Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Open Letter about Common Core State Standards from NCTE President Kylene Beers

July 28, 2009

Dear NCTE Members:

I have traveled throughout the United States this summer working with
teachers across content areas and grade levels, in large urban areas
and small rural communities. In almost every place, teachers have
asked what NCTE’s response is to the Common Core State Standards for
language arts. At times, some teachers have misunderstood what
NCTE’s role has been in the development of these standards. Other
teachers have taken the time to write to me, with concern, about what
the Council’s response will be to these national standards.

I offer this letter to members to clarify what the Council’s role
has been in the development of the Common Core State Standards with
the hope that you will feel assured about the direction of the
Council, the commitment of the Executive Committee to upholding
long-standing Council values, and the promise of this president to
always keep the needs of teachers and students first.

This spring, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)
convened a work group to draft a common core of state standards in
math and language arts for grades K–12. These college and workforce
readiness standards were written by a group whose names were released
to the public on July 1 by the National Governors Association, a
partner in the initiative. While drafting the standards document, this
work group received feedback from individuals. Though one member of
NCTE, Carol Jago, agreed to serve as a member of the feedback group,
she did not represent NCTE in that capacity.

In late June, the Chiefs invited NCTE to offer a response to the
draft of the standards. Upon receiving that request, the Executive
Committee met (via phone and Web conferencing) and decided that
providing input on the draft was more advisable than not. It’s
obvious that we will have national twelfth-grade exit standards. As of
now, 46 states have agreed to adopt them. Refusing to offer input
means having no chance of influencing this document. I’m not naïve
enough to think that all suggestions for revisions we make will be
followed. At this point, though, the Executive Committee is dedicated
to providing the input needed so that this document will be as aligned
as possible with NCTE positions on key issues—positions enacted
through democratic processes by NCTE members.

So, the Executive Committee has convened a blue-ribbon panel of NCTE
members to review the standards with NCTE policies and positions in
mind. Last week, this group received a copy of the ELA common core
standards draft, and it is currently beginning its review. Unlike the
feedback group that provided advice to the CCSSO from each
individual’s perspective, this NCTE review team will review the
standards through the lens of NCTE policy.

I have no idea what the Chiefs will do with the report they will
receive from NCTE during the second week of August. What I do know is
that if we refuse to be a part of this process, then any chance NCTE
has of making the document better is lost. Perhaps the Chiefs will
disregard any suggestions for revisions that are made. But perhaps
not. That chance is why the Executive Committee chose to accept the
offer to provide a review.

At this point, it would be premature for me to speculate on what will
happen next. I know that after the standards document is completed
(early September) and released to the public, then the Chiefs will
begin work on grade-level benchmarks. The Chiefs have invited NCTE to
be a part of that process, but the Executive Committee has not yet
addressed this request. It seemed hasty at best, ill advised at worst,
to agree to do that before studying the end-of-grade-12 standards
document carefully. That is what is happening now with the review

I want each NCTE member to be assured that the Executive Committee is
committed to upholding NCTE policies and positions. If it becomes
apparent that the standards document stands in opposition to those
policies and positions, then NCTE will not hesitate to point out the
discrepancies. But to speak against the document before it has been
reviewed could undercut our ability to offer a credible and cogent
critique later in the standards setting process. Additionally, NCTE
will continue to support the position that while standards—a policy
document—might be created by policy groups, assessments of student
learning and curriculum/pedagogical choices that lead to achievement
of standards are best left to teachers.

My goal for the Council is that policymakers turn to us first when
they address policies and practices in English language arts. So, yes,
I was disappointed that the Chiefs did not consult NCTE when they
began their work on the standards document. However, once they did
turn to us, I was happy that the Executive Committee agreed to provide
input. At this point, we are cautiously cooperative. If that
cooperative stance proves ineffective, then we will be respectfully
vocal with our concerns.

Kylene Beers

President, National Council of Teachers of English

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