I think comedian George Burns said it best: “Too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.” While I’ve honestly never looked into it, I’ve heard many times before that those who wrote the Common Core Standards were not just politicians: textbook conglomerates had a big hand in the act too. If it’s hard to understand why this is a conflict of interest as well as frightening, think of the kid in a candy store saying. Scary, no? While Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman do their best to find a silver lining to the Common Core in “Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement”, I just came up with more reasons why the initiative is asinine.
The purpose of the book is not to glorify nor to discount the Common Core. I believe that their goal in writing this book was to simply help teachers understand the document and discover ways to implement teaching the standards. The advice I found most helpful from the book is to pay attention to phrases that pop up frequently in the Standards. For instance, “these are some of the phrases that are repeated in the descriptive text leading into the reading standards: “close, attentive reading” (CCSS 2010a, 3), “critical reading” (3), “reasoning and use of evidence” (3), “comprehend, evaluate, synthesize” (4), “comprehend and evaluate” (7), “understand precisely … question … assess the veracity” (7), and “reading independently and closely” (10).” Knowing that my students are to be able to perform or improve upon each of these skills can lead me to more focused lesson plans. For instance, in class one day I decided to give a mini lesson on making predictions. Being able to hone this skill is something that actual readers do (typically without a conscious effort) but it also is a skill that will improve upon a readers close, attentive reading, critical thinking, reasoning and use of evidence, and comprehension and evaluation of a text – almost all of the skills emphasized in the reading portion of the Common Core. The best part is, I didn’t even know about the emphasis put on each of these skills when I planned my lesson. In almost any lesson, most teachers are already hitting these areas, so the Standards do not have to be at the forefront of planning in order to incorporate them.
Unfortunately, if a teacher does focus on the Standards, they could be damaging their students because “the Common Core deemphasizes reading as a personal act and emphasizes textual analysis.” This attitude in education is what drives students away from the pursuit of knowledge. When learning is more of a task than a pleasure, it’s no wonder that so many students refuse to pick up books. And, “contemporary children’s literature clearly takes a backseat to classics” in the Common Core which is unfortunate as in studies of “reading motivation and achievement” success in reading is most influenced by “ensuring the students had easy access to high-interest texts, and the second most influential factor was providing students with choice over what they would read.” What’s also interesting is that the Standards really push for progress in text complexity, but “there is no evidence to suggest that raising the bar of text complexity in the primary grades will get students to the level of college and career readiness at the end of high school.” In fact, the converse may be true as “students end up holding books they cannot read” and therefore perceive themselves as unfit, poor readers – a detrimental attitude that clearly adversely impacts students.
On the bright side, “In the Common Core State Standards, … writing is treated as an equal partner to reading, and more than this, writing is assumed to be the vehicle through which a great deal of the reading work and reading assessments will occur.” Calkins, Ehrenworth, and Lehman claim in the past writing has often been overlooked in education, which is disheartening to think about. Because of this, “the CCSS, then, return writing to its place as one of the basics of education.” But the good news ends there. The writing standards emphasize “three types of writing, the writing process, the quality of student writing, writing as integral even for very young students, writing across all disciplines and for real purposes” yet other forms of writing are left out. For example, in the Standards, “poetry is overlooked.” Also, the Standards “are calling for higher expectations in writing than those that have been commonplace” which means that what the Standards label as pristine pieces are not “the work that strong writers occasionally produce, but the work that all students should be expected to produce – and to produce regularly, with independence.” When in history has molding young people into similarly minded robots ever resulted in something good? Would never be an accurate response?
Perhaps out of all of the books laid out on that first day of classes in August I should have steered myself clear of this one. Although I did learn about the Common Core, my level of angst about it has risen exponentially. Maybe I should seek therapy from a taxi cab driver or a barber.