Friday, March 23, 2012

The depressing idiocy of the Common Core

David Coleman
 As readers of this blog are already aware, the Common Core standards for English Language Arts were designed by a man named David Coleman, a former McKinsey consultant who was hired by the Gates Foundation and never taught a day in his life.   

Coleman has now prescribed for the nation’s schools that at least 50 percent of all assigned reading in grades K-5 must be “informational text” rather than stories, plays, poetry or other types of imaginative literature, and 75 percent "informational text" in grades 6-12. 

All but four states have now signed onto the Common Core and Coleman’s rigid instructions. Goodbye to novels or other sorts of reading that will fully engage a child’s imagination! 

In a recent EdWeek article about how school districts are preparing for these new curricular demands, Josh Thomases of the NYC DOE is quoted as follows:

 "Most teachers are not taught how to teach reading," he said. "Teachers, especially secondary teachers, need help figuring out what they're going to do to pause long enough in the teaching to have students grapple with text describing the real world. That's our task.

"It's not so much that we have the wrong materials in our schools, but [it's] actually figuring out how to structure classrooms so we speak to text and kids are using text in conversations with each other and are grappling with the meaning of text. We can do that with the texts at hand," he said.

"In the longer term, yes, we need to make sure that by the end of high school, students are reading science journals," Mr. Thomases continued. "But right now, just simply the act of reading the science textbook and absolutely making the textbook—rather than the teacher—generate the answers. ... If we did that in every classroom across America, we would see very different outcomes."

Make the textbook generate the answers?  Isn’t that rather reductionist?  Why would that help students learn or teachers teach?  

But if the new push for informational text won’t necessarily help our kids, it will clearly make a lot of money for textbook companies, already earning huge profits off the expansion of standardized testing.

According to Edweek, NYC DOE is now “talking with publishers to "push the vendor community" to create a literacy curriculum it considers reflective of the common standards.”  And:

Pearson, for one, is including more "content-rich nonfiction" material in its K-12 programs, said Mike Evans, who oversees math and reading products for the New York City-based education company. In an upcoming revision of its Reading Street program, a 4th grade unit on patterns in nature includes text selections on tornado sirens and the migration of Arctic terns. Supporting materials walk teachers through ways to help students "unlock" those texts, Mr. Evans said in an email.

Designers working on a new digital curriculum in a joint project of the Pearson Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation aim to reflect the new standards' emphasis as well.

…..Last summer, Scholastic launched Everyday Literacy, a K-6 program that incorporates brochures, catalogs, menus, and other text types, and includes suggestions for ways teachers can walk students through the elements in each type of text, Mr. Daley said.  This spring, it plans to launch XBOOKS, a print and digital middle school program with strands on such topics as forensics, which will explore DNA analysis and fingerprinting.

Florida's Broward County school district is spending $787,000 to put a new Scholastic program, Buzz About IT, into all its K-2 classrooms in response to the new standards' emphasis on informational text ….

Joanne Weiss
 In a much-cited article in the Harvard Business Review by Joanne Weiss, Arne Duncan's chief of staff and formerly head of the "Race to the Top" grant program, that held out the promise of funding to cash-strapped states if they adopted the Common Core, she wrote how the new regime would simplify and enlarge the demand for entrepreneurs to create products aligned with the new, national standards:  

The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.

According to her official bio, Weiss also has no teaching experience, but started her career as Vice President at a company where she "was responsible for the development of nearly 100 multimedia curriculum and assessment products for K-12 schools."  

The inherent denigration of fiction is seriously misguided, in my view and many other parents and teachers.   Here is a recent NY Times article showing how reading fiction stimulates children's brain in ways that other types of reading do not.

According to one study of preschool-age children, “the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind”.  As a cognitive psychologist notes, “Fiction…is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”

Even if one agreed that our children should be assigned “brochures, catalogs, and menus” rather than novels or plays, there seem to be grave problems with how the teaching of the Common Core is being force-fed to educators.

Today’s Answer Sheet features a compelling critique by Jeremiah Chaffee, a New York State teacher, of the Common Core’s pre-packaged and scripted lesson on the Gettysburg Address, which tells teachers, among other things, that their students cannot be asked to read the piece in advance (to mimic testing conditions), and “forbids teachers from asking students if they have ever been to a funeral because such questions rely on individual experience and opinion.”

It also instructs teachers to ““avoid giving any background context” because the prescribed Common Core’s close reading strategy “forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all.” 
Lincoln at Gettysburg

 As Chaffee notes, “How can anyone try to disconnect this profoundly meaningful speech from its historical context and hope to “deeply” understand it in any way, shape, or form?”  

(Here is the CC “exemplar” on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on the NY State Education Department's website, in case you’d like to check it out yourself.) 

