More Blind Faith Placed in Common Core

Photo credit: Vanessa Bazzano (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)
Photo credit: Vanessa Bazzano (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

The Center for American Progress issued a “report” about how the Common Core State Standards “arm students with the necessary literacy skills needed for college and careers.”

Here is an excerpt of their summary:

One only need skim the data to see that just a small proportion of students are on the path to graduate from high school ready for college and a career. Only one-third of fourth- and eighth-grade students—36 percent and 34 percent, respectively—performed at the proficient level or higher in reading, according to the most recent data, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. Students do not close these gaps as they continue in the K-12 system. Only 38 percent of high school seniors are proficient in reading according to NAEP, and NAEP reading scores are even bleaker for black high school students at 16 percent, Latino students at 23 percent, and English language learners, or ELLs, at 4 percent. And while students in the fourth grade are reading on par with students in other high-performing countries, U.S. 15-year-olds rank 17th out of students in 34 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.

The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects—or ELA standards for short—help address some of these readiness gaps. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia are currently in the process of implementing the state-developed ELA and math Common Core K-12 standards, which were finalized in 2010.

The ELA standards are changing how students read and write in American classrooms in some fundamental ways. Under the new standards, students are getting regular practice with complex and grade-level appropriate texts, using more informational texts, and practicing more evidence-based writing.

All they do in this “report” is regurgitate Common Core advocacy talking points. There is no data given to show Common Core is working. There is no evidence. In fact the NAEP scores they share in the excerpt above disprove their point.

Also ACT took issue with some of what Common Core advocates consider being “college-ready.” For instance with the Common Core approach to writing they said:

….high school teachers and perhaps some middle school teachers may be emphasizing certain approaches to writing over others due to a concern for source-based writing in response to the Common Core State Standards. But if so, college instructors appear to value some key features of source-based writing (the ability to analyze source texts and summarize other authors’ ideas) much less than the ability to generate sound ideas—a skill applicable across much broader contexts.

Sandra Stotsky, who wrote Massachusetts’ ELA standards pre-Common Core and was on the Common Core validation committee, addressed in a Heritage Foundation Report why the Common Core approach to reading was inappropriate.

Why do Common Core’s architects believe that reading more nonfiction and “informational” texts in English classes (and in other high school classes) will improve students’ college readiness?

Their belief seems to be based on what they see as the logical implication of the fact that college students read more informational than literary texts. However, there is absolutely no empirical research to suggest that college readiness is promoted by informational or nonfiction reading in high school English classes (or in mathematics and science classes).

In fact, the history of the secondary English curriculum in 20th-century America suggests that the decline in readiness for college reading stems in large part from an increasingly incoherent, less challenging literature curriculum from the 1960s onward. This decline has been propelled by the fragmentation of the year-long English course into semester electives, the conversion of junior high schools into middle schools, and the assignment of easier, shorter, and contemporary texts—often in the name of multiculturalism.

From about the 1900s—the beginning of uniform college entrance requirements via the college boards—until the 1960s, a challenging, literature-heavy English curriculum was understood to be precisely what pre-college students needed. Nonetheless, undeterred by the lack of evidence to support their sales pitch, Common Core’s architects divided all of the ELA reading standards into two groups: 10 standards for informational reading and nine for literary reading at every grade level.

This misplaced stress on informational texts (no matter how much is literary nonfiction) reflects the limited expertise of Common Core’s architects and sponsoring organizations in curriculum and in teachers’ training. This division of reading standards was clearly not developed or approved by English teachers and humanities scholars, because it makes English teachers responsible for something they have not been trained to teach and will not be trained to teach unless the entire undergraduate English major and preparatory programs in English education are changed.

In short, Stotsky writes that the direction Common Core took with reading material really won’t help students become “college ready.”

Here is what you really need to know.

The Gates Foundation just awarded them $1,000,000 in July “to increase support for and reduce opposition to the Common Core and high-quality assessments, and to promote high-quality early childhood education through strategic advocacy efforts that bring new voices into the early childhood movement.”

Seriously for one million dollars they really need to do better than this. In fact since 2008 the Gates Foundation has given the Center for American Progress almost $6.7 million for their K-12 education efforts.

The Center for American Progress “report” on the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts is just a Gates Foundation-funded piece of propaganda.