Dennis Van Roekel’s Continued Common Core Crush

Today, National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel once again reinforced his devotion to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Mind you, he tried to make his open letter appear to be a “learning experience” in which he had “listened”; however, what Van Roekel is actually doing is publicly reiterating his allegiance to a set of hastily-constructed, untested standards for which the equally-hasty rollout was “botched.”

Just last month— January 2014– Van Roekel maintained that no one could tell him any specific standards that were problematic– and that anyone objecting to CCSS had to offer “a better alternative” even though he referred to CCSS as a “best guess.”

In his current letter, as far as Van Roekel is concerned, it’s all about the “botched rollout”– never about the forced implementation.

Van Roekel is careful to never mention any teacher as having any valid, experience-based negative reaction to the standards themselves.

In short, Van Roekel’s letter is a calculated CCSS sales job– nothing more than another effort to Save the Standards.

Throughout his letter, Van Roekel refers to statistics from his biased NEA survey– which I dismantle here.

Van Roekel opens his letter with, “During my 23 years as a high school math teacher….”

Such an opener is undeniably an effort to establish credibility, as though to say, “You can trust me, teachers. I am just like you.”

However, Van Roekel’s time in the classroom ended by 2003. As such, he was barely touched by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and certainly has zero firsthand experience with CCSS.

By 2003, Van Roekel was working full time as NEA’s vice president. In FY 2004, Van Roekel earned a salary of $213,930 and reported additional expenses and allowances of $156,941.

It is 2014. Van Roekel left the classroom over a decade ago.

CCSS does not touch his everyday life.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop him from trying to make the sale. Indeed, Van Roekel tells “educators” that “we” want CCSS (educators, not teachers, since educators is the chosen term for grafting non-teaching privatizers into the teaching profession). Not only did “we” want CCSS– “we” were thrilled to have it:

So when 45 states adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)we as educators saw the wonderful potential of these standards to correct many of the inequities in our education system that currently exist.  Educators embraced the promise of providing equal access to high standards for all students, regardless of their zip code or family background.

We believed the standards would help students develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills they need to succeed in the fast-changing world.  NEA members overwhelmingly supported the goals of the standards because we knew they could provide a better path forward for each and every student. The promise of these high standards for all students is extraordinary.  And we owe it to our students to fulfill that promise. [Emphasis added.]

So, we “know” CCSS will work because “we” feel it will??

Here’s why I think “we” cling to CCSS:

The NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education

Date: July 2013 
Purpose: to support a cohort of National Education Association Master Teachers in the development of Common Core-aligned lessons in K-5 mathematics and K-12 English Language Arts 
Amount: $3,882,600 

Almost four million “reasons,” straight from the Gates Foundation.

If  “we” forsook CCSS, “we” might have to return $4 million to Bill.

Moreover, there is no telling, my friends, what back-room, career-promoting “arrangements” have been made to prompt Van Roekel to unyieldingly force feed teachers this CCSS-pseudo-empowerment pap.

Van Roekel pretends to desire for teachers to have “a voice” in CCSS. Nevertheless, that “voice” does not include the right to question whether “we” should ditch CCSS completely. Instead, Van Roekel tells “us” that “we” are keeping CCSS and that “our” “expertise” is only necessary to implement CCSS:

Imagine that:  The very people expected to deliver universal access to high quality standards with high quality instruction have not had the opportunity to share their expertise and advice about how to make CCSS implementation work for all students, educators, and parents.

Consequently, NEA members have a right to feel frustrated, upset, and angry about the poor commitment to implementing the standards correctly.

What “we” don’t get to feel is utter disgust at having yet another union president cram CCSS down out throats.

Next, Van Roekel plays a clever game in acknowledging CCSS opposition: He writes of it in the passive voice. This way, he does not have to acknowledge who is opposed:

NEA has been called upon to oppose the standards.

Moreover, he simply calls those who do not want CCSS “detractors”:

It would be simpler just to listen to the detractors from the left and the right who oppose the standards. 

Van Roekel is careful to keep the “we” separate from any CCSS opposition.

As far as both national teachers unions are concerned, absolutely no acknowledgment that any teachers opposed CCSS is allowed.




We must  have CCSS, and do you know why?

Allow Dennis to fill you in:

NEA has been called upon to oppose the standards.  It would be simpler just to listen to the detractors from the left and the right who oppose the standards.  But scuttling these standards will simply return us to the failed days of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), where rote memorization and bubble tests drove teaching and learning.  NEA members don’t want to go backward; we know that won’t help students.  Instead, we want states to make a strong course correction and move forward. [Emphasis added.]

