Common Core

Letter | Objection to Common Core a political statement, not an educational perspective

February 12, 2014 

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I love Alan Jackson’s song about 9/11, “Where were you when the world stopped turning?” and I can relate when he sings, “I’m just a singer of simple songs/I’m not a real political man,” because I’m not very political myself.

Perhaps that’s why I don’t understand the reaction of S.C. Parents Involved in Education (SCPIE) to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts, because I’m sure it’s a political reaction. It can’t be about the standards, because I’ve read the standards, and while I’m not a “singer of simple songs,” or a politician, I am an educator, and I know about standards.

We’ve had English language arts standards in South Carolina since 2002 when they were written as part of the South Carolina Educational Accountability Act, which reads: ” the purpose of academic standards is to provide the basis for the development of local curricula and statewide assessment.”

The 2002 English language arts standards were revised in 2006 and became our 2008 standards. All of our academic standards are revised periodically, with seven years being the maximum allowed time between revisions, according to S.C. legislation. As an educator who has taught the 2002 ELA standards and the 2008 standards, I can honestly say that the 2010 Common Core ELA standards are an improvement over the previous standards because they do, in fact, represent “revisions” that are needed in order to prepare our students for the 21st century.

When the State Department of Education conducted a correlation study of the CCSS and the 2008 ELA standards, they found a 94 percent correlation between the two. Does this mean that our 2008 standards were “academically inferior”, as SC Pie has labeled the 2010 CCSS standards for English language arts?

Granted, there were some major shifts in the new ELA CCSS that might cause parents some alarm. One was the inclusion of Speaking and Listening Standards, which had been removed from the 2002 S.C. ELA Standards. Of course we don’t want our students to be effective speakers! What benefits could come from expecting a child to “present claims and findings, sequencing ideas logically and using pertinent descriptions, facts, and details to accentuate main ideas or themes; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation?”

Another shift in the new ELA standards has to do with reading more complex text. The CCSS expect students to read and comprehend grade-level appropriate texts. Heaven forbid our 9th grade students can read 9th grade texts! This might mean they will be able to read college level texts when they graduate from high school, or technical manuals on the job, typically written at the 1000-1200 Lexile range. And what about our 3rd graders? Shouldn’t they be reading at the 3rd grade level when they finish 3rd grade? Hmmm … that statement sounds vaguely familiar (see SC’s Read to Succeed Program authored by State Supt. Mick Zais).

SCPIE argues that “large amounts of classical fiction and nonfiction are required to provide students with rich sources of complex language structures which challenge a young reader to critically examine each page.” CCSS says students need to read more complex text to be prepared for college and careers. I wonder if the parents in this organization have perused the text exemplars in the CCSS Appendix B? Here’s a sample from grades 6-8: Louisa May Alcott; Mark Twain; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow;, Lewis Carroll; Robert Frost; Carl Sandburg; Langston Hughes, etc.

SCPIE argues that CCSS English Standards have replaced 50-70 percent of classic literature with “dry informational text” but the truth of the matter is the CCSS do not tell teachers what to teach; they tell teachers what students should be able to do with the texts they read and/or write about. And this is what the document actually says about the percent of fiction and informational texts students read in high school: “because the ELA classroom must focus on literature (stories, drama, and poetry) as well as literary nonfiction, a great deal of informational reading in grades 6–12 must take place in other classes if the NAEP assessment framework is to be matched instructionally”

A final shift in the new CC standards that, as an experienced educator, I really like, is the emphasis on evidence-based reasoning and evidence-based writing. I’m not from Missouri, but when my students tell me they’ve read “The Great Gatsby” and that they understand that this is Fitzgerald’s classic novel about the American Dream, I want them to “show me” how they know this by citing lines from the book. Not lines from the Cliff/Spark/Pink Monkey Notes, but from the text they’ve read. And when my students want to write argumentative essays about lowering the drinking age or prohibiting stem cell research, they must make their case for or against either issue with evidence from reliable, valid sources in order to convince me. The 2008 standards do not explicitly state “cite textual evidence” when reading and writing about literature or informational text. The CCSS do. I like this revision.

As I said earlier, this CC fight in South Carolina must be political because I don’t know a single educator who finds the CCSS ELA standards to be “academically inferior.” I have read some comments about these standards being “one size fits all,” but inherent in its definition, a standard is “a level of quality or attainment, a caliber, a norm.” Should there not be a measure of excellence in reading, writing, speaking and listening that we want our children to attain?

I’m waiting for someone from SCPIE or one of the legislators attempting to eliminate the Common Core standards to identify which reading, writing, speaking and listening skills they don’t want me to teach their children. I can’t find one standard that doesn’t improve upon the already well-written 2008 standards.As I stated earlier, I don’t believe this fight is about the standards, but then, I’m not a “real political man.” I’m just an English teacher with 36 years of experience who knows that the CCSS are the standards that we need to be teaching in South Carolina.

The writer lives in Pawleys Island.

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