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Testimony of Jonathan Schleifer to the Governor’s Common Core Panel Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this conversation today. My name is Jonathan Schleifer, and I’m the Executive Director of Educators 4 Excellence – New York, a teacher-led education nonprofit with over 8,000 teacher–members in New York. I’m also a former teacher; for five years, I taught middle school in the Bronx. As an organization committed to bringing the voices of teachers to the policy conversation, for over a year we’ve been discussing the Common Core State Standards and their implementation with our members. We’ve held focus groups in schools and had conversations with teams of teachers throughout New York City— some as recently as yesterday. We’ve heard thoughtful feedback and keen insights from the very professionals who are on the front lines of this work. I am grateful for the opportunity to share what teachers are saying about the Common Core. We consistently hear math teachers speak about how Common Core has led students to deeper understanding of math concepts rather than simply solving problems through “tricks,” reinforced by mind-deadening worksheets. Students are learning to do for themselves, to be creative as they work through math problems. One sixth grade math teacher enthusiastically compared how Common Core math is now like teaching science –“it’s about exploration, experimentation, and a process of deep thinking,” he told me. English teachers have welcomed the fact that the standards have emphasized cross-disciplinary literacy, including a healthy dose of nonfiction texts. They can be certain that not only are their students connecting to the ideas or characters in the text, but they’re also deeply reading them, and deeply connecting to them. These teachers aren’t outliers. As a recent New York Times article reported: “In interviews with a range of teachers in New York City, most said their students were doing higher-quality work than they had ever seen...”

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! One recent poll found that 77% of teachers believe that Common Core will have a positive effect on their students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills. Only 1% - yes, just 1% - thought the standards would have a negative effect. We are seeing the promise of the Common Core realized step by step, through the hard work of teachers, students, and parents, all of whom are trying to master and then reach this new, incredibly high bar. A few weeks ago we assembled several teacher–leaders from across New York City. These teachers, with varying levels of experience who teach a variety of subjects, were unanimous in their support of the Common Core. They spoke about the way it challenged their students to move from rote memorization to critical thinking. It’s not surprising, therefore, that when the group discussed the options available to them this diverse team of teachers was clear in their thinking. Did they want to put the brakes on Common Core? They emphatically said no. Should there be a moratorium on stakes related to Common Core tests? Again - no. Finally, they reviewed a proposal for a change in state law that would ensure that no teacher could be rated ineffective solely on the basis of Common Core–aligned tests. Still no, explaining that they valued Common Core too much to risk watering down the urgency or fidelity with which the standards are implemented. They noted that the Common Core is not new – it’s been in the bloodstream since 2010 - but it took the recent accountability measures to spur the kind of investment in resources necessary for full implementation. They know too well how districts and schools work and how; without a strong accountability structure, the focus and resources needed to get this right will disappear. They also worried that removing assessment from teacher evaluation would lead us away from the multimeasure system that so many teachers advocated for.

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! If a moratorium on stakes ever became a reality, multi-measure would turn into a single measure: a principal’s subjective evaluation. A moratorium in other words would not only harm the move to implement Common Core; it would also call into question the efficacy and fairness of teacher evaluations. Common Core and teacher evaluation are critical tools in supporting our teachers as they teach our students. And neither students nor teachers benefit from changing the rules, adding unnecessary confusion to an already complex system.

The flywheel of Common Core is spinning – • • • • • districts are reallocating their resources, principals are learning to provide feedback and support, teachers are making critical pedagogical shifts, students are learning in exciting, unprecedented ways and across the state and country, we are all learning how to make sure that teaching and learning work for teachers and students. The flywheel is spinning - building critical momentum. Why disrupt the progress we’ve made, when we can move it forward with small but critical interventions? It certainly hasn’t been perfect, but implementing any system at this scale is going to have its challenges. Indeed, the best part of working with our teachers – who are so deeply committed to elevating the profession and improving how they teach their students – is that they don’t crumble in complaint. Instead, they remain solutions oriented. As advocates, policymakers, and community members who are tasked with supporting our teachers and students, it is our responsibility to stay solutions-oriented, as well. That’s not to say that our approach ought to be damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Rather, we should refocus our energies on addressing the real challenges that have come with rolling out such a dramatic shift in such a large school system.

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! Our teachers have several such suggestions for how we might do this. They made recommendations along three themes: 1. improved communications, 2. fewer, better, more transparent and useful standardized tests 3. multi-measure advancement criteria for students First, they pointed to a communication gap between teachers and policymakers, DOE officials, and school administrators. Many teachers fear, for example, that they will be rated ineffective if their students are not able to immediately reach the high bar that the Common Core sets. Others are worried that a huge number of teachers will be rated ineffective based on the new evaluation system, in part because of Common Core–aligned assessments. But thankfully neither of these fears is founded. In fact, teachers will be rated on their students’ growth – not absolute achievement – and in the rest of the state only a tiny fraction of teachers were rated ineffective last year, with no reason to think this year will be any different. The anxiety that some teachers are experiencing is real, but, as our teachers recommended, that fear can and should be ameliorated with accurate information and effective communication. Second, our teachers expressed concern about the use of standardized tests. Although they are committed to the notion that such assessments offer important information, our teachers also believe that they can be improved. As educators they understand that good assessments – whether standardized and statewide or the perplexed look from a student in response to a question – are valuable educational tools when wielded by professionals. That’s why they support the outlines of a proposal from Senator Flanagan of this committee to independently audit state tests to ensure they are of high quality and are Common Core aligned. These teachers also questioned the transparency of such tests; they believe that old tests should be promptly released so that teachers, parents, and students can view and use them as tools to improve. Similarly, results from standardized tests should be released the same year that the tests are given, so that teachers have enough time to adjust instruction and return to topics their students struggled with. ! %!

! Teachers understand that great instruction and well-written tests will result in high scores that are evidence of real learning. They want to see the tests so they can use the full data they provide to improve their instruction – not for drill and kill test preparation; which research shows has no impact on performance. Third, this team of teachers forcefully opposed the idea that any high-stakes decisions be made solely on the basis of a single test score. That, of course, goes for teachers in their evaluation system and the same principle of fairness should apply to students who are being held back or promoted simply because of a single test on a single day. We will be releasing a paper shortly laying out, in greater detail, each of these and additional teachers’ proposals. But the takeaway here is simple: teachers support the Common Core, and we do not have to backtrack – changing the rules for teachers and students – to implement it well. In fact – although we can and should adjust course as necessary – we cannot and must not backtrack if we hope to realize the promise of the Common Core for our students. The more I learn about the standards and witness teachers throughout New York City teach to them, the more I realize that my own best lessons as a teacher were Common Core lessons. But every child in New York deserves that quality of instruction, every day that they put their education our teachers’ hands. But what I saw – and what our teachers throughout the city are seeing every day – are students who are moving on to the next grade, entering high school, even graduating high school without being prepared for future success. Even the ones who do everything they are told to do find themselves unprepared for higher levels. Those gifted and lucky enough to attend college face the same reality – though our schools told them that they were ready for higher-level learning, they struggle to catch up. Teachers simply don’t think this is right. They are professionals who wake up every day and work against incredible odds, all with a single goal: to prepare their students – our students – for a bright future. They have seen what is possible with the Common Core, and they are eager to build on their progress and lessons-alreadylearned to do their best for their kids.

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! It’s not easy, but our teachers are committed to doing the necessary work – to push themselves and their students – because the stakes are just too high. Thank you for all your hard work.

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