Thursday, June 5, 2014

An Open Letter To Michelle Labuski

It must have been some time yesterday that you and your colleagues discovered this post, taking you to task for your pro-Common Core post on engageNY. You responded on twitter with a simple "Not okay. And hurtful." A few of your colleagues responded in my comments section. You were all gentler, kinder, and more amenable to reason than I was in the original post.

I understand how you might feel beaten up by the post, and given a do-over, I would have paid more attention to the fact that, as a guest poster on a commercial website, you might not be fully prepared for the kind of punch-in-the-face discourse of the bloggosphere. But I don't want to issue one of those non-apology apologies. Your feelings got hurt, and I'm the one who hurt them, and I am sorry that I did not extend at least a bit more professional consideration for them.

But while I can regret my tone, I do not regret my message. I'm going to explain why.

While reasonable people can have arguments about the content of the Common Core, the foundation of the Core, the whole premise on which they were launched and the states were strong-armed into adopting them, is fairly simple:

American public school teachers are failing. They don't know how to do their jobs. They don't know how to teach. They suck.

It's not just a false narrative, but a profoundly insulting one, both personally and professionally. The Core were not presented as "Our teachers are mostly great, but they need a bit of help" or "We have found the secret to taking our excellent teachers to the next level" but "Our schools are failing because our teachers are failing and our only hope is to tell them how to do their jobs." (At worst., we also get "They just want a paycheck. They are the biggest obstacle to education in this country") It's a gross insult, a slap in the face. And it's just not true.

The "How Common Core Made Me a Great Teacher" essay has become its own genre, with enough similarities between the entries that one wonders whether or not they are prompted by some official saying, "Why don't you write a piece about how the Core helped you, and here's an outline you could follow." Many of the teachers who write these essays seem quite sincere, and most of them appear to be teachers who were doing quite well in the classroom already, which is why the type of essay is so galling.

Because intentionally or not, the subtext is clear: "What you've heard is true. I did not know how to do my job until the Core came along to show me the way. I am here to tell you that the narrative is correct, that my colleagues and I don't know how to do our jobs, and that every good thing I've done in a classroom has only happened because the Core came along to straighten me out."

So while it may have been the furthest intention from your mind, I found your original essay (and the essays like it, of which I read about one a month) both not okay and hurtful.

Now, did I have to be an ass about it? No, probably not. But being an ass on this blog is how I vent the steam that builds up as I watch the profession I love torn down and excellent teachers smacked around until they apologize for existing. (And sometimes I'm just kind of an ass.)

I wish that you had written a piece about your excellent career, about your fine achievements, about all the things you were and are able to accomplish because of your own professional dedication. But of course then engageNY would not have put your essay on the web, because it would not have fit the narrative.

You seem like a nice lady and a good teacher. I'm sorry I hurt your feelings, but I'm also sorry that you wrote that promotional piece for Common Core. I hope that your summer is professionally and personally rewarding.


  1. Michelle Labuski should be ashamed of herself. While she may have found some good in Common Core, there is also so much that is wrong with it. As a parent of a special needs child, I am appalled at what special needs children are being put through in school. And, by presenting herself as a cheerleader for Common Core, is she also a cheerleader for VAM and HST? Using children for field tests so that Pearson has more test questions to sell our school districts? Teach for America and Charter Schools? Class sizes increasing because between the 2% tax cap and the high costs of Common Core implementation, what else is there to cut? Data-mining our children? That Knewton has access to our children's data?

    If she thinks that Common Core is "just standards" then she should start doing some research and get educated. Carol Burriss changed her mind because she realized that Common Core was so much more then standards.

  2. In fact, I am going to add this blog on to the pile of Engage NY propaganda blogs.

    She is talking about Regents exams, which are "FINALS" not assessments. Couple that with the feedback on the Common Core Algebra regents this week, where students claim there was too much material that was never covered on the exam, and NYSED is artificially setting the cut scores so that the same number of students will pass, regardless of the material. How is this an improvement?

  3. First of all, I did not write the article. Some people actually took the time to get to know me, saw some strengths, and wanted to honor that.
    Second of all, they took a resource I have used for years and shared it with others to help overcome the obstacles of common core.
    The purpose the article was to be helpful and supportive, something you should try.
    And as far as being a decent human being with redeeming qualities, I have you beat any day of the week.