EdSource is conducting a series of interviews featuring educators’ experiences with the Common Core State Standards. For more information about the Common Core, check out our guide.
Dean Vogel is the outgoing president of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association, the state’s largest labor union. Before becoming CTA president in 2011, Vogel served as the organization’s vice president and secretary-treasurer, following more than three decades as a teacher and counselor in the Vacaville Unified School District in Solano County. He will step down in June, when current CTA Vice President Eric C. Heins will take over.
The following questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Does the CTA support the Common Core State Standards?
Absolutely! We are 100 percent behind the Common Core.
But it’s important for you to understand that that is really a significantly different statement than “We are 100 percent behind the Common Core as it is being presented in many of the districts around the state of California.”
Additionally, there is, more often than not, a substantive difference between what the Common Core is and what it’s being portrayed as. …and that is why you will find so many teachers around the state saying things like, “I hate the Common Core.” And, at the same time, you’ll find teachers saying, “Oh, my gosh! The Common Core is such a relief.”
The CTA conducted a survey last year that showed that half of the state’s teachers gave failing grades to the Common Core. To what extent are the state’s teachers really on board?
The State Board of Education adopted the Common Core in 2010, and very shortly thereafter, in some districts, the superintendent and the chapter president got together really early and said, “We’ve got to figure out a way to help our faculties deal with this issue. Let’s start planning how we’re going to go about doing that.”
So there was a joint labor-management collaborative effort, where, at the building level, at the elementary schools, at the middle and high schools, the faculties were working collaboratively. We were given time during the duty day to do this work, or paid for extra time outside of the duty day to actually look at the Common Core, look at existing curricula, make determinations about what’s going to work, and make recommendations about potential programs that either could be bought or give them the time to develop curricula.
When I go into those districts and talk about the Common Core, teachers say things like, “I’m just so grateful that I’m finally getting the chance to be the pedagogical decision-maker in my own classroom, and that I’ve had the opportunity from the ground floor to build this curriculum.”
So compare that with what (other) teachers are being given. They’re being handed curriculum that they’ve never seen before, that they’ve had no hand in putting together. They’re giving benchmarked tests, being used not for them to differentiate instruction, but for them to identify who are the kids that are below the proficiency line… and groom them so they’ll be better test-takers. And they’re saying, “Well, the Common Core is no different than all the nonsense that I’ve had shoved down my throat.”
…It’s not surprising that half of the teachers would say they hate the Common Core. In the last 15 years… teachers have increasingly been told not only what they have to teach, but how to teach it.
We’re all victims of the culture that we’ve been complicit in developing, that basically says, “Somebody high above is going to judge us based on the way our kids perform on a standardized test.”
Do you have any idea what percent of districts have been so thoughtful and proactive, as you describe?
Very, very few. Out of the thousand or so districts in California, this might have happened in just 25 or 30 of them. And so what happened, what we did organizationally, about four years ago, by using some of our own resources and getting a grant from the National Education Association, we put together a Common Core training at our summer institute.
It basically says to the professional, “We trust you to be the pedagogical decision-maker in the classroom. This is where we think kids should go. You decide how to get there.”
And so we started doing trainings like that and… we’d get 300 or 400 teachers at a time. But when you figure we’ve got 300,000 of them or more in California, that’s not very many.
It seems that many critics of the Common Core are really more opposed to the testing culture you cite.
You know, I sat with the secretary of education, Arne Duncan. As the new president of CTA, the word around the place was I was this new thinker, and Secretary Duncan was courting me, and we had a lot of opportunities to talk one-to-one. I told him, in the very early days, “You have got to figure out how to separate testing from the Common Core. Education is not a race, you know. Kids don’t learn at the same pace, for crying out loud. Anybody who’s ever had more than one child understands that they grow at different rates, and they have different interests, and their curiosities spark over different things.”
He finally stopped talking to me, because I finally had to say, “Look. You just need to understand what you’re doing in the department is at best counterproductive. At worst, it’s destructive.” And we’ve been watching it unfold around the country since then.
