Tag Archives: common core

Common Core Mandates Will Harm Critical Thinking

Jay Mathews is one of the few education reporters who gets it. He understands that the heavy diet of informational reading Common Core mandates at every single grade level for the language arts or English class may decrease, not increase, “critical” or analytical thinking. But how are teachers and parents to know that black is white and freedom is slavery? No one tells us how reading “informational” texts could necessarily stimulate “critical” thinking better than literary reading–or stimulate it at all.

For example, how would the “informational” texts recommended by the National Council of Teachers of English for the secondary English curriculum stimulate analytical thinking more than, say, a close reading of Pride and Prejudice? According to a NCTE volume she co-authored, an Iowa English teacher has assigned her grade 10 students books about teenage marketing and the working poor–Branded by Alissa Quart and Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich–to address Common Core’s mandate. Do these books present their “information” in such ambiguous or subtle ways that close reading is needed to figure out the authors’ messages? In contrast, think how much class discussion is needed to help students understand the irony in Austen’s works.

Common Core thinks rigor is addressed by requiring reading and English teachers to use texts that increase regularly in complexity. But, as American College Testing (ACT) notes, complexity is laden with literary features: it involves “characters,” “literary devices,” “tone,” “ambiguity,” “elaborate” structure, “intricate language,” and unclear intentions. Reducing literary study means reducing the opportunity to develop in all students the analytical thinking once developed in just an elite group of students by the vocabulary, structure, ambiguity, point of view, figurative language, and irony in classic literary texts.

Some ostrich-like supporters of Common Core claim that there will be no reduction in the amount of literature assigned and studied. Tell that to English teachers who have been told to divide their reading instructional time as Common Core does: 10 reading standards for informational texts, 9 for literary texts. And in grade 12, make it 70% informational, even though Common Core explicitly says English teachers shouldn’t be responsible for 70%. How much they should be responsible for, Common Core’s architects don’t say.

Reading researchers know there is absolutely no research to support the idea that more “literary non-fiction” or “informational” texts in the English class will increase students’ level of analytical thinking. There is every reason to believe they will, instead, lower the level.

The Perils of Student Choice

The release of SAT scores last week gives strong ammunition to proponents of a core curriculum. As reported in the Wall Street Journal , reading scores hit their lowest figure in four decades. Writing scores hit their lowest number since a writing component was added to the exam six years ago; in fact, writing scores have dropped every year except one, when they were flat.

The College Board, which administers the exam, attributes the decline to two factors. One, more second-language students are taking the exam; and two, not enough test-takers follow a core curriculum. James Montoya, vice president of College Board, is quoted to that effect in the story, and he states the case even more strongly in the College Board’s own report. In his opening remarks, Montoya asserts that “students who complete a rigorous core curriculum do better in high school; they do better on the SAT; and they are more prepared for college. This holds true across all socioeconomic and ethnic lines.”

What a contrast to the education establishment, which regards a core curriculum as narrow and authoritarian! Parents are inundated with this argument during campus tours, where backward-walking guides assure them that students have ample license in their coursework. The proliferation of choice complements trendy ideas of student empowerment and student-centered learning that caught on in the 1960s and drifted quickly up to higher education.

However, those who favor a core curriculum now have certified announcements by the College Board against a high-elective approach. They may also take heart from a survey released this week by American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Administered by Roper, the first question asked respondents if colleges and universities should force students to take classes in “core subjects” (writing, math, science, U.S. history, economics, foreign language). Fully 70 percent answered “Yes.” More than half (54 percent) of them agreed that they were “Very” or “Somewhat” surprised that many institutions do not have those requirements. Most respondents (57 percent) also said they believe schools do a “fair” or “poor” job preparing students for the job market, while 46 percent believed that institutions do not give student’s “their money’s worth.”

The combination of dissatisfaction with the overall product plus the endorsement of core curricula marks a timely opening for reformers.

More Rumblings at CUNY

I’ve written before about the Pathways plan, a sensible proposal  to create  a common core curriculum at the City University of New York (CUNY). It has been sponsored by the administration of Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and approved by the CUNY Board of Trustees. The extraordinary–and student-unfriendly–process that currently exists at CUNY contradicts the vision of the institution as an “integrated university,” since students who transfer from one CUNY school to another often find themselves forced to take a new round of introductory courses.

