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 team.
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.
President, National Council of Teachers of English