The Rhetoric Surrounding the Common Core: Devastating Impact Explored

Many top-of-the-food-chain edu-gurus have been hammering or snipping at the Common Core (e.g. Diane Ravitch, Stephen Krashen, Peter Elbow, Yong Zhao) and I’ve ignored them, for the most part.

Okay, to be honest, at first I read them — they are people for whom I have great respect –and then I skimmed them, and now, finally, I ignore. To be honest, I haven’t the time. I haven’t the energy.

The best argument I’ve seen yet comes from Yong Zhao who claims that one of America’s educational (and thus creativity & competitiveness) strengths is our lack of conformity across the nation. Because we don’t have a lock-step education system, our thinkers and inventors and problem solvers think differently from one another, build upon one another, launchpad off of one another. I do like that idea but I don’t think we should use it as an excuse not to hold all of our teachers, all of our students, and all of our schools up to the same level of high expectations.

Anyway, yet another article was forwarded to me — and I read it because, well, I was asked to do so by a friend and colleague. This article, entitled “Common Core Standards’ Devastating Impact on Literary Study and Analytical Thinking“, tempted me to think that I would actually discover how the Common Core was negatively impacting student learning. To say I was quite disappointed would be an understatement.  Ultimately, the argument stresses about things that aren’t even in the Core or stresses over things that they think are missing from the Core. See my previous post about close-reading the Common Core.

I like the Common Core. I really do. But I’m willing to keep an open mind, especially if respected peers and educators can help me think through its problems.

But here’s why I like the Core: I think that we are finally given permission to ask students to think critically, to provide text-based evidence, and to deeply consider both sides of an argument (CCSS stress argument writing (think Toulmin) vs persuasive writing). In discussion reading, students can’t just say, “well, that’s what I think” — as a teacher, you gently push them back to the text. Good teachers already do this. I was first introduced to this way of teaching when I attended a Great Books Foundation training (through one of our Teaching American History grants) & practiced their shared inquiry model: multiple and close readings of a text, text-dependent and open-ended questions about the text, and with the teacher serving simply as facilitator of the class discussion. This IS analytical thinking. I finally feel, with the Common Core, that I have permission to teach the way I know to be good and true and right. Instead of trying to cover the entire world, two inches deep but miles wide, I’m given permission to go deeply with text, to push students to think deeply. I may not cover 40 novels but I will deeply consider a handful of short stories, epic poems, plays, novels.

Here’s what I DO worry about: I worry about the assessment. Assessment drives instruction. Whatever the assessment privileges will privilege the emphasis of such in classrooms. Whatever is left out of the assessments will be left out of the classrooms. I worry about over testing, assessment accountability, money tied to assessment, pay for performance, and the government-data complex.

But all of that has nothing to do with the Common Core itself. It IS tied to the fact that there are now common standards — and thus states can be measured against one another. And that sucks, pardon the technical language.

Is there something I’m missing here? I have to say that when I read the research (Applebee & Langer, 2006) on how little time is devoted to actually reading & writing in the junior high and high school ENGLISH classroom, I’m ready for something major to come along and disrupt the status quo. Hello, Common Core.