Randi Weingarten and the Hypocrisy of Fear

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and not those of the Manhattan Young Democrats as an organization.

After a number of education-related jobs including subbing, teaching religious school, and working at overnight camps, Jesse Schneiderman is a high school social studies teacher at a charter school in the South Bronx. Jesse believes that, while we’d love to eliminate a good deal of testing, that it’s important to work to live with it rather than against it.  

During a recent speaking engagement at the Association for a Better New York, Randi Weingarten (President of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s largest teachers’ union) spoke about the need to delay the use of the new Common Core tests in evaluation of teachers due to the fear that students will perform poorly. A question Weingarten herself posited to the group illustrates the very problem with her constant refusal to accept new tests and standards in evaluation: “Is this about deep learning or desperate cramming?”

As a Social Studies teacher in a New York City school, I constantly feel the pressure of the new Common Core standards. Granted, I have it the easiest. Throw a primary source at my students or have them write a letter as a freed slave, and I’m aligning with these reading and writing-heavy standards. My students are learning deeply, despite the fact that I need to prepare them for the New York State Regents exam in June.

Weingarten’s quote illustrates the pure ignorance and hubris of the motto under which which the AFT and teachers’ unions everywhere have operated for years: refute everything, even if it makes sense. By using these new tests without giving teachers time to prepare students directly for the test, we are effectively eliminating the “Teach to the Test” problem that armchair educational policymakers love to harp on. If teachers are judged on these standards without prepping students directly for them, aren’t they the most accurate measure of student achievement available?

When Weingarten asked her revealing question earlier this week, she was effectively answering it as well. Without test prep, we’re actually able to measure the “deep learning” she mentioned. Only once test prep occurs (probably in time for the next school year), “desperate cramming” becomes the norm. Common Core standards are tough and it’s terrifying being judged on tests we (and our students) have never seen, but the one thing I’ve found as a teacher is that when I challenge my students, they rise to the occasion. We should give them that chance, and stop delaying.