And, to our good fortune, the difference in California is that the policy people are pretty much all lining up. The governor and the governor’s staff, the State Board of Education, the state superintendent of public instruction, the legislative leadership, the teachers unions… all of these different groups are pretty much all on the same page, that we’ve got to go slowly. We’ve got to first separate the development of curriculum based on standards from the development of the assessment, and we’ve got to bring it all together in a very thoughtful way.
Are teachers complaining of fatigue when it comes to learning the new standards? Do you hear any complaints specifically that there are simply too many standards?
“Too many standards” was really consistent with the old California standards that were a mile wide and an inch thick. There was just not enough time. I heard a lot more complaining about the old standards than I have about the new.
On the other hand, teachers are talking about being fatigued and overworked. They’re continually being asked to do more and more with less and less. We’re the eighth-largest economy in the world. We’re 47th in the country in funding. We’re last in counselors. Last in librarians. Last in class size. I mean it’s difficult to find a teacher who’s not fatigued and feeling overworked and disrespected, or at least under-respected.
I don’t think it’s as related to the new standards as it is just to the conditions of teaching and learning, due to the fact that we’re so severely underfunded.
The California Legislature authorized $1.5 billion last year to implement the Common Core. Will that be enough?
Here’s the predicament: Districts were given the discretion to use that money however they wanted. And let’s say a district knows they’re going to be using computer-adaptive assessments – and the most recent computers they have are old Apple IIe’s that are all stacked in a closet in the library. And they have no wi-fi connection. What are those districts going to use that money for? They’re going to be using it to buy hardware and bandwidth. And so that’s what happened with a lot of that money.
So the professional learning opportunities for teachers, which were absolutely essential if you really want to move thoughtfully and deliberately in implementing this, didn’t happen nearly to the degree that they should have happened. So, absolutely, we believe we need more money. But we also understand the reality of the situation we’re in, and that means that most districts are still needing infrastructure. So the best that I can say is that we’ve got to remember this isn’t a race.
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Gary Ravani 8 years ago8 years ago
Well stated, Dean. As you point out those districts that have developed a tradition of collaboration between the teachers' union and management are those districts where implementation of CCSS is going the most smoothly and will translate into improved instructional practice and improved learning opportunities for students. There are a number of districts around the nation that have practices that result in improved outcomes for disadvantaged students and the collaborative model is a key strategy … Read More
Well stated, Dean.
As you point out those districts that have developed a tradition of collaboration between the teachers’ union and management are those districts where implementation of CCSS is going the most smoothly and will translate into improved instructional practice and improved learning opportunities for students.
There are a number of districts around the nation that have practices that result in improved outcomes for disadvantaged students and the collaborative model is a key strategy used in all of them for all kinds of activities and CCSS has just became another one of those.
As you have stated key officials at the state level have done what they could to this point in making the transition to the new standards as painless as possible. They are handicapped by the usual conditions in CA of education being under funded and over politicized. The lack of funding (currently being remedied somewhat if still not meeting the average of the nation) means difficulty in proving for new materials and appropriate professional development. And the political aspects mean an appropriate amount of time for materials development, professional development, and classroom instruction is not available without the usual suspects in the “ain’t the public schools just awful” lobby from raising hysterical cries about the loss of (non)critical testing data and how the school professionals are “afraid of acceptability.”
Then, as you (Dean) note, there are those top-down districts in CA where collaboration has never been the operating system and where standards has been wildly misinterpreted to mean “standardization.” This has meant pacing guides and highly scripted curriculum. If the CCSS have any value it is found mostly in the fact that it hits the reset button and allows classroom practice to return to control of the teacher. If it is done right, and that creates a problem because some district management folks can’t get out of their own way let alone the way of the classroom professionals. This has translated into evaluation of teachers that focuses on whether or not they are on the same page or lesson as their colleagues at that grade level or content area. This has eased their burden for evaluation as it focuses on a “metric,” but it one more about quantity (how much time, how many work sheets, what scores, etc.) than it is about quality. Some in management should be given a break here as CA has the fewest administrators per student/teacher in the nation and shortcuts needed to be found.
