What Reporters Think They Know about Common Core

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The public is ill-served by reporters who are no longer skeptical of what they are told, can’t read a set of ELA or math standards for K-12, and do not try to find out what is actually happening in the classroom in the name of Common Core. Here is a chart that appeared in an October 15, 2013 Hechinger Report. The comments mingle partial truths and outright lies. Why didn’t Sarah Garland, the reporter, seek a range of perspectives in order to evaluate what he or she had been told? (“Sold” may be the more accurate word.)

Six ways Common Core changes English and math classrooms:

Before

Common Core

  1. English classes concentrated on literature, like Huckleberry Finn and Great Gatsby
English classes include a mix of literature and informational texts, like speeches and articles
  1. Students asked about personal reactions and experiences in response to literature
Students must base arguments and essays on evidence from the reading, not their own opinions or experiences
  1. Focus on offering students books at their reading level, known as “just right” texts
All students must read the same “complex” text, whether or not it’s beyond their reading level
  1. Math classes covered multiple topics in the course of a grade, with frequent reviews
The number of topics covered is reduced, so that students move through arithmetic, subtraction and other concepts more slowly; less review
  1. In many schools, Algebra I was taught by 8th grade
Algebraic concepts included earlier, but in most cases Algebra I not taught until high school
  1. Memorization of formulas and practice was prioritized
Memorization is supposed to be coupled with deeper understanding of math concepts and applying formulas in new ways

Below is an annotated version of this chart that brings skepticism and truthfulness to the misleading statements in both columns.

Before

Common Core

  1. English classes concentrated on literature, like Huckleberry Finn and Great Gatsby.

Few English classes by 2000 concentrated on historically and culturally significant works of literature.  Not only is there is no research to support the reporter’s statement, but, in fact, the research in FORUM 4, issued by ALSCW, provides evidence for the opposite conclusion.

English classes include a mix of literature and informational texts, like speeches and articles.
Common Core reduces the amount of literature to be taught in the English class, so that most students may be assigned only very short imaginative works or excerpts from a long novel, play, or poem.  It is worth reading the chapter by English teacher Jamie Highfill in an April 2014 Pioneer Institute report entitled “The Dying of the Light,” which addresses the fate of poetry in a Common Core curriculum.
  1. Students asked about personal reactions and experiences in response to literature.

This pedagogy was encouraged in teacher preparation coursework and professional development as a way to increase the “relevance” of writing assignments.

Students must base arguments and essays on evidence from the reading, not their own opinions or experiences.
Common Core does not prevent the continued use of “personal experience” writing assignments.  Also, it is hardly worth cheering when Common Core is having students base arguments on “informational” texts like Branded or Nickel and Dimed rather than making personal responses to imaginative literary texts.  (See the September 2012 Pioneer Institute report entitled “How Common Core’s ELA Standards Place College Readiness at Risk,” by Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky.)  http://pioneerinstitute.org/download/how-common-cores-ela-standards-place-college-readiness-at-risk/
  1. Focus on offering students books at their reading level, known as “just right” texts.

Elementary teachers assign reading groups the books they can read mostly on their own (to enjoy reading more) so they can teach them the skills/vocabulary they need for reading more difficult books.

All students must read the same “complex” text, whether or not it’s beyond their reading level.
Having all students in mandated heterogeneous classes read the same book together when it is either too easy or too difficult for many of them is of questionable educational value.
  1. Math classes covered multiple topics in the course of a grade, with frequent reviews.

Teachers review before teaching something new because most students do little homework and many are frequently absent.  Common Core says nothing about homework or the absentee issue.  

The number of topics covered is reduced, so that students move through arithmetic, subtraction and other concepts more slowly; less review. Common Core believes that learning much less, and at a slower pace, is an effective way to improve students’ academic achievement.
  1. In many schools, Algebra I was taught by 8th grade.

Most students in this country did not complete algebra I in grade 8, even though most students in high-achieveing countries do.  In states with higher standards, however, Algebra I was frequently taught in the 8th grade.

Algebraic concepts included earlier, but in most cases Algebra I not taught until high school. Common Core believes that learning less and at a slower pace is good for all American students.
  1. Memorization of formulas and practice was prioritized.

Why not?  Is there a musician or a mathematician today who didn’t practice to achieve fluency when younger?  All children are expected to practice their musical instrument or their basic math facts in order to move on to more difficult material.  Advanced material is exceedingly difficult to learn without earlier practice and automaticity in basic skills.

Memorization is supposed to be coupled with deeper understanding of math concepts and applying formulas in new ways.
Practice to achieve fluency (automaticity) in arithmetic is given to all students in high-achieving countries and serves as the basis for deeper understanding at an appropriate age.