Sunday, October 11, 2009

What’s Core?

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a joint effort by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in partnership with Achieve, ACT and the College Board. Governors and state commissioners of education from across the country committed to joining a state-led process to develop a common core of state standards in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12.
As Tom Hoffman points out, we really need to take a closer look at the draft standards. Why? Here are his Top 10 Reasons:
  1. Your state has probably already committed to using them.
  2. The federal Department of Education is exerting heavy pressure on states to adopt the Common Standards.
  3. An impressive and powerful list of partners and supporters are backing the Common Standards initiative.
  4. These "college- and career-ready" standards, if implemented, will become the basis of all subsequent K-12 English Language Arts standards.
  5. These standards, if implemented, will become the basis of all subsequent K-12 English Language Arts curriculum and assessments.
  6. The results of those assessments will, if implemented, be used to evaluate not just schools and students, but the performance of individual teachers.
  7. The creation of data systems to attach test scores to individual teachers is a basic requirement for federal Race to the Top grants and a top priority for the federal Department of Education and other powerful interests.

    But . . .

  8. The Common Core State Standards Initiative English Language Arts Standards are not actually English Language Arts standards.
  9. The Common Standards for English Language Arts are narrower, lower, and shallower than the Language Arts standards of high performing countries.
  10. We are inviting testing companies to determine the future of our schools with virtually no accountability or public input.
Tom expands on these in his post, please go read it now. Tom’s also written many other posts about this (too many to link), so visit his blog and scroll down. Other folks have recently written about this, including Bud Hunt, Chris Lehmann, and David Warlick.

Now, since most if not all of those folks used to teach Language Arts, I’m not sure if I have much to add to their perspective. Instead, let me throw out some questions from a non-Language Arts teacher perspective. As always, I’m just thinking out loud here.

  1. What’s Core?

    People use different buzzwords – some use core, some use essential learnings, your school or district may use something else, but I think this is a critical question for all of us. Tom is very concerned that these standards are too narrow and shallow and are not reflective of the fact that English Language Arts is a discipline. On the one hand, I agree with him. If you just read the list of standards in isolation, they do appear to be somewhat shallow, and I worry that the following observation from Tom might be accurate:
    the obvious interpretation is that they chose to define the standard as "support or challenge assertions" rather than "construct a response or interpretation," as every international example they cited did, because the former is much easier and cheaper to score reliably on a standardized test.
    When I explore the full document (pdf), I do feel a little bit better based on the examples they give, but certainly Tom makes his case that other international standards seem to go much deeper, and that it’s possible these standards are being tailored in a way that makes them easily assessed on a standardized instrument.

    But, on the other hand (and yes, I know, I always seem to have a lot of hands on hand), I worry about Tom’s suggestion to add more and more levels of detail into these standards. Because this runs into my own personal dilemma with standards, that in some respects they are too comprehensive, too overwhelming, too restrictive, and perhaps not wholly necessary.

    This is a real struggle for me, because I do think that students around the world need many of these skills, and much of this content, yet I can’t help but think that we all are so in love with our content areas that we lose sight of what’s truly essential. I say this from the perspective of a parent of a nine-and-a half-year old who wonders if “literacy criticism” or “the concept of genre” are essential. They may be, I’m not sure. But I can’t help but think of that study a few years back (sorry, can’t find a link at the moment) that indicated it would take something like 26 years to “cover” all the various standards in place at that time (and we have more now). Is this what education – and life – is supposed to be about? It just seems to me that, somehow, some way, what’s essential, what’s really core, should be a much shorter list.

  2. Malleable or Inflexible?

    Chris makes a good point about national testing and the resultant depersonalization:
    Once there is a national curriculum and a national test, we will see a further blurring of the line between "education" and "training" where kids are given online instruction and online assessment that can be delivered to any student, regardless of geography.

    . . . It has the risk of the ultimate deprofessionalization of teachers and depersonalization of education.

    And the NCTE’s Definition of 21st Century Literacies state that
    These literacies . . . are multiple, dynamic, and malleable.
    So the literacies are malleable, yet standards are fixed and inflexible? We want all kids to flourish and live up to their individual potential, yet we’re going to achieve that by standardization? How do these things coexist?

  3. Necessary, but not Sufficient?

    While the full pdf includes more examples that take this into account, the list of standards themselves seem to ignore the current technological world we live in. Only three of the standards (Reading #12 and #13, and Writing #12) seem to even come close to acknowledging that we live in a rapidly changing, technologically enabled, globally connected - and interconnected – world. These standards could’ve been written fifty years ago. That doesn’t make them bad, as many of these abilities are certainly still necessary, but are they sufficient?

    These standards don’t seem to address that reading, writing, speaking and listening are all very, very, very (did I mention very?) different in our current world than they were one hundred, fifty, twenty or even ten years ago. Yes, many of the standards apply in our world today, but I still don’t think that fully addresses how we read, write, speak and listen in a read/write, always on, always connected, participatory world.

    I think their definition of text is way too narrow, and way too limited. While one would hope that the more complete document would be taken into account, I could easily see the assessments targeted solely at the stripped down standards. Which then would mean instruction would be targeted only at the stripped down standards. Which then would mean our students would be perfectly prepared to graduate high school . . . in 1985.
So, as Bud points out:
The validation committee’s pretty light on language artists.
I would add that the workgroup that developed the standards also seemed to be pretty light on actual practitioners, although testing companies were well represented. In fairness, the NGA points out in the FAQ (pdf) that teachers were consulted:
NGA and CCSSO have asked for and received feedback from national organizations representing educators, such as the National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). These organizations each brought together groups of teachers to provide specific, constructive feedback on the standards. The feedback was used to inform the public draft of the college- and career-readiness standards. Numerous teacher organizations are also involved with the initiative through the National Policy Forum, which provides a means to share ideas, gather input, and inform the common core state standards initiative.
I would strongly suggest that you take some time to review the standards and some of the thoughtful posts about them, and then provide your feedback. Particularly if you’re a Language Arts teacher, but even if you’re not because, as Tom points out, as they are currently worded all teachers will be responsible – and held accountable – for students meeting these standards. And, as he points out in another post, it appears as though the end goal just might be high school graduation requirements.

Where can you provide some feedback? NCTE has issued a statement and is soliciting feedback, and you can provide feedback directly to the validation committee by October 21st. If you’re a member of NEA or AFT, you might also consider letting them know what you like or dislike about these draft standards.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Karl,

    Thanks for the post.

    I'd note that in terms of complexity, there are plenty of examples of other ELA standards which cover a lot more territory with no greater length and much clearer organization.