Whatever the actual intent of the original backers of CCSS, one of the real consequences may be for teachers, if allowed the instructional “room,” to get back to delving more deeply into real meaning, involving students in more complex tasks, and making learning a joy rather than a burden linked to bubbling in answer sheets.
Don 8 years ago8 years ago
Critical thinking is great unless that thinking is critical of Common Core. Then it has to be squash to get everyone on the same page. And what page is that? Page 1.
SD Parent 8 years ago8 years ago
Dean Vogel says, "...all of these different groups are pretty much all on the same page, that we’ve got to go slowly. We’ve got to first separate the development of curriculum based on standards from the development of the assessment..." Nice that everyone involved, including the teachers, think they have this luxury of time. It would have been the right methodology, but that's not what is happening. The kids don't have the luxury of time. … Read More
Dean Vogel says, “…all of these different groups are pretty much all on the same page, that we’ve got to go slowly. We’ve got to first separate the development of curriculum based on standards from the development of the assessment…”
Nice that everyone involved, including the teachers, think they have this luxury of time. It would have been the right methodology, but that’s not what is happening. The kids don’t have the luxury of time. They only get one shot of being taught 3rd grade, 8th grade, 10th grade. And while I can see the SBAC being mostly a benchmark for the first few years for a 3rd grader, those students in middle and high school have very little time to figure it all out before encountering high-stakes testing that focuses on the Common Core techniques of deeper understanding, critical thinking, etc. In case Dean forgot, the SBAC test is being used to waive proficiency tests for entering Community Colleges and CSUs (really ironic when only 37%-43% are expected to rank as proficient on the SBAC test). And the SAT is morphing in early 2016 to include “deep thinking” questions that measure these Common Core knowledge and skills, followed by changes in the ACT.
So while the state as a whole “slows it all down,” figures it all out, and works to lower expectations for students on the SBAC test, hundreds of thousands of kids in middle and high school get passed along to the next grade without the skills and knowledge that will be expected of them in a few years. Last I checked, it IS a race to get into college.
Jann Geyer Taylor 8 years ago8 years ago
I don' t speak for all teachers, but I will share what my department colleagues and I talk about. We don't feel we have the luxury of time, but we don't have any time to develop the more demanding and deeper thinking materials except after we have taught six and a half hours. For that time with students-which for us is non-stop, constant interaction-we also have to prepare the materials and plans for … Read More
I don’ t speak for all teachers, but I will share what my department colleagues and I talk about. We don’t feel we have the luxury of time, but we don’t have any time to develop the more demanding and deeper thinking materials except after we have taught six and a half hours. For that time with students-which for us is non-stop, constant interaction-we also have to prepare the materials and plans for that day, the next, the week, the month, the year. It has to build and flow. My best thinking time is spent with children and I am drained at the end because every minute I am responding to their needs, thinking about what question or response will push them deeper or support them better. On weekends, I have to choose between responding to my students’ writing -and 64 writers produce a lot of writing-and reading the research and strategies for Common Core. I don’t think I have the luxury of time. Come spend a week of my professional life: discuss the professional book and apply ideas to the lessons you will teach this week, prepare the materials and lessons, lead 30 different lessons, conference with each child twice, read volumes of writing, respond to that writing in the way each writer needs, attend special education parent meetings ( yes, about one a week), the staff meeting, the school leadership meeting, write a daily note home to parents and walk with me at lunch while we try to talk out the research project kinks.
Cynthia Eagleton 8 years ago8 years ago
I like the insights that Dean Vogel shares regarding teachers and Common Core. But... I do think there is a difference between Common Core and some of the many other "here's what you will now teach" stuff that has come down the pike over the years. Mercedes Schneider, a teacher in Louisiana, has been researching who and what created Common Core. Her book about it will be out in June. https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/my-second-book-common-core-dilemma-who-owns-our-schools-coming-june-12-2015/ She took the … Read More
I like the insights that Dean Vogel shares regarding teachers and Common Core.
But… I do think there is a difference between Common Core and some of the many other “here’s what you will now teach” stuff that has come down the pike over the years.