Words cannot describe how sad it is that the education of our nation's children will be narrowed and distorted because of the massive wealth and influence of the Gates Foundation, and the US DOE’s successful effort to bribe states through Race to the Top to adopt these absurd prescriptions and methodologies.


Bob Valiant said...

The education of our nation's children does not have to be narrowed and distorted if parents, teachers and other concerned citizens just say NO to the stupidity of reforms such as CCSS coming out of the Duncan USDOE. Join more than 5000 by signing the letter to Obama at .

Bob Valiant said...

The url for the Letter to Obama is

rebel said...

Coleman is on the board of one of the city's charters (can't remember the name--the one that claims it pays teachers 125K). This summer he did staff development for SED for the summer institute. He received ten thousand tax dollars. I am presently FOILING all of the fees he as received from NY SED. The standards are fine. Mr Coleman's knowledge of teaching is lacking. He also tells teachers to read the pieces aloud to students, which is NOT a research based practice. In short, he is well paid and clueless.

Roz Fitzgerald said...

Incorporating the right non fiction materials for young children is important and useful. However, catalogs, menus, and many things described here are depressing. Great literature is crucial for all levels of k-12. My own child has been to Shakespeare camp for many summers. Her sixth grade teacher introduced her to Shakespeare and as parents, we jumped on it.

Literacygurl said...

If you've never read Richard Allington's "Big Brother and the National Reading Curriculum: How Ideology Trumped Evidence" (2002), you should now.

Although Allington was addressing the National Reading Panel (NRP) Report, it is prescient of the CCSS. The CCSS reading curriculum is a revival of "New Criticism" and is not supported by research. It also seems to be a resurrection of the "read the word only", don't question authority ideology discussed by Allington.

Bill Gunlocke, a city reader said...

You might take a look at my blog/newsletter about NYC schools and reading:

Joel said...

Every time I think the NYC school system has reached the bottom,something else comes along to make me think it can get worse. I can't think of anything that would destroy our children's desire to read more than this mandatory topics of boring reading material. It is the interest in materials and the wide range for possible discussion that makes our children want to read.Just look at the way The Harry Potter novels or The Hunger Games books fly off the shelves.
When are we going to stop listening to these ideas presented by people who have no idea what a classroom is like or to people like Mr. Duncan and Mayor Bloomberg whose ideas have done nothing to help our children learn.

Anonymous said...

Common Core is what comes before near automation of the curricula. Students sitting at terminals all day long, completing "modules" dialed in from India - Ground Control to Major Tom....never thought it'd get this bad down here...

Viktoria said...

To deal with problems like these in public schools I find myself, like a lot of parents in New York, looking for other methods of educating my children.

Even though my son is in the gifted and talented program, I still found holes in his education. For example, he can read on a second grade level, but spells below Kindergarten level. His math skills are not where they should be. Sometimes I feel that in their attempt to stray from the "usual" method, they miss out on a lot of the formal education they should be receiving.

I've sent my children to many different after-school programs in the Brooklyn area, including Kumon, Intellect Center, and others. They did not always work. I recently started my children at Brainy Academy in Sheepshead Bay and love what they do there.

Their work off of the children's school curriculum, and not only work to fix gaps in grades, but also provide children with the confidence to go above the core curriculum.

It is sad that the same approach to learning cannot be used in New York City public schools. We need to put our children ahead any way we can.

The Management said...

Signing the letter to Obama is harmless, but what would be really helpful is persuading the governor to sever ties with Common Core. That's what South Carolina's governor did this month. It's what we in Utah are trying to get our governor to do. The thing hangs together via governors. Governors!!!

The Management said...

Signing a letter to Obama is harmless, but pushing your state rep and the governor to sever ties with Common Core is smarter. The governors are the ones who signed states up for this thing. They have the power to end it. South Carolina's governor just did it. Utah may be next. Call your governor. Over and over and over. Local school boards have no clue, and neither do teachers. The governors get it.

Anonymous said...

Thank heaven for sites like this where the awful truth about what's happening to U. S. public education is being told. Tragically,our entire public education system is now for sale, piece by piece, to the highest bidders. And any teachers who dare to speak up or protest are sure to be demonized in some way. A train wreck in slow motion is what we currently are witnessing......

Anonymous said...

I read this and wonder if any of the commentators have actually read the CCSS or if they were at all familiar with previous state standards. The CCSS do not call for the ellimination of fiction or creative writing. They only ask students to do more reading of the kinds of texts they will read and be asked to evaluate in college and in their working lives. We currently do our children a great disservice in not preparing them to read complext nonfiction texts. This is a good thing. Standards have been around for a long time. We should be pleased that schools are now implementing a version of standards that asks studnets to think deeply, critically, and creatively. Go ahead and argue with me, but read the standards first.