Good morning. First I'd like to thank Paul Toner and the MTA for inviting me to speak today. It's the end of Teacher Appreciation Week, so before I begin, I just wanted to take a moment and thank some teachers. My fourth grade teacher, Mr. St. John is here today from New Bedford. You didn't know this at the time, but I was growing up in a house where my father told me that, “I should use my head for something other than a hatrack” and that when “God asked for brains I thought he said trains and said no thanks I have a set”. If he wasn't pleased with the homework I did, he'd rip it up and if he really lost his temper he'd throw me against something solid. He was a social worker. Your class came with mandatory membership into the Stamp Club. That hour that we spent in the cafeteria each week looking at stamps was one extra hour that I didn't have to go home. Your class was the first one where I began to realize that school could save my life. Thank you for giving me a counter narrative from the one I received at home. A quick thank you to Mr. David Pepin and Ms. Deb Borden for giving me the space and the confidence to write, and to encourage me to keep doing so. Mr. Pepin pushed me into AP English and Ms. Borden made me the editor of the Alpha, our creative writing magazine. Their passion and enthusiasm for all things literature was infectious. I'm thankful for catching what they had.
I thought I’d talk with you all a little bit about the Common Core. But I don’t want to talk about the ELA, or Math, or Science, or Social Studies standards. There is another common core that has been out for quite some time, and for some reason, it hasn’t made national news. I haven’t even come across it on Diane Ravitch’s blog, which is saying something . Perhaps that’s because it’s not in print, and the assessment takes a lifetime to complete. This common core is already in place in every school, in every city, and in every state. These aren't a set of standards, but a set of teachers.
For these teachers, there has always been a common set of standards that they've adhered to. They know the importance of close reading and analytical writing, and they also know the importance of love, laughter, hugs, high fives, and the daily, “Good morning Omar, how are you today?”. They are purposeful in their choice of literature, aware that the right book can not only challenge a student but challenge a stereotype and the lessons they teach not only cross disciplines, but cross the thresholds of their schools and into their students’ homes and their lives. These teachers know that connected learning doesn’t necessarily mean the use of technology. It means showing students that what they are learning inside the school also matters outside in the world. And not five years from now, but right now. I know because I was lucky to have a few of them growing up in the New Bedford Public Schools.
When I was a ninth grader, school was not my priority. My first priority was figuring out how to stop my mother from sobbing each night at the table, worrying how her waitressing job was going to pay the rent that kept rising. My first priority was finding the longest, slowest way home so that I could avoid a confrontation with my brother that would end up with him throwing knives at my door. My first priority was surviving, and unfortunately, Raising Yourself 101 was not currently being offered at my school. Since my mother had to work from 3-11, there was no adult at home to go to for advice, no adult to check homework, and no adult to ask “how was your day?” But there were those NBHS teachers. Mr. Pepin. Ms. Borden. They always had a smile, always had a room for me to work in after-school, and they never, ever failed to ask how my day was going. This is the common core in action.
Teachers do this every day without any mandate or any extra funding. The stakes are so much higher than any exam that is in place right now. For the common core teachers, assessment goes beyond any curriculum standards. Common Core teachers are experts at assessing. They assess how many students know how to analyze style, and they assess how close Marquis is to not coming to school altogether, or whether or not Elizabeth’s black eye was really due to a fall on the stairs, or something else that she’s not telling. Common Core teachers know that a score on a test can’t talk. It won’t tell us the whole story. These teachers know that a student like Dennis who scores Needs Improvement, is only half right. Sure, he needs improvement in his writing. He also needs improvement with the safety in his neighborhood, his mother’s coverage in her health insurance, and the availability of grocery stores within walking distance of his home.
If you've been following the news lately, then you know that the Common Core has been under attack across our state and country. In my own hometown of New Bedford, test prep is triumphing over teaching, and scores are superseding the safety of staff and students. New hires are made based on obedience rather than experience. Scare tactics and bullying have even been used to try and disband the Common Core. Fortunately, the MTA and the unions realize how critical this Core is for student success, so they have fought back against tyrannical superintendents and administrators. Quite frankly more teachers should follow the lead of the NBEA and speak up and vote no confidence for these anti- Common Core activists.
So now when people talk to you about the Common Core, you have some extra information that you can give them. To my colleagues and former teachers in Northampton, Springfield and New Bedford, please know that the most important Common Core always has been and always will be you, the teachers. Keep fighting the bureaucracy, keep speaking up for teachers and for students. Continue to vote no confidence for ANY superintendent, school board, and policymaker that tells you that you are the problem instead of listening to you for the solutions. No amount of technology will ever replace you because our students need humanity more than they need technology. The true assessment of your work will not be a single score tied to an evaluation, or what is written about you in the Standard Times or the Republican, but the future of our world in the years to come. I am very hopeful though, because from what the policymakers are saying, the Common Core is here to stay. Thank you.