Mercedes Schneider, a teacher in Louisiana, has been researching who and what created Common Core. Her book about it will be out in June. https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/my-second-book-common-core-dilemma-who-owns-our-schools-coming-june-12-2015/
She took the time to painstakingly transcribe Yong Zhao’s keynote address at the NPE Conference in Chicago.
This section – https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2015/05/10/yong-zhaos-npe-speech-transcribed-part-iv/ – includes Zhao discussion of Common Core.
Here’s a quote:
Now what we have to think about, why did we, in [the] education system, what has happened here? And why do we do this model in a traditional way? The model, this traditional model of education is trying to homogenize people because we are preparing people for [a] different society. So, this model, this is something I want to really encourage [you to] think [about], produce[s] better scores, if you are good at this thing. Imagine: Same curriculum, same teaching, you exclude people who are not good at this thing, you have good scores. You have narrowed the variation. But has tremendous [what I] call “side effects.”
When we talk about education, we think most of them are simply innocent. Like, Common Core. People say, “Oh, it’s better math scores, better math standards, English standards. That might even be true. Might even be true. But it consists of two subjects [to] judge everybody, everybody goes through a system, is wrong. That’s why I’ve debated with many people. [applause] Not over the, not over the subject standards themselves, but over the philosophy of two subjects. To me, I’ve [argued this] I am not against standards. I’m not even against the Common Core if they are not “common” or “core.” [laughter] It’s a, if they are not “common” or “core,” I am fine. But to make something “common” or “core,” that’s the problem. It’s called “side effects.”
You know, in medicine, we always talk about side effects. That is, when you gain something, you lose something. You know, when you buy Tylenol—by the way, you should always read those warning labels. [laughter] The warning label says, “Cures runny nose but may cause a bleeding stomach.” [laughter] Right? Did you read those things? You read? In education, in policy and practice, educational research, have you ever seen a warning label accompanied with a book, a program? When vendors come to school to sell you this and they show you all these charts: “Look, we close [the] achievement gap this fast, and we do these things.” All of the early reading programs I’ve seen, they should come with some label like this: “You know, this may increase your testing scores in reading but may make your children hate reading forever.” [applause] And [there is] enough evidence on the global scale of how, when you choose something, you lose something, so when you celebrate this rise in test scores, ask, what did you give up? Did you cut out other curriculum? Did children lose something else?
What I hear from K12 teachers is different from what Dean is sharing here. It’s more like what Yong Zhao is sharing.
I don’t know how many K12 teachers feel safe to share what they really think here in Edsource comments – or at school unless it’s in the faculty room when the admin isn’t around. They definitely feel safe to share it over the kitchen table and on social media which is where I see and hear it.
That piece by Zhao is great. I recommend you read the whole thing.
Don 8 years ago8 years ago
Cynthia, what isn’t made clear in your comments is that Vogel is part of the Gates funded PR campaign to push the Common Core because there is so much vocal opposition from voices like those of Schneider and Zhao. What they are addressing is the nature of national standards in which local and individual ideas about education are squelched for the “greater good”.
navigio 8 years ago8 years ago
I've also been following Zhao's speech transcription by Mercedes. I agree that it's entertaining and he's a pretty funny guy and I do appreciate Mercedes taking the time to transcribe his words, however, I don't know how seriously we're supposed to be talking his comments. First of all, there's this notion that common core, due apparently to its very name, is going to make all our children common. The idea behind every content standard is … Read More
I’ve also been following Zhao’s speech transcription by Mercedes. I agree that it’s entertaining and he’s a pretty funny guy and I do appreciate Mercedes taking the time to transcribe his words, however, I don’t know how seriously we’re supposed to be talking his comments.
First of all, there’s this notion that common core, due apparently to its very name, is going to make all our children common. The idea behind every content standard is a minimum, a baseline, dare I say, a ‘core’ of skills and content that is ‘common’ across disciplines. Stating the expectation that a child learn how to read is not legislating that child cannot learn more than just how to read. Same goes for arithmetic. This is no different than previous standards, nor than the tests which were based on them.
