American Federation of Teachers prepares to vote to continue support for Common Core

The 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which is meeting at its convention in Los Angeles this weekend, set the stage for a vote in favor of the Common Core during committee meetings on July 11, 2014. At the largest union committee meeting of the convention ("Educational Issues"), a majority of the delegates assigned to that committee voted to recommend that the convention adopt a resolution effectively continuing the union's support for Common Core. The continued critical support for Common Core came as a result of a vote rejecting a resolution proposed by the Chicago Teachers Union in opposition to the Common Core and supporting a lengthy resolution submitted by the union's national executive council on the issue.

Wearing a tee shirt proclaiming "I am the promise," Chicago elementary school student Asean Johnson addressed the 2,700 delegates to the 2014 convention of the American Federation of Teachers on July 12, 2014. Johnson's speech included a criticism of the Common Core, which the AFT will probably will be voting to continue to support before the convention adjourns, despite enormous and growing opposition. Above, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and community leader Jitu Brown took the stage with Asean Johnson and his mother during the convention. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.The committee vote set the stage for the expected decision of the entire convention. Almost all of the resolutions that come before the convention are first discussed in committees, which recommend which resolutions come to the floor. [Disclosure: I am a delegate to the AFT convention and an active retiree member of the CTU. I was one of several dozen Chicago delegates assigned to the Education Issues committee and was present for the discussions].

The decision to continue to critically support the Common Core came during a lengthy debate at the Educational Issues committee of the convention. Under AFT rules, the various convention committees discuss all of the resolutions submitted to the convention prior to the convention and recommend three to be debated on the convention floor by the full convention. The confrontation over Common Core came during the debate over two competing resolutions both of which had been submitted to the convention. The two competing Common Core resolutions were among 11 submitted to the committee. Two of the 11 resolutions before the committee (the Chicago resolution on Common Core and a resolution submitted by the California Federation of Teachers entitled "Stop unfriendly money coming into AFT" were defeated outright. Of the remaining nine, three will go before the convention when it begins voting on resolutions on July 12.

The Common Core debate was a "head to head."

One resolution, which was submitted to the convention by the AFT Executive Council, was entitled "The Role of Standards in Public Education." That resolution ultimately wound up committing the AFT to continuing its critical support for the national program of the Obama administration. The key paragraph in the Executive Council resolution on Common Core reads as follows:

"RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers will continue to support the promise of CCSS, provided that a set of essential conditions, structures and resources are in place. Making these necessary corrections will, in the long run, keep us from going back to a system that did not address the needs of many students, especially disadvantaged students, English language learners, and students with disabilities...

The executive council resolution, which had a total of 176 lines and stretched over four pages in the booklet provided to the delegates for the debates, included many other critiques of the Common Core, but ultimately continued that national union's support for one of the key components of the Obama administration's Race To The Top national education program.

The resolution, which is still to be voted on by the national convention as a whole and is expected to come before the convention's more than 3,000 delegates, focuses much of its critique of the Common Core on the lack of sufficient teacher input into the standards, and on the flawed testing programs that have resulted since the Common Core has been spread across the USA.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis spoke briefly to the Illinois breakfast on the first day of the AFT convention. Chicago came to the convention with a clear resolution opposing the Common Core (generally referred to as the "CCSS" -- Common Core State Standards). By the end of the first day of the convention, it was becoming clear that the leadership dominated by New York locals affiliated with AFT president Randi Weingarten was intent on continuing the union's support for the failed program of the Arne Duncan Education Department. Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.The other resolution, which was much shorter (72 lines, less than two pages), was submitted by the Chicago Teachers Union. Its title was "Oppose the Common Core State Standards." In its central point, the Chicago resolution states:

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers opposes the Common Core State Standards (and the aligned tests) as a framework for teaching and learning...

The debate in committee came after delegates from the Chicago Teachers Union moved that the CTU proposal be substituted for the Executive Council proposal. Ultimately, the CTU proposal, which would have put the AFT on the public record in opposition to the Common Core, was defeated in the Educational Issues committee. Since almost all committee recommendations are later adopted by the full convention, it is expected that the resolution on standards will receive a majority vote of the delegates.


