Common Core has many flaws, but its writing standards stand out as an intellectual
impossibility for average middle grade students. Their architects didn’t link
them to appropriate reading benchmarks.
November I saw the results of NYC teachers’ attempts to address these writing
standards. Their students had clearly
tried to figure out how to make a “claim” and show
“evidence” for it. But the students’ problems were not a reflection of their teachers’ skills; rather, their
problems could be traced to the standards themselves.
example, Common Core’s first writing standard for grades 6, 7, and 8:
“Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant
evidence.” Adults have a much better idea of what “claims” are,
what “relevant evidence” is, and even what an academic “argument”
is. But most children have a limited
understanding of this meta-language for the structure of a composition.
explored Common Core’s standards for reading informational texts in grades 3-8
and found NOTHING on identifying arguments or claims, or on distinguishing
relevant from irrelevant evidence. No
wonder NYC teachers are spending an enormous amount of time creating or using worksheets
to structure students’ writing, and NYC students are spending an enormous
amount of time filling these worksheets in.
teachers apparently knew nothing about the value of prose models, once a
well-known concept in writing. One teacher admitted spending a lot of time
trying to help her students come up first with a topic sentence (not mentioned
in Common Core’s reading or writing standards). But even a topic sentence
doesn’t come easy to middle school students who’ve never identified one in
Two other teachers had first assigned some short stories before
asking their students to come up with a “thesis” or a
“claim” and produce “evidence” for it. Needless
to say, their writing didn’t show a “claim.” Not surprising. The only prose models the kids had been given
were short stories.
Another teacher acknowledged the lack of visible “claims”
in her students’ writing. She was pleased they were learning to cite page
numbers for the location of their “evidence,” even though their
“thesis” or “claim” had to be “inferred.”
ago, it was common practice for English teachers to introduce students to the
art of the essay in grade 9. Now
students in grade 6 are to attempt an essay with a thesis or a claim. One teacher saw this as a healthy
“challenge” for her weak students. Others might see this challenge as
a utopian expectation, with teachers the ultimate scapegoat.
for the standards that the National Governors Association and the Council for
Chief School State Officers have copyrighted to be drastically revised. The
problem here is: Who will make the revisions?