We must have CCSS in order to avoid having tests drive teaching??

I’m seeing flies buzzing around this steaming pile.

Consider these words from the CCSS memorandum of understanding (MOU) that is part of the Race to the Top (RTTT) application:

The intent is that these standards will be aligned to state assessment and classroom practice. The second phase of this initiative will be the development of common assessments aligned to the core standards developed through this process. [Emphasis added.]

CCSS is married to assessment– at many more grade levels than was NCLB.

Is Van Roekel advocating that these tests will not be “bubble” tests? Or is he promoting the illusion that one can quality-machine-grade extended response items?

Either way, the CCSS tests are a vehicle to promote a shallow, automated public education experience.

In addition, I am not sure where Van Roekel gets “rote memorization” as being associated with NCLB. Yet here is a question: Why attempt to standardize public education if the goal is not to slap America’s classrooms with  “common assessments”?

I mean, couldn’t “we” follow the unique-education-experience, personal-attention, smaller-class-size, not-even-a-thought- of-standardizing model of the upper crust private schools– say– like Exeter Academy?

No time for such discussions. Van Roekel is back to offering the I-was-once-a -teacher-so-you-can-trust-me line. Yet his logic is seriously lacking:

Not surprisingly, as a math teacher I have some strong views about the proper sequence of things—not only in my classroom, but also when it comes to implementing this kind of systemic change in public education.  Start with high standards, create a curriculum that supports them, then focus on assessments that are aligned to what is taught and that really measure learning, then evaluate progress in teaching and learning, and finally pledge to make continuous adjustments to improve teaching and learning for each and every student. [Emphasis added.]

See, here’s the rub:  Neither Van Roekel nor any other CCSS pusher has provided any evidence that CCSS delivers on the “high standards” promise in its overused sales pitch.

Assembly line education = “high standards”?


At the end of his letter, Van Roekel offers several “suggestions” for “improving” CCSS, including “reviewing” and “recommending improvements”; “developing implementation collaboratively”; using teachers to “develop aligned curriculum and assessments”; nixing “outdated NCLB tests,” and :actively engaging educators in field testsing of assessments.”

The fatal flaw in all of his suggestions is that he allows no room for teachers (I’m tired of his term, educators) to completely step away from being “standardized.”

Van Roekel might as well sum up his suggestions by writing, “We want to offer teachers the opportunity to voluntarily kill off that which makes their teaching unique. We want to offer teachers the chance to exercise their professional judgment in these controlled forums dominated by the ‘groupthink’ mentality in order to produce singular solutions that likely fit no one well, all in the name of ‘engaging educators.'”

He should also add, “By the way, I will feel no direct effects of forcing CCSS “solidarity” onto the contemporary public school classroom.”

I am a current teacher, and I resent the forceful push of those outside of the classroom to make my classroom the same as other public school classrooms nationwide in the name of “winning” some race to the top of something.

Van Roekel closes with a real “solidarity” ending. Here’s my favorite line:

I know that NEA members are committed to seeing the promise of the standards fulfilled.

The “promise of the standards” is a creepy effort to standardize teaching and learning.

How about this, Dennis: The day that Exeter Academy standardizes, that day will I consider becoming standardized. Not one day sooner.



  1. The same old “botched rollout” mantra can be heard everywhere Gates has made a deposit. It’s a face saving lie that’s rolled out as a stall tactic to keep us from tossing this garbage fish back overboard. I have heard it from Governor Cuomo, from state senators who supposedly on our “our side” from Weingarten and Ianuzzi and this moron as well. Common Core is not going to improve with age or by slowing it down or sending us all off to Common Core bootcamp like TFA members. It’s boring, stupid and torturous and nothing is going to make this sow’s ear into a silk purse. SO get with the program Den Den, Randi and Dick and start talking about getting rid of it. Completely.

  2. Van Roekel, of course, is only half of the problem that educators have. The other is Weingarten, who has made the promotion of Corporate Core a principal mission for AFT. Her recent illusion performed in New York to make it look as though NYSUT is against CC is classic Weingarten. And as you have pointed out, such feints and delays of consequences simply offer the opportunity for the Common Corers to bore in to where removal will be even more difficult.

    Teacher union leadership must change in order for policies to change, and if policies do not change, then teachers should take their dues and start a union of educators, rather than a union of lawyers and corporate stooges.


  1. […] Recently National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel criticized the implementation of the Common Core.  A good step in the right direction, but is the problem implementation or the standards themselves?  A couple of  reads on this subject: […]

  2. […] deutsch29 Today, National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel once again reinforced his […]

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