People of good faith can (and do) disagree about the merits of Pathways. But opposition to the proposal has been centered around the two elected bodies of CUNY faculty, the University Faculty Senate (UFS) and the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the CUNY faculty union, perhaps most notorious for its zealous opposition to Israeli security.

The two bodies–preposterously–cite academic quality as the reason for their Pathways opposition. Given that the PSC in particular has opposed virtually every pro-quality initiative that Goldstein has proposed (extending the tenure clock to ensure better-qualified professors, creating a CUNY Honors College, raising tuition to boost funding for needed academic services), suggesting that the union has any credibility on matters of quality is laughable. Opposing Goldstein has become the union’s raison d’être.

The PSC filed a lawsuit against Pathways, arguing that despite the clear wording of the CUNY bylaws, the Trustees lack final say on all curricular matters at the institution. As the suit works its way toward an all-but-certain defeat, the union has fallen back on Plan B, pressuring individual departments around CUNY to reject the minor course adjustments (course titles, credit hours, etc.) that the uniformity of the Pathways proposal requires.

But, of course, the union doesn’t have to live with the consequences for this decision. Individual departments do. In the past week, as the New York Times reported, the English Department at Queensborough Community College followed the union’s advice and rejected the bookkeeping changes required to institute Pathways. Doubtless the move made the English professors feel good. But as things now stand, it also means that the QCC English Department will see a dramatic reduction in their curricular offerings come the fall of 2013, since Core courses form a substantial portion of the community college department’s offerings. Queensborough students looking to complete the English portion of Pathways would have to go to another CUNY institution.

The department’s fantasy-land argument is that the professors should be allowed not to adhere to the university’s curricular guidelines, and therefore offer far fewer courses–while still receiving the same levels of university funding. When a Queensborough administrator pointed out that the department could either defy CUNY’s curriculum or have full staffing but not both, the department reached out to the Times, which promptly, and sympathetically, told their story. In a comment that unintentionally revealed an embarrassing sense of entitlement among the pro-PSC faculty, the deputy chair of the Queensborough department fumed, “I felt a little like I was being asked to vote for Raul Castro or Ahmedinijad.”

Of course: being asked to adhere to guidelines approved by the governing body of the institution that pays a professors’ salary resembles the plight of the Green Revolutionaries in Iran. What reporter, among hearing such a preposterous claim, could treat seriously anything that the professor said?

Don’t Buy the Snake Oil of Common Core

J.M.
Anderson has offered an increasingly common defense of Common Core’s standards
for English language arts and mathematics.  They can help us to achieve any utopian
educational goals one could wish for.
The only fly in the ointment is the quality of our teaching corps.

In
actuality, 46 states have bought some very expensive snake oil.  And if its application doesn’t produce a
nation of “critical thinkers” by grade 12, it’s because the teachers in these
states don’t know how to use snake oil properly.

Anderson
is right about the challenges facing teachers, but he seems to have brought a
highly uncritical eye to Common Core’s standards. Exactly how Common Core’s
content- and culture-free “Anchor standards” in reading can lead to a
“cumulative,” “coherent” and “rigorous” curriculum remains as much of a mystery
after an inspection of the standards themselves as it does after reading
Anderson’s paean to them. 

Continue reading Don’t Buy the Snake Oil of Common Core

Why Common Core Standards Are Likely To Fail

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I
argued yesterday that the Common
Core State Standards Initiative
(CCSSI) is both necessary and a good
thing–but I must add that it just can’t work now.

It has the potential
to transform American K-12 education, but the plain fact is that it is destined
to fail because current teacher education programs neither prepare nor equip
grade school and high school teachers to teach the Standards.

 

Whether students
learn–and what they learn–depends largely upon what happens inside the
classroom as they and their teachers interact over the curriculum. “Skillful
teaching,” write Deborah
Loewenberg Ball and Francesca Forzani
, “can make the difference
between students being at the top of the class or the bottom, completing high
school or dropping out.”

Continue reading Why Common Core Standards Are Likely To Fail

Common Core Standards Can Save Us

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It’s no secret that
most high school graduates are unprepared for college. Every year, 1.7 million first-year
college students are enrolled in remedial classes at a cost of about $3 billion
annually, the Associated
Press
recently reported. Scores on the 2011 ACT
college entrance exam
showed that only 1 in 4 high school graduates
was ready for the first year of college.

