The Common Core State Standards evoked some questions in 2012. Here’s a recap of the year’s top 6 concerns.
- Where did the Standards come from?
- Who wrote the Standards?
- Fiction v. Nonfiction?
- Cursive Writing v. Keyboarding?
- What happened to the free curriculum maps?
- When will educators get a look at the high-stakes tests so they know how/what to teach?
See full discussions below.
1) Where did the standards come from?
Top on the list of questions this year has been a search for understanding the origins of the standards.
The official CCSS press releases emphasize that the wide-spread support for the standards:
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce
If we believe their information, the standards were developed in six months flat, from July 2009 to early 2010. In reality, the reform movement dates at least to 1996, when Achieve.org was created. Accessed on May 17, 2011, their website said,
“Created by the nation’s governors and business leaders in 1996, Achieve, Inc., is a bipartisan, non-profit organization that helps states raise academic standards, improve assessments and strengthen accountability to prepare all young people for postsecondary education, work and citizenship. Achieve has helped nearly half the states benchmark their standards and tests . . .”
From 1996 to 2006, Achieve worked through issues of reform and eventually created the American Diploma Project (ADP) Network, which accomplished the first iteration of the “college and career readiness standards.” Then, they found their political back door for education reform through the National Governor’s Association, who asked their respective state departments of education to align their standards with the ADP. By the time the reform was announced widely in the press in July, 2009, 35 states, representing 85% of the nation’s students, had already aligned their standards with the ADP curriculum goals. In other words, before the reform was even announced, it was already accomplished.
As CoreStandards.org reports, they opened the process at that point of their “initial draft” of the Common Core: The NGA Center and CCSSO received initial feedback on the draft standards from national organizations representing, but not limited to, teachers, postsecondary educators (including community colleges), civil rights groups, English language learners, and students with disabilities. Following the initial round of feedback, the draft standards were opened for public comment, receiving nearly 10,000 responses.
Regardless of public input in 2009, the reform movement—by going through the political back door of the state’s governors—had already become a reality.
Never did the public have a real debate about the underlying issued of the reform. Traditionally, U.S. schools have provided a liberal arts education, a well-rounded curriculum which prepares students for life. The “college and career-readiness” CCSS standards emphasize a more utilitarian goal of education. The real public debate about this major shift in education never materialized.
2) Who wrote the standards?
David Coleman, founder and CEO of Student Achievement Partners, LLC, is generally credited as a major author of the standards. SAP is an organization “that assembles leading thinkers and researchers to design actions to substantially improve student achievement.” Search YouTube for multiple videos of Coleman talking about the standards.
3) Fiction v. Nonfiction?
As teachers and schools began to implement the English Language Arts portion of the CCSS, one major question has been where is the list of required texts? In fact, there isn’t a required list. The standards (download the standards here) provide an extensive list of “exemplar texts,” in other words, great examples of the type of texts the CCSS requires. However, over many on the list are old books, often up to 50-60 years old, such as K-1 Fiction exemplar, such as Put me in the Zoo (Random House, 1960) , by Robert Lopshire. No one questions classic works of literature, but many of the nonfiction titles are old also. Further many of the exemplar texts are out of print and unavailable, such as these:
- 4th/5th grade informational text
Discovering Mars: the amazing story of the red planet (Scholastic, 1992) by Melvin Berger
Let’s Investigate Marvelously Meaningful Maps (Barrons, 1992) by Madelyn Wood Carlisle
- 6-8th grade informational:
A Short Walk through the Pyramids and through the World of Art (Knopf, 1993) by Phillip M. Isaacson
Instead, the CCSS provides a framework for choosing new texts by equally weighting quantitative, qualitative and reader task considerations. Unfortunately, the quantitative considerations, especially the use of the Lexile reading levels of a text, have been taken by many as a mandate: students must read text in the Lexiles given. This incorrect understanding of the CCSS has created many confusions.
