Jay Mathews at The Washington Post points out how writing instruction under Common Core is terrible and needs to be fixed.
The Education Trust, a nonprofit that advocates for students from low-income households, has been peeking recently at what is happening inside classrooms, an intrusion rarely done because it is expensive and tends to expose unattractive realities.
The organization collected 1,876 school assignments from six middle schools in two large urban districts in two states. The idea was to see how well English, humanities, social studies and science were being taught in the new era of the Common Core State Standards. The results are distressing and show that the instruction students are getting — particularly in writing — is deeply inadequate.
“Only four percent of all assignments reviewed pushed student thinking to higher levels,” one report said. “About 85 percent of assignments asked students to either recall information or apply basic skills and concepts as opposed to prompting for inferences or structural analysis, or doing author critiques. Many assignments show an attempt at rigor, but these are largely surface level.”
“Relevance and choice — powerful levers to engage early adolescents — are mostly missing in action,” it said. “Only two percent of assignments meet both indicators of engagement.”
Here are even more depressing numbers: 18 percent of the assignments required no writing at all. Sixty percent demanded just some note-taking, short responses or a sentence or two. Fourteen percent required students to write a single paragraph — whoopee. Only 9 percent went beyond that.
I have been complaining about the hideous condition of writing instruction for a long time. I am not a teacher, but I am a writer. I know how I — and many of my colleagues — came to love writing and learned to do it well enough to make a living from it. What happened to us is very different from the furniture-assembly approach taken by school curriculums, including those the Common Core has inspired.
Writing instruction suffered before Common Core, but Common Core has done nothing to help.