July 12, 2014 at 9:46 AM

By: Susan Ohanian

AFT Convention Update

Can anything beat the cynicism of the AFT resolution embracing a Common Core that "keeps us from going back to a [pre-Common Core] system that did not address the needs of many students, especially disadvantaged students, English language learners, and students with disabilities"?

Just remember: chief Common Core architect David Coleman insists that Common Core teachers must give EVERY student the same (mandatory) complex text and advises the student who read several grade levels below the complex text assigned to his class: "You're going to practice it again and again and again and again. . . so there's a chance you can finally do that level of work." Coleman rejects out of hand the strategy of alternate texts. (

Sorry Chicago, but Norm Scott got it right: Midwesterners are too nice.

And everybody else will accept the payoff and drink the Kool-Aid.

July 12, 2014 at 12:13 PM

By: Rod Estvan

Students with disabilities and their outcomes

Susan I would say pick your poison. I agree with your point about the prior situation of students with disabilities before the Common Core. It is true that the common core requires students with disabilities that do not have significant cognitive impairments to meet the same standards as their non-disabled peers, although some will receive testing modifications and accommodations. I have seen the modification protocols, but ultimately they won\'t mean much.\r\rMany states, prior to common core required students with IEPs to take a graduation exit examine in order receive the standard diploma, most did not make the cut. In Illinois districts are allowed to mark transcripts to indicate that even though they have a standard diploma, the curriculum they received was significantly modified. All of these things have been held to be legal in various federal courts around the nation.\r\rCurrently in the US only about 40% of former special education students are employed. The majority of the unemployed former special,education students are living on SSI making about $780 a month and legally prohibited from having liquid assets of more than $2,000. My own daughter is one of those former special education students now on SSI. The truth is that for a CPS graduate with a disability she was relatively high performing with a composite ACT score of 16, when the average for a CPS student with an IEP was a 12. She is lucky because we established a legally protected trust fund to supplement her SSI income, most families do not have the assets to do that and would not even have the money to afford a competent attorney to establish such a trust.\r\rCommon Core or no Common Core the situation in terms of outcomes is driven by larger factors: (1) the need for higher levels of literacy in many jobs (2) college graduates and higher performing individuals with just a high school diploma taking lower skilled jobs in order to survive (3) undocumented workers fleeing poverty and violence who will work below the minimum wage. \r\rIt is not fair Susan to use disabled students as poster children for the opposition to Common Core, the majority were in desperate straights before Common Core. The majority will not make these standards because society will not invest the money to make that a reality. The majority did not make state standards prior to the coming of the common core for the same reason. The reason our society does not invest the resources necessary to improve the outcomes for students with disabilities is because they are not needed in the workforce and the cost of preparing them relative to the need for these young adults makes putting them on SSI actually cheaper on a societal level.\r\rRod Estvan\rEducation Policy analyst \rAccess Living of Chicago \r\r

July 13, 2014 at 6:09 PM

By: Jim Vail

Pick your Poison?

While I mostly agree with Rod's analysis in his postings, I don't understand this one at all.

The opposition to common core goes beyond just being outright unfair to students with disabilities. If you are familiar with Susan's excellent analysis on common core, it represents far more insidiousness than this brief posting here. Rod, it is the heart of the corporate attack on public education - it is tied to extremely punitive standardized testing to destroy our current system. NY common core dismal test results resulted in outrage from the parents and the election of a mayor actually questioning charter schools. Corporations profit here - we the public lose.

I was a bit confused when you wrote 3 points that drive the common core, including the need for higher levels of literacy in many jobs and college graduates taking lower skilled jobs.

Rod - do you read Ravitch? Do you know our students actually test among the highest when you aggregate the data? Gerald Bracy in Subtance has been documenting this fact for years. The corporate agenda is based on loose facts to accomplish what they want.

The CTU took a courageous stand to oppose the common core. However, the joke of a company union called the AFT where we teachers pay dues to represents corporate interests more than the workers.

This vote George wrote about was no surprise. In fact, this was the AFT's role - to stop 'radical' protests against the corporate agenda (do we have to look to our far right friends to stop common core?).

Unions work really well with the power structure - witness Wisconsin protests and the unions telling everyone to go home to vote, and what happened then?

Nope, not surpring at all.

We just gotta keep fighting, as the current union leadership under Core was set up to do, after knocking out a pathetic prior CTU union leadership taking orders from Randi and co.

Jim Vail

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