The biggest confusion resulted because the Lexile was not the most common reading level measurement, so educators had to scramble to convert reading levels from other measurement tools. This was corrected by an August, 2012 update that went largely unnoticed. The update leveled the scores using six different tools, including the public domain Flesch-Kincaid test. Also updated were the range of scores for each grade for each test.
Another confusion has been that students must read an increased amount of nonfiction, another reflection of the move from a liberal arts education to a utilitarian education. Starting in fourth grade, students must read 50% nonfiction/50% fiction and that progresses to 70% nonfiction/30% fiction in twelfth grade.
Key to understanding this requirement is the CCSS emphasis on spreading the responsibility for reading and literacy to every teacher, regardless of the subject they teach. This means that over the course of a year, and including every subject taught, the texts must be 50% fiction/50% nonfiction. If you include texts that are read for history, social studies, science, technical subjects, etc., then the English Language Arts classroom will still have room for a majority of fiction texts. What this does require is coordination of reading across a grade level.
In other words, teachers are free to choose the appropriate texts for their classroom, as long as they can justify their choices under the CCSS. That’s easily done by looking at the requirements on this free CCSS Text Tool that summarizes the requirements on one page.
4) Cursive Writing v. Keyboarding?
Receiving a lot of press has been the issue of requiring keyboarding in third grade instead of cursive. This issue has been a red herring, taking attention away from the deeper concerns of curriculum because it is more easily understood and has a more general public appeal. Yes, keyboarding is required, though cursive is not forbidden. If states or individual schools decide that the time to teach keyboarding will replace time spent in cursive, it is their decision.
5) What happened to the free curriculum maps?
In the education world, standards are one thing, curriculums are another. A curriculum map is a document that implements the standards by giving it specifics. Often a map will break down what is taught into units or topics to be taught. It doesn’t necessarily go to the level of daily lessons, but is the organizing structure. Supported in part by Gates Foundation education grants, CommonCore.org released a first draft of CCSS free curriculum maps for English Language Arts in 2010.
Today, access to the maps are $25/person and the site boasts that they have been viewed by over 9 million people, which suggests an income of $225 million. For a while, the maps were available through internet archives, but they have since cut off this source of accessing those free maps. The answer now is to pay up, or create your own curriculum maps from scratch.
6) When will educators get a look at the high-stakes tests so they know how/what to teach?
Along with curriculum concerns, the CCSS also implies tracking students, and Achieve, Inc, the major instigator of the reforms, recommends a so-called P-20 data system: “Longitudinal data systems should follow individual students from grade to grade and school to school, all the way from kindergarten through postsecondary education and into the workplace. Such systems would also provide more accurate measures of dropout and graduation rates, and provide the foundation for early warning systems.”
While not required by the CCSS, most would consider this tracking an integral part of the reform, standards backed up with assessment and longitudinal tracking.
A couple major questions arise. First is the issue of privacy. How will students be identified? Is this yet another use for the social security number? Who will have access to the data? Will your education record follow you to the workplace, as implied and job interviews will include a look at your P-20 data? The privacy issues need to be raised loudly now and discussed in an open forum.
Second, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has just surveyed 56,268 schools which owned 5.9 million devices, looking at operating systems, internal memory, screen resolution and size, internet browsers, and the schools’ internet connection and bandwidth. Any way you look at it, a majority of schools will need to upgrade before the 2014 testing. Who will pay for the equipment? Will teacher raises be deferred because equipment needs take precedence?
Finally, what does computerized testing look like and how does it differ from paper and pencil testing? When will educators get a real look at the high-stakes test for which they must prepare their students? In August, 2012, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the two companies developing the CCSS tests, released their first samples of item and test prototypes to lukewarm response. Some emphasize the lack of relevant information about the coming high-stakes test and the need for more openness in the process of development. As Kevin’s Meandering Mind blog puts it this way:
“I’m still worried, of course, and the lack of real information about or PARCC so far has increased my concerns (given that the timetable for implementation in our state is as early as next year for PARCC). I still need more time to read, absorb, and think about what PARCC has put on the table. . . Information is what need. This may be a trickle, but at least it’s a start.”
Let’s hope that 2013 has a flood of information coming from PARCC.