Then in the section you quote he goes on to state that his primary problem with common core is it’s only two subjects. And the audience applauds! Seriously? A content standard is generally limited to a single subject. This does not mean there cannot be more than one of them. In fact, we have others, even now. And common core explicitly mentions some of these others and even that it is not intended to replace them. It is true that it matters how we prioritize them relative to each other, but that is not something about common core per se. That is something about how we implement punitive measures. Again, nothing specific to common core in that regard. The issue existed in the past, even independently of the standards and the fact that each state had it’s own.
Furthermore, why was the commonality of previous standards at a state level somehow not a problem even though they encompassed learning for millions of children?
Where I agree with him completely is our ignorance to the concept of tradeoffs. This is where the notion of prioritizing only one or two disciplines over everything else can really have an impact. (this denial impacts almost every aspect of our culture and politics btw, not just education). If anything, this is due to a lack of critical thinking in our culture, something that cc is ostensibly intended to address.
At some level, we’ve made our goal for education to serve society, yet in doing so, we’ve forgotten that society is made up of individuals and that education should also serve them. I think most parents recognize this wrt their own children. And I expect most teachers recognize this in spite of what happens at the content standards level. Where it does get lost is in the media, in our legislature and in administration.
Anyway, I also recommend everyone read or watch his speech. If you do so adopting one of the supposed goals of common core, which is critical thinking, then you will also naturally question his claims. At minimum, it will make you think. And you’re guaranteed to laugh.
Lastly, everyone should just read the standards. They really aren’t that long. A couple of quick quotes:
“…while the standards make references to some particular forms of content…they do not–indeed cannot–enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn.”
“While the standards focus on what is most essential, they do not describe all that can or should be taught.”
“…advanced work in such areas as literature, composition, language, and journalism… should provide the next logical step up from the … readiness baseline [there’s that word again] established here.”
“No set of … standards can fully reflect the great variety in abilities, needs, learning rates, and achievement levels of students in any given classroom.”
“While the ELA and content area literacy components described herein are critical to college and career readiness, they do not define the whole of such readiness.”
“Students require a wide-ranging, rigorous academic preparation and, … attention to such matters as social, emotional, and physical development and approaches to learning.”
etc, etc, etc…
Don 8 years ago8 years ago
Common Core opposition is increasing. While there's no definitive study to clarify the motivations behind this opposition, I suspect that most of it has to do principled distrust of a national policy in place of what historically has been an individual, family and community concern. That CCSS needed to coerce states towards adoption speaks volumes about the nature of big government and its unwillingness to reach out to the constituency of the American … Read More
Common Core opposition is increasing. While there’s no definitive study to clarify the motivations behind this opposition, I suspect that most of it has to do principled distrust of a national policy in place of what historically has been an individual, family and community concern. That CCSS needed to coerce states towards adoption speaks volumes about the nature of big government and its unwillingness to reach out to the constituency of the American family to push through national policies. Nothing in government is more personal and affects the family more than the public schools. The civic nature of public education is where the partnership of government and the individual takes on its greatest significance in a democracy. Instead of selling Common Core to the states on its merits, a scheme was devised to use the Great Recession and the poverty it caused public schools as a lever to bully states towards adoption. A small cadre of CCSS technocrats and profiteers conspired with the Obama Administration to do an end run around a formal ratification process (due to the laws against one) and instead forced national standards upon us by fiat. We have had absolutely no say in these changes to our schools.
So, Navigio, are you claiming we need Common Core because we lack critical thinking in America? Those that assert the value of Common Core’s “critical thinking” and buy into the idea that it is somehow a new pedagogy, are the same as those who willing accept the circumvention of our historic and democratic ideals and freedoms which rightly distrust and disavow federal intrusion upon states, communities and individuals without a constitutional process.
Moreover, CCSS was sold to us as a way to insure that all students met the same basis academic standards. The example of traveling military families was used, despite the fact that regional variations in standards does not account for the fact that variations in outcome follow socio-economic status, not states or districts. At best. a national standard might have some efficacy nationally if all other more important learning factors were the same.The CCSS has been a spitball that detracts from those functions of a quality education that would indeed change outcome.
