Can Kentucky’s teachers openly share their concerns about Common Core?

Kentucky substitute teacher Bruce Smith is suing the Oldham County Public School Board for violation of his rights to free speech after he raised questions with parents concerning a lesson plan that he felt inappropriately pushed radical political and social agendas on his students.

Smith was concerned when he was provided an instructional lesson that drove his middle school students to do a “WebQuest” about social agendas. He felt the use of this lesson plan was related to the introduction of Common Core State Standards.

Smith took pictures of the publicly available web page containing the assignment and shared those images with some parents at Kentuckians Against Common Core. The snapshots soon appeared in a group member’s social media site.

That in turn got fed back to the Oldham County Schools.

Soon after, Smith was fired.

While court action on Smith’s lawsuit is probably some time off, the fact that this situation even arose just because a teacher provided publicly available online study guides to concerned parents raises a more general question:

Do we really know what most Kentucky teachers think about Common Core?

Adding to this concern are recent, very abrupt about faces on Common Core from several teachers unions around the country. Just weeks ago, union leaders were telling us teachers liked Common Core. Now, it’s reported 70 percent of teachers are really upset. So, what is the real story?

It’s clear that school systems can take harsh actions when teachers don’t toe the district’s speech-restricting line on issues like problems with Common Core State Standards.

Unfortunately, thanks to all of these restrictions, there is no way Kentucky’s citizens can confidently know what rank and file teachers really think about the Common Core and many other education issues.

Even public statements from teachers’ union leaders may not reveal the truth, as recently unraveling events make graphically clear.

In an action that shocked education watchers across the country, New York State teachers’ union executives recently abruptly changed their position on Common Core.

Under strong pressure from rank and file New York teachers who are furious about Common Core related activity in their state, the Empire State’s teachers’ union suddenly adopted a different, and very strong position that implementation of the standards has been chaotic. Only weeks before, union leaders had been singing the praises of Common Core, and you can bet the rank and file revolt didn’t happen suddenly. The truth is New York’s teachers’ union leadership sensed it would be voted out of office if it didn’t start to get honest about what teachers really were thinking.

Three weeks after the sudden changes on Common Core in New York, the head of the National Education Association (NEA) did a similar – and very startling – about face.

Just a few weeks before, Education Week reports the NEA president had claimed the Common Core represented “our best guess of what students need to know to be successful, whether they choose college or careers.” EdWeek says the NEA chief “challenged naysayers to cite alternatives.”

Now, like a Tsunami, NEA’s president tells us that 70 percent of his membership report major problems with Common Core.

So, here is a bottom line question:

When states like New York with a lot more education resources than Kentucky are running into major Common Core implementation issues, is it likely the Bluegrass State somehow has escaped all of those problems? Or, is it possible that Kentucky’s teachers are still too intimidated by district offices, and too poorly represented by their own union, to speak out?