The Common Core-teacher evaluation-education reform argument is the most highly charged issue going, and the most confusing. Comment boards and letters to the editor are filled with views cemented in absolute, vicious, seemingly God-given certainty. One I received included the phrases "typewriter-wielding predators like yourself," and, "God, you're a stupid, cowardice fool." For starters.
But most readers have more questions than ferociously held beliefs. "Is this Common Core thingie any good?" they ask, and, "Should my kids take the test?"
The answer to both questions is yes, but that doesn't answer a deeper question: "Could you explain what in the heck is going on here? Our parents had no idea what went on in school . . . Could we go back to that?"
With at least 150,000 kids statewide opting out of English tests last week and the math tests starting Wednesday, the best way to evaluate the rhetoric is to look at motivation.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo: He's accused of wanting to destroy the teachers unions, hollow out and privatize public education, and break the spirits of children via the yoke of standardized tests. But why would a Democrat whose national political aspirations would depend on unions make attracting union venom a priority? And why would he want to break the spirits of children? It would be far more politically beneficial for Cuomo to keep a performance evaluation system that says only 1 percent of teachers are ineffective and tests that say nearly all students are above average.
Cuomo's critics say he wants to please his deep-pocketed charter and private school-supporting donors, but he has proven he can raise an almost infinite amount of money. The most reasonable explanation is that he thinks what he's doing will improve education.
Pearson Learning: Critics complain that education is in the hands of companies that feed off students like buzzards picking at dead marmots. But, putting aside the fact that textbook publishing and standardized testing have been for-profit enterprises since . . . always, how would test designer Pearson PLC's profit motive be served by producing ineffective tests? It wouldn't. The tests aren't perfect, but demonizing Pearson, which has a huge interest in making them great, doesn't make sense.
The Common Core cabal: Governors and state education bosses got business and higher-ed leaders and K-12 teachers together to create standards for academic achievement. Why would they make them inappropriate?
New York State United Teachers:The union has fought every rigorous, objective way of evaluating teachers and every attempt to make it easier to dismiss bad ones. The union's motivation is the protection of its members, period, regardless of what effect it has on students.
NYSUT has 600,000 members. How many of the kids who opted out are the children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews of those members? How many more are related to the 300,000 Civil Service Employees Association members in New York, or the other public union members (cops, firefighters, postal workers, etc.) who might support NYSUT out of solidarity?
So how many of the families whose kids opted out actually had no dog in this fight?
It's not unfair to argue Cuomo is misguided, or Pearson tests are dreck, or that the Common Core folks are wrong. But it's irrational to demonize them. There's no motivation for them to support anything other than appropriate standards, great tests and superb performance evaluations.
That's something only NYSUT has a motivation to accomplish.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.