Recently, almost all states have decided that we need more out of our schools than ever before. The Common Core State Standards are a substantial step toward remaking schools to be able to teach all students the combination of problem solving, self-learning and self-management skills needed to do well in the information age.
Just as the new standards demand much more of students, they also demand more of teachers. They demand much more of parents, too, but that’s a story for another day. It’s unfair to tell teachers that, effective immediately, they must be able to teach the Common Core State Standards effectively, even if they were not trained to do so.
But life is unfair, too. Few of us would be willing to walk into a diner, order eggs for breakfast and receive only toast because the cook can’t do eggs and doesn’t think it’s fair to be asked to learn how. Still, if we demand substantially new competence out of professionals, we should arrange for them to acquire the new skills they need to meet our new demands. And, when professionals are represented by a union, it certainly is appropriate for that union to push for its members to be supported as they acquire the needed new skills.
I wish that I were writing a call for the people of Pittsburgh to support the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers as it pushes for training in stronger teaching skills that can be effective in meeting the Common Core State Standards.
Unfortunately, the PFT has taken a different direction. Instead of working with the district to find more ways for their members to become uniformly excellent, they are fighting to water down, delay or eliminate periodic review of Pittsburgh’s teachers. The teaching standards and evaluation system produced by the Pittsburgh Public Schools represents a minimal expectation of what is needed if schools are to serve all students well.
Further, by those standards, most Pittsburgh teachers look quite good. It’s too bad the union isn’t fighting to help the rest become better rather than fighting for the right for them to stay inadequate and not completely able to give the students in their classes a solid shot at decent preparation for life in our complex information society.
School of Education
University of Pittsburgh