Figuring out the Common Core

Lately, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the Common Core State Standards, especially as they relate to the English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum. I’ve figured out a few things.

  • The Standards are poorly named. Shared state educational goals comes closer to describing what the Standards really are.
  • There are two sets of standards. One set applies to all students and to all subjects, grades three through high school. The other set applies specifically to one subject at a time in one grade or to one high school course. Yet they apply in tandem.Teachers struggle to read huge books of the Commo Core Standards
  • Like this past winter in Boston, the Standards seem to go on forever. Brief they are not.
  • The purpose of the Standards is to raise the achievement of public school students so they are better prepared to start college or the kinds of jobs that demand a more rigorous education. In particular, they seem geared to preparing students for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) college majors and careers, not for the humanities.
  • The Standards seem to be taking a scientific, critical approach to studying reading. They demand that a student prove from what paragraph he found his answer. They demand that he understand multiple meanings of words, or roots of words, or idioms. They demand that he be able to summarize a reading selection and contrast it with another reading selection for a precise idea. They demand that a student understand the purpose of a selection and its intended audience and how that influences certain author choices.
  • The Standards seem to require students to study literature less and to study informational and persuasive texts more. These informational and persuasive texts will contain more reading of government-published writing, a red flag for some critics.
  • The Standards are in some ways following the lead of college students who, in the past thirty years, have moved away from majors in the humanities and have moved toward more narrow fields like nursing and computer programming where the jobs are. The Standards are limiting the amount of time a student engages in the humanities and are increasing the amount of time a student engages in more technical reading.
  • The standards don’t require particular reading selections, but for each grade and subject they name a list of readings of the kind they recommend. Critics fear that those lists will become a short list of readings from which teachers will not deviate.
  • Because the Standards are so long-winded, and because teachers’ jobs will depend on how well students test on the Standards, I already see individual teachers deferring to the judgment of district-wide administrators. Those administrators, and not the teachers, are interpreting the Standards and are suggesting specifically how those standards are to be taught and with what teaching materials.
  • The first end-of-year Common Core tests will be taken in ELA and math in many states in April and May 2015. (Science and social studies Standards will be introduced in the 2015-2016 school year in elementary and middle grades.) Scores on the 2015 tests will not be made public until the summer, so for 2015, those scores will not be part of final course grades. But they will be included in final grades in 2016.
  • Expect a hullabaloo as schools and states report test results during the summer. Expect more states to withdraw from the Standards and others to demand changes. Expect teachers to resign from the stress of implementing the Standards.  Expect parents to refuse to allow their children to be tested.  Expect many, many children to feel ashamed that they cannot answer the questions.  Expect a lively debate in the media about the future of US education and the best ways to prepare our students for their futures.
  • The Common Core is far from a done deal.

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