Continue reading Common Core Standards Can Save Us

Shaky New Standards for College Readiness

A mesmerizing phrase regularly rolls off the tongues of education experts these days. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan used it in a recent speech to the National Conference of State Legislators, saying that Common Core’s new standards will try to make certain that high school graduates are truly “college- and career-ready.” Sounds impressive, but he never said what the phrase means.
Duncan’s silence on specifics is not surprising. In the final version of the standards released on June 2, Common Core itself (an initiative of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers) made no effort to explain what precisely college and career readiness mean in math or English language arts. Nor did it provide evidence to support the standards or to demonstrate that they were internationally benchmarked. It cagily noted that it “consulted,” was “informed by,” or made “careful use of” research studies, evidence, and international data. As the National Council of Teachers of English noted in a review of a July 2009 draft version of these CCRS, “the document presently contains a claim that these standards are evidence-based, but we note that none of the evidence has been drawn from peer-reviewed research journals or similar sources. Rather, the evidence offered at present consists of surveys conducted by the testing companies that stand most immediately to gain from the testing of these standards. This seems to represent a conflict of interest in the development of the standards.” Nevertheless, over 35 state boards of education–all presumably guardians of the public interest–have voted to adopt all its standards word for word, some before they ever saw the final version.
This is not the first time the public has been enticed into purchasing a pig in a poke (think School-to-Work or small high schools). And it won’t be the last; friends of “21st century skills” hawkers are now working full-speed to get them to the head of the line at the public trough. But given the staggering educational implications and costs of requiring all high schools to ensure that every student they graduate is college-ready (a U.S. Department of Education proposal for the next authorization of No Child Left Behind), one might have expected a few state board members to ask for answers about the nature of this pig. Few if any countries expect all 18-year-olds to meet the same set of academic standards–high or low–as if there were no differences in young adolescents’ interests, skills, and abilities or in the requirements of varied occupational training programs or types of post-secondary institutions.

Continue reading Shaky New Standards for College Readiness

Restoring A Core

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has released a trustee guide Restoring a Core as a follow-up to What Will They Learn, their recent survey of core curricula (more about that here) Take a look at the “How Will A Core Benefit My Institution” section beginning on page 4 for some interesting examples from SUNY and Booklyn College and the following pages for practical advice on how to encourage the adoption of a core.

Is The Core Curriculum Really Coming Back?

The good news: A survey from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) announcing that “distribution requirements” in undergraduate education are out and “general education” is back.
Translated, that means—or ought to mean—that colleges are reinstating the idea of a core curriculum of essential courses, conveying essential knowledge, that every well-rounded college graduate ought to have under his or her belt. Core curricula, which typically required undergraduates to enroll in one- or two-year sequences of basic courses in history, literature, science, mathematics, foreign languages, and English composition, fell by the wayside during the 1970s and 1980s, on the theory that the traditional core courses were overly Western-centric (a survey course in Western civilization was usually at their heart), and that what students learned wasn’t so important as the methodology of the various disciplines involved. Why be forced to take a year-long history survey that covered Egyptian pyramids, classical Greece, and the rise of the modern nation-state when you could learn how historians think by choosing any two history courses from a smorgasbord of historical offerings that might include everything from meso-American civilization to women during World War II? Thus began the “cafeteria” approach to undergraduate requirements that has been the prevailing academic model for at least 30 years, in which students must obtain a specified number of credits in, say, the humanities, social sciences, and physical and biological sciences but are free to decide which individual courses in those fields are to their liking (or are easy or meet at convenient times).

Continue reading Is The Core Curriculum Really Coming Back?

Lax? Couldn’t Be.

Harvard faculty maintain that additions to the courses that will fulfill General Education requirements (a replacement for the Core) are not growing easier.
Subcommittee chairs maintain that their standards have not grown too lax. Here’s a defense, reported in the Harvard Crimson:

Subcommittee chairs maintain that their standards have not grown too lax.
“I don’t think we’re becoming more lenient,” said W. James Simpson, chair of the Literature and Arts subcommittee.

Recent additions to the acceptable courses:

Folklore and Mythology 111: “Embodied Expression/Expressive Body: Dance in Cultural Context

and

Performance, Tradition and Cultural Studies: An Introduction to Folklore and Mythology

Read on for some additional “not too lax” means to fufilll requirements.