Common Core: Irony, Commerce and the Clock

File52a4a9f585e15By Mark

For English Language Arts 9-10, Common Core standard #8 for Informational Text is this:

Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.

I thought of this when I read a rant recently about how Common Core required education about safe sex rather than abstinence. This was the same week I read two different assertions: one claiming that Common Core specifically outlawed the teaching of cursive, the other claiming that cursive was now required. A few weeks ago I was lectured by a parent about how Common Core was forcing kids to just memorize a list of facts and spit them back on a test. My school year this year started with a colleague upset at the required reading list identified by the Common Core State Standards for high school English.

A seven-second Google search enabled me to "evaluate the argument and specific claims… assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient" and "identify false statements." 

1. Common Core does not address issues of sex education…

2. Common Core does not address handwriting or cursive in the standards…

3. In the English Language Arts, and from what I can tell from reading the other standards, the skills defined are far more about application of acquired knowledge than about re-statement of knowledge…

4. There simply is no mandated Common Core reading list. There is a list, and that list is of texts that illustrate the "range of text complexity" for grade levels in ELA. Those are not the required readings, but texts against which to compare curriculum for appropriate complexity.

Sadly, nearly all of what I read and hear about the Common Core Standards themselves illustrates the sore need in our society for evaluating reasoning and seeking supporting evidence that is relevant and sufficient. Sure, there may be reasons to oppose the Common Core movement because of political or philosophical views about testing (even though the standards are not the test, testing companies are simply using the standards to design and market tests to us…a whole different issue that people are not always aware of), how the standards were developed, or whose money funded what–but that's not the argument I'm in right now.

My concern is the apparent lack of awareness about what the standards even say

As a direct result of what I believe is widespread misunderstanding about the actual content of the standards, a Common assumption among my peers and stakeholders alike is that the curriculum we currently use is not "Common Core" ready. I disagree. Perhaps how we use current curriculum needs adjustment. Nevertheless, my email in-box contains easily six to ten emails each morning from for-profit businesses soliciting to me with the claim that their new curriculum will be the answer to my Common Core prayers. Luckily, my PLC has already been working with these standards for a couple of years and we've realized that our current curriculum already matches the "new" standards, and thus such a major purchase is not necessary. What has changed, though, are some nuances of our teaching practices–the (well invested) cost of which was our collaborative time.

However, such emails can certainly send the message to educators that new books, materials or subscriptions are an absolute must-have and a necessary investment in order to cope with this change. Yes, there may need to be some shuffling of scopes-and-sequences both within courses and across grade levels. In a side-by-side comparison between some solicitors' samples and my current materials, the main two differences I could locate were that (1) the "new" materials directly stated the standards on the page, and (2) the typeface was prettier. Like so many trends in education, there is money to be made off of the shift to Common Core…just as there was money to be made off every other trend schools may have hopped over the years.

But I contest that money does not necessarily have to be spent the way those solicitors want: the investment should not be in a complete wipe of old curriculum in favor of new–that may only reflect minor changes in wording or formatting. The investment should be in arming teachers with diverse practices, not worksheets, that accomplish what the standards delineate, and also to creating school environments that are more conducive to deeper learning on the part of students (i.e., smaller class sizes to facilitate more teacher-to-student individual time and access, more in-day preparation time for teachers). I have written about this a few times, as one post from way back in 2009 foreshadows. New standards, new curriculum, new purchases of whatever kind, will not be the answer to "fixing" whatever schools are doing to fail society so miserably if the investment does not first prioritize time.

Unfortunately, no corporation stands to profit when a school chooses to invest in time. There's money to be made in keeping us distracted from that solution.

4 thoughts on “Common Core: Irony, Commerce and the Clock

  1. Maren Johnson

    Hi Mark.
    Great post. Thanks for calling out a few of the misstatements regarding the Common Core–yes, these defy reason!
    You mention that your PLC has been working with these standards for a few years. It is important to realize that in many schools/districts, this is the first year that implementation has started in earnest, and PLC time is limited to time that teachers themselves voluntarily decide to meet after school. This lack of PLC time is potentially going to be exacerbated by the 1080 instructional hour requirement for grades 7-12 next year.
    You talk about spending money on curriculum, professional development, or some combination of the two–in any case, implementation of the CCSS needs to be fully funded!

  2. Mark

    Time is the key. If we don’t have the time to learn, then we think we need a new “product” because we can get convinced easily that we need it because we haven’t had time to become informed consumers. Also, tell me more about the 1080 you mention … I probably should be familiar…

  3. Tom

    Great post, Mark.
    Yes, time is key, but as Maren points out, time means money. At this point, my district has maybe five or six hours directly set aside for “collaborative time.” It’s very difficult to gain a solid understanding of CCSS and to plan curriculum as a team in six hours.
    In order for schools to adequately prepare students for the new standards – even using existing curriculum – we need more than six hours of collaborative time per year.

  4. Maren Johnson

    Here’s a link regarding the 1080 hours requirement:
    http://sbe.wa.gov/documents/compliance/1080HoursFAQ.pdf
    Essentially, in 2014-15, the requirement is going to change from a 1000 hour district wide average instructional hours requirement, to requiring at least 1080 hours in grades 7-12 and 1000 hours in grades 1-6. These hours can not include teacher professional development time. The different time requirements across grade levels makes district-wide scheduling difficult, and for districts under the 1080 hours currently, it makes it difficult to add or maintain PLC time.
    Our local senator recently visited and talked to some local educators–a superintendent said, “the requirement to provide 1,080 hours of yearly instruction, an increase of two weeks over the past level, has caused stress in the scheduling of in-service meetings and conferences.” (http://www.peninsuladailynews.com/article/20131211/NEWS/312119984/0/SEARCH)

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