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Draft Common Standards Hit the Internet—UPDATED


We're getting a peek at the draft academic standards that a work group is putting together.

Core Knowledge, an advocacy group that calls for giving students deep grounding in content across subjects, has posted a draft copy of the common, multistate standards on its Web site—and it argues that the document completely misses the mark.

"Voluntary National Standards Dead on Arrival" reads the headline on the Core Knowledge blog.

The draft document represents the first step in an effort being led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to create common academic standards across states. Achieve, the ACT, and the College Board are also working on the project. The first set of standards, which the organizations have said they hoped to have completed by the end of this month, focuses on the standards for college and career readiness in language arts and math. Copies of the draft document had been circulating among some organizations for review, Robert Pondiscio, the communications director at Core Knowledge, wrote on the blog entry. His group decided to post them, because they saw no restrictions on doing so, he said.

The organization's view of the draft document is highly negative. Here's a piece from the online blog entry:

"The draft insists that the voluntary standards be 'coherent' but defines coherence to mean they 'should convey a unified vision of the big ideas and supporting concepts within a discipline and reflect a progression of learning that is meaningful and appropriate.' Framed as a series of benchmarks students must reach 'to be college and career ready,' the draft enumerates standards such as the ability to 'determine what text says explicitly and use evidence within text to infer what is implied by or follows logically from the text.'

"To put this as blandly as possible, this is neither a revelatory insight nor a meaningful standard. Educators hoping for guidance on what particular texts are expected to be taught, or how to get students to reach the bland and obvious standards will be disappointed."

Obviously, Core Knowledge has its own view of what should go into academic standards, and others reviewing the document will have their own. After you've had a look, give me your opinion.

UPDATE from guest blogger Catherine Gewertz: Gene Wilhoit of the CCSSO and Dane Linn of the NGA said it's too early to draw conclusions about the draft, since it lacks the feedback from working groups tasked to review it, and from governors and state chiefs. Once all that feedback is in, a revised draft—with evidence supporting each standard—will be available online, in mid-August, for further public comment. Wilhoit and Linn's overall message? That this draft represents just the first step in a much longer process.

UPDATE (2): Lynne Munson, the president and executive director of Common Core, in Washington, which also advocates for giving students a strong grounding across disciplines, calls the Core Knowledge group’s pronouncement “premature,” though she shares some of their concerns. In a blog entry, Munson says that the common standards effort is “is too coordinated, too strategically smart, and has too much momentum to be dismissed out of hand.”

Munson says that the standards draft risks repeating what she says are the mistakes of the the No Child Left Behind era, in which reading was approached “purely as a skill” and “overlooks the key role that substantial content plays in teaching students to read.” Yet she also says that the effort is “still in its nascent stages” and so “condemnations are premature.”

Read our full story on reactions to the