All states have had standards for at least 20 years and still 40% of incoming college students require some remediation. Is the 40% a function of those states with the “lesser” standards? Absolutely not. Standards are not the problem, which isn’t to say each locality shouldn’t have them. CCSS is a pretender to the throne in any case. It has lowered the bar n what students need to know, particularly in math. CCSS actually slows down the math sequence and progression towards college readiness.
Then there’s the problem of aligning standards with a barrage of tests used to sort, stack and rank students and teachers despite the obvious problems of the validity of tests themselves and the whole notion that we can measure the very human outcome of student learning like we could rats in a lab.
Don 8 years ago8 years ago
Reposted - If there is any question as to who is correct, Ze’ve or TheMorrigan (see last article), just read what CTA head, Dean Vogel has to say. He guilelessly makes the case, for how bad policy and implementation hamstrings the standards, the Common Core, of which he is fully supportive though most of his teachers aren’t. Strangely, he claims that all the policy people are lined up in support, the Gov, SBE, … Read More
Reposted – If there is any question as to who is correct, Ze’ve or TheMorrigan (see last article), just read what CTA head, Dean Vogel has to say. He guilelessly makes the case, for how bad policy and implementation hamstrings the standards, the Common Core, of which he is fully supportive though most of his teachers aren’t. Strangely, he claims that all the policy people are lined up in support, the Gov, SBE, SSPI, legislature, the union, yet with all these ducks in a row the implementation of CCSS is a mess. So Ze’ev is clearly correct, the standards without the implementation policy are useless and more than that – destructive. In the meantime, what does Mr. Vogel advise? Patience. Tell that to all the students who have to put up with this stupidity.
Jason May 8 years ago8 years ago
These are weasel words and excuses. I can't tell from Vogel's responses above just what CTA is in favor of. It sounds like the only thing that CTA is doing is offering "training at our summer institute". Where? Taught by whom? With what expertise? Who pays for it? Why would they expect more than a tiny number of teachers to attend? Why should a principal or district superintendent (who controls the local budget) believe that CTA … Read More
These are weasel words and excuses.
I can’t tell from Vogel’s responses above just what CTA is in favor of. It sounds like the only thing that CTA is doing is offering “training at our summer institute”. Where? Taught by whom? With what expertise? Who pays for it? Why would they expect more than a tiny number of teachers to attend? Why should a principal or district superintendent (who controls the local budget) believe that CTA has anything useful to offer?
To parents, Common Core is whatever their local school teachers and administrators say that it is. CTA’s opinion is irrelevant.
FloydThursby1941 8 years ago8 years ago
As long as CTA opposes Vergara and supports it costing over 40k to fire Mark Berndt, a teacher who got a 26 year prison sentence and the union vigorously defended in L.A. as if he were a noble cause, for molestation, I don't think we should listen to anything they have to say. They are dishonest. I hear them in meetings all the time say "we just want due process" when in reality, … Read More
As long as CTA opposes Vergara and supports it costing over 40k to fire Mark Berndt, a teacher who got a 26 year prison sentence and the union vigorously defended in L.A. as if he were a noble cause, for molestation, I don’t think we should listen to anything they have to say. They are dishonest. I hear them in meetings all the time say “we just want due process” when in reality, they defend every bad teacher anyone ever tries to fire and they never mention the hugeley burdensome process in place currently. They just lobbied to defeat a change of this in the legislature and are hoping to win on appeal. They used their money and dues to defeat it. The proposal in the State Legislature would have given teachers the same due process almost every other government job has, just not the current one which caused under 100 total to be fired in 10 years statewide. I’ve seen the effects. Teachers miss far more days of work as a percentage than people who work 60-70 more days a year and are less responsive to management than those in private business. I won’t listen to CTA on anything until they put kids first.
CarolineSF 8 years ago8 years ago
Just pointing out that unions did not vigorously defend Mark Berndt in L.A. Even non-fans of teachers’ unions who’ve looked into the whole disaster have admitted that it was LAUSD’s administrative bungling — management, not the union — that left him in the classroom for a very long time after reports first surfaced.