoping it fails.

        We really need to come up with the best system possible and have all the critics in the room and work out the kinks, but constantly hoping each new system fails is negative energy and negatively impacts children. I think this constant carping is a mistake. And I think the problem is largely with the complainers because my guess is the next system, you’ll still be complaining.

        The system in the ’90s wasn’t great, and before, kids were graduating from high school illiterate. I don’t know what perfect wonderful system people are referring to when they keep hoping everyone speaks out against common core to create something new.

        • Ze'ev Wurman 2 years ago2 years ago

          Floyd, Why is "everyone" against Common Core? One would assume you would know the answer by now. Here are MY (not ""everyone's") bullet points. - Mediocre quality, 1-2 years behind international (and prior California) expectations in K-8. - High school "college readiness" set at a community college level - Experimental to a degree; deeply infused with its particular pedagogy. - Promoted by the federal government in violation of multiple federal laws (I understand you don't care about this. You should) - … Read More

          Floyd,

          Why is “everyone” against Common Core? One would assume you would know the answer by now. Here are MY (not “”everyone’s”) bullet points.
          – Mediocre quality, 1-2 years behind international (and prior California) expectations in K-8.
          – High school “college readiness” set at a community college level
          – Experimental to a degree; deeply infused with its particular pedagogy.
          – Promoted by the federal government in violation of multiple federal laws (I understand you don’t care about this. You should)
          – Federally sponsored assessment consortia committed to funnel individual student records to federal government for central career planning like in Europe
          – Assessment consortia use experimental assessment focusing not on student knowledge but on ill-defined and ill-measured constructs, resulting in meaningless scores (remember CLAS?)

          It just seems that everyone is secretly hoping Common Core falls apart so we can put in a new system that is better. “

          I don’t know about everyone, but I do hope — not very secretly — that Common Core falls apart as soon as possible.
          — It will fall apart anyway, and is bound to harm California students, so the sooner the better.
          — Holding back hundreds of thousands of students from moving ahead in math is immoral.
          — Pushing tons of money into computer technology to support Common Core’s idiotic testing is asinine. Brown dumped another $450 millions into this bottomless hole just this year.
          — Holding students and teachers hostage to experimental test attempting to monitor ill-defined traits is wrong-headed

          Enough?

          • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

            Thank you, Ze’ev, for providing the answers yet again.

  3. Nicholas Tampio 2 years ago2 years ago

    Why is embracing the Common Core standards playing the adult in the room? Carol Burris wrote a book explaining the Common Core, and then once she saw what it meant in practice, became a vocal opponent. Other leading educators and scholars, including Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody, and Mercedes Schneider, have identified deep flaws with the standards themselves as well as the uses to which they have been put. It is naive to imagine that the Common … Read More

    Why is embracing the Common Core standards playing the adult in the room?

    Carol Burris wrote a book explaining the Common Core, and then once she saw what it meant in practice, became a vocal opponent. Other leading educators and scholars, including Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody, and Mercedes Schneider, have identified deep flaws with the standards themselves as well as the uses to which they have been put. It is naive to imagine that the Common Core may be disentangled from the testing, as Arne Duncan made clear to California. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/09/21/why-arne-duncan-is-threatening-to-withhold-funds-for-poor-kids/)

    Ms. Garcia, please recognize the danger posed by the Common Core. If push comes to shove, you can give back the $3,882,600 the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave the NEA to develop Common Core-aligned lessons. (http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database/Grants/2013/07/OPP1092055) Being an adult means not selling your soul.

    Replies

    • FloydThursby1941 2 years ago2 years ago

      I hate this constant carping on Common Core. I agree there are some issues, but they can be fixed. I think we need to put all these people in a room and no one can leave until they agree to an outline and address all the concerns everyone has. Fix all the most egregious things and accept it won't be perfect, but having nationwide standards and encouraging all kids to work harder … Read More

      I hate this constant carping on Common Core. I agree there are some issues, but they can be fixed. I think we need to put all these people in a room and no one can leave until they agree to an outline and address all the concerns everyone has. Fix all the most egregious things and accept it won’t be perfect, but having nationwide standards and encouraging all kids to work harder and having a way to differentiate teachers and students on a nationwide basis is generally a good thing. But there are all these little gripes. We should just say if you have complaints, you’re invited to a meeting, and everyone stay until they work out all the little differences. We’re asking hundreds of millions of people to embrace this as students, parents, teachers and grandparents. We really need to be the adults in the room and quit bickering. Another thing is, all the people in the big room have to agree not to whine and cry if they don’t get their way on each issue. It will never be perfect but it’s crucial we unify and make this work. Constant griping and negativity is counterproductive.

      • Leonard 2 years ago2 years ago

        Floyd, will you give a straightforward answer to a simple question?

        In the general field of K-12 public education, are you for local control or state control or federal control?

        • FloydThursby1941 2 years ago2 years ago

          Federal. We need a national strategy to be economically and educationally competitive. We tried state and local and we fell behind most advanced industrialized nations on test scores. Many countries are ahead of us on education. Many kids move, I'm rare that I'm in SF and grew up here and so are my kids. Most people don't stay in the City they grew up in, so local makes little sense, … Read More

          Federal. We need a national strategy to be economically and educationally competitive. We tried state and local and we fell behind most advanced industrialized nations on test scores. Many countries are ahead of us on education. Many kids move, I’m rare that I’m in SF and grew up here and so are my kids. Most people don’t stay in the City they grew up in, so local makes little sense, and state’s rights was never my thing. I am for federal control.

          • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

            Floyd, I love the way you just dismiss the unconstitutionality of federal usurpation of state’s rights so flippantly.

            Besides, why should we give Federal jurisdiction to education when it only pays for about 8%?

            Read this: http://www.lonang.com/foundation/5/f5E1d.htm

          • FloydThursby1941 2 years ago2 years ago

            Federal control of education has been growing since NCLB. It's unrealistic to think Obama or anyone else soon will say you know what, we were wrong, let's go back to 50 standards in 50 states, or 51 including DC. We're moving towards this direction. It is only going to slow up change if we resist, just like it will slow change if we insist on the status quo in terms of seniority/tenure. … Read More

            Federal control of education has been growing since NCLB. It’s unrealistic to think Obama or anyone else soon will say you know what, we were wrong, let’s go back to 50 standards in 50 states, or 51 including DC. We’re moving towards this direction. It is only going to slow up change if we resist, just like it will slow change if we insist on the status quo in terms of seniority/tenure. I think the courts have determined this isn’t illegal. I don’t think any country has improved education by having 50 standards. Italy, China, the UK and many other nations have improved by centralizing things. A State History class in high school can be unique, but overall most Americans move a lot. Rising standards is a good thing. In general, I am a federalist, though I do support some states legalizing drugs, gambling, even prostitution in the case of Nevada and Rhode Island, marijuana in the case of Colorado and Washington. However, in terms of education, I support federal standards, and so do the majority of Americans.

            Carping about this has been going on for well over a decade now and just slows things down. It won’t reverse. The trend is clear. It’s just negative energy to keep dreaming we’re going to go back to 51 standards. Even if there is a new system, it will be more like Common Core than what we had before 2000, which was enabling some children to graduate high school illiterate under the guise of social promotion and states rights. Remember, States Rights were used to justify segregation, slavery, even anti-homosexual discrimination. Sometimes the feds must lead. California had it’s chance and over 30-40 years dragged this state from #1 to #48 in educational test scores. We didn’t come up with anything wonderful with our state’s rights. It was downright embarrassing. Let’s move on.