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Where do you stand on the Common Core Standards?

posted: 3.21.13 by Andrea Lunsford

If you haven’t been following the national discussion on the Common Core, you may want to tune in about now.  These “standards” for math and English Language Arts, developed by a group primarily made up of administrators and policy makers, are set to take effect in 2014; some 47 states plus the District of Columbia have signed on to them.

But recently a backlash of resistance seems to be mounting, and several states (including Indiana) may be pulling out.  One of the biggest points of contention seems to center on the recommendation in the standards that students do more reading of “information” texts.  Many have reacted strongly, charging that a shift to such “informational texts” will mean the end of literature in the curriculum (see the Washington Post’s Common Core Sparks War over Words”). 

Gerald Graff has responded to critics in another Washington Post piece entitled “It’s the Argument Stupid, Not the Text.”  Graff (and others) says that those who bemoan the departure of literature aren’t reading the standards correctly and that literature will remain central to the curriculum.  But Graff’s point is that students should do a lot of reading in nonfiction—and particularly of analytic essays—because that is the kind of writing we ask them to produce in response to literary texts.  As Gaff says, “After all, students who study Homer’s Iliad are not asked to write another epic poem about the work, but rather an ‘informational’ essay in which they are supposed to analyze the epic and make some kind of argument about it.”  What Graff says is correct right now, but there are plenty of signs that students today want to do more than write analytic essays about literary texts.  Rather, they increasingly want to produce such texts themselves, or to produce parodies, mashups, and remixes of them.

From where I stand, there are very good reasons to resist wholesale adoption of the Common Core Standards until teachers, parents, and students understand them fully and, moreover, understand the impact they will have in their particular schools.  But the contretemps over fiction vs. nonfiction texts seems to me a tempest in a teapot.  Students today are reading and writing more than ever before, and schools should take advantage of that fact, engaging them in reading all kinds of texts.  And that means blog posts, wikis, and social media posts right along with literary and nonfiction texts.  More to the point, students need to have a chance to experiment with writing about such texts, not only in traditional analytic essays but in new genres and media.

In the meantime, we could do worse than begin a discussion by looking at what the National Council of Teachers of English has to say in its position statement about standards:

RESOLVED, that the National Council of Teachers of English call upon the Obama administration, the National Governors’ Association, and the Council for Chief State School Officers to support policies that:

  • end high-stakes testing and the evaluation of teachers and schools based on students’ test scores;
  • support ongoing classroom-based assessments consistent with the NCTE/IRA 2009 Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing;
  • evaluate teachers based on comprehensive measures of effectiveness, such as observations of instruction, teacher portfolios, parent response, and increases in achievement as evidenced by curriculum-based authentic assessments;
  • promote school/home/community partnerships by valuing the voices of all stakeholders who take part in the education of children;
  • support curriculum that develops every student’s intellectual, creative, and physical potential;
  • provide equitable funding for all schools.

Be it further resolved that NCTE:

  • publicly voice its critique of and opposition to educational reform policies that mandate standards, curriculum, and means of student assessments that adversely affect social and educational equity;
  • reaffirm its commitment to supporting all literacy educators so that pedagogical and subject matter knowledge, as well as an understanding of the school community and students, are primary influences in school and district plans to advance literacy learning; and
  • work assiduously to make the wisdom of NCTE members with deep knowledge of effective teaching and assessment practices influential at every stage of curricula, assessment, and standards development.

This statement sums up what good, clear standards can do for schools, teachers, and students.  It seems important to me that those working on implementing—or resisting—the Common Core Standards in their states begin by making sure that their standards match up well to what the NCTE resolution calls for.

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One Response to “Where do you stand on the Common Core Standards?”

  1. Jack Solomon, CSUN Says:

    I find the NCTE resolution to be admirable. I’m also rather partial to Graff’s point as well. In the end, however, I think that all of us engaged in education are up against some very large historical forces, beginning with what I regard to be the irremediable damage that was done to the American economy when the great credit bubble burst in 2008. By making high unemployment a permanent feature of the economic landscape, that disaster has hastened the hypercapitalization of America, increasingly putting the great majority of us into the hands of a tiny few who have all the money and who claim to have all the jobs. Desperate for that money and for those jobs, Americans from every sector of society are willing to turn everything over to a corporate plutocracy that demands a “jobs ready” education system, without actually providing nearly enough jobs even for the most highly educated of the young. We already know that academia as a realistic career path has been finished for years, but now law has followed, and the great bubble burst severely damaged financial services industry careers as well. Medicine may be next. Even IT and engineering are uncertain, with so much being outsourced overseas.

    In such an overall context, arguments about curriculum, while not insignificant, are dwarfed. Our arguments are based in the presuppositions of liberal democracy; in the current neoliberal environment, “democracy” is dropping out of the formula. The game, as well as the name of the game, is changing.

    I have no idea how to stop that.