Common Core: Cranking out sausage


Sausage Making 2013
The creation of Common Core standards were not just “new” in the sense of having new standards as a final product, but new in how they were written, edited, etc. You can see from the critique from folks who have participated in the writing of past education standards like Sandra Stokoksy, and Diane Ravitch. First, the group writing the standards did not include the usual group of participants, and had one (yes “1”) teacher. No one from either academia or teaching in Early Childhood Education was included. We can see what those folks think of that. But beyond leaving out folks who are considered experts in the field, something else has happened. The standards for English Language Arts have listed two authors.  Other folks have written about how un-democratic the whole process was. What I want to show is how unprofessional this has all become by looking back at a post on the Shanker Blog. The post was written by a Fordham Institute scholar, Kathleen Porter-Magee. Fordham has been shilling for Common Core since back in the day, and Porter-Magee has been pointing out some of the “radical changes” that will be necessary with the new standards on the Common Core Watch Blog for Fordham. Whether you agree with her or not, it’s a good insight into what Common Core supporters are thinking about teaching practices, etc. So here is an excerpt

Like the state ELA standards that preceded them, the CCSS describe the skills and behaviors that great readers and writers exhibit at each grade level. But, in an effort to define the rigor more clearly than their predecessors, the Common Core specifies that the sophistication of what students read is as important as the skills they master from grade to grade. To that end, Standard 10 clearly asks that all students be exposed to and asked to analyze grade-appropriate texts, with scaffolding as necessary.

This seemingly innocuous directive—to read appropriately complex texts and to use scaffolding to help students who are struggling understand what they’ve read—is perhaps the most revolutionary element of the Common Core standards. For the first time, the standards guiding curriculum and instruction in 45 states clearly define what it means for an ELA curriculum to be aligned to the level of rigor necessary to prepare students for college and beyond.

But this clarity means picking sides. There have long been two very different schools of thought about the best way to organize curriculum and instruction in literature. On one side are those who believe that reading comprehension will improve if teachers assess students’ individual reading level and give them a bevy of “just right” books that will challenge them just enough to nudge them to read increasingly complex texts. Yes, teachers do provide some guidance and instruction, but that instruction is limited. Here, the book is leveled to meet the student where s/he is; the “heavy lifting” of reading is placed squarely on the students’ shoulders.

First off, there were fifty state standards out there before Common Core. For states like California, we’ve emphasized text complexity, and the text-book adoption, did not emphasize the use leveled readers for ELA (ELD curriculum had some of this, but that’s another kettle of fish) which were always an “optional” purchase, and never made in my time. Most of the reading being done in elementary classes was from a single “grade-level” text with some scaffolding. What Porter-Magee is calling “revolutionary” has been going on since Reading First. The places where it didn’t happen were whole-language holdout states and districts (like Massachusetts–which surprise did better with their high standards than California which opted for a Direct Instruction/Phonemic-based reading instruction model). The reading instruction programs Porter-Magee cites from  Fountas and Pinnell, Caulkins, etc. were not part of California ELA adoptions, because they were not “phonemic” enough to pass muster during the last round of the reading wars.

Now here is where things starting getting funny, if you have a black sense of humor. While some folks are pushing “high-level” texts (witness the adoption of Core Knowledge units by the state of New York, which Chula Vista, California will apparently also be using), there is another group of consultants, trainers, and curriculum providers out there, saying NO, you can have leveled reading with Common Core. Balanced Literacy, which is based on this model, has been popular in my area. It was implemented in an adjacent district starting about three years ago, and now it’s being rolled out in Sacramento City Unified, albeit not all at once so my school is not doing trainings, etc.  Some places that were doing heavy direct instruction, are now doing “workshop” model instruction. Some places that were already doing that seem to be moving to more scripted instruction, and some are just borrowing from Core Knowledge. Why is this not clearer? Because, when you have just two authors, and no process behind what they came up with, you can say just about anything!

How stupid does this get? One of the Balanced Literacy trainers told a teacher I know that she had, “discussed issues with the author of Common Core, and had them change something.” Since this trainer is pushing a program that features leveled readers, she obviously did not get them to change their mind on that subject because here is one of the authors in the comments from that post I talked about earlier:

Actually, once again, Ms. Porter-Magee has the intent of the Common Core State Standards exactly right–no misrepresentation at all. Standard 10 in fact charts progress toward reading grade level complex text independently and proficiently; such progress for students can only be secured by repeated practice throughout the year…

…We are surprised by the confusion especially given how Appendices A and B elucidate the Standards and leave no doubt that the level at which kids read must be raised–dramatically. Appendix A cites the research that shows more than half our students are graduating high school reading woefully below college and career readiness levels which is crippling to their postsecondary hopes and dreams. Appendix A not only defines the levels at which students should be reading but anchors those levels in texts representative of those required in typical first-year credit-bearing college courses and in workforce training programs. In order to match the Standards’ text complexity grade bands, various quantitative measures have had to adjust upward their trajectory of reading comprehension development through the grades to ensure that all students will be reading at college and career readiness levels by no later than the end of high school. Appendix B follows by providing a host of sample texts from across the curriculum that meet the new criteria for quality and complexity. Obviously, these are not sample texts for only end of the year reading!

Both Appendices (as well as the Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy) make it abundantly clear that reaching the new, higher levels of reading requires regular, repeated practice with complex texts throughout the year. It would be foolhardy to interpret Standard 10 as students reading at “just right” low levels all year long and suddenly being expected to read at levels at which they have not ever practiced and practiced a lot.

Susan Pimentel and David Coleman, lead writers of the Common Core State Standards

Comment by Susan Pimentel

I want you to think about how truly screwed-up the entire process and implementation of these standards must be that the authors are reduced to explaining themselves in a blog post comment. I want you to think of how screwed up the process must be if the final arbiter of what the standards mean is not a curriculum committee, or the state board of education, or a department of education, but one of the  two listed authors. The last set of state ELA standards in California did not even have a listed author. You have to look on the publishing page to see two folks listed as editors. People make fun of documents written by committee, but what it does get you is some consensus, slightly broader input, and some expertise in the subject. These standards have NONE of those things if they have only two authors. IF the standards were written by more than Ms. Pimentel, and Mr. Coleman, they should have listed themselves as editors. The fact that they didn’t explains a lot about what is wrong with this whole enterprise, and why it was a mess from the very beginning. I’m guessing that one of the things that the Common Core organization was seeking to avoid by developing standards so secretively was having the public see the “sausage-making” part of getting to the standards. Guess what? You can’t avoid it, and now we’re doing it even as the standards are implemented. Way to go!

I want to make clear, I have NO dog in this fight. I think stupid things were done with Reading First. I see stupid things being done with Balanced Literacy, and I won’t even describe my thoughts on some of the stupidity that has come out of Common Core. The disrespectful way that most curriculum is implemented, and the lack professionalism that input from classroom teachers is treated with, obviously has a lot to do with this.

Image Credit: Sausage Making 2013 by Nicho Von Akron, on Flickr

One Comment to

“Common Core: Cranking out sausage”

  1. September 11th, 2013 at 5:16 am      Reply Bonnie K Says:

    I wish the CCSS had teachers involved and weren’t connected to high stakes tests.
    Sadly, we are moving in the wrong direction.
    How long will it take us to wake up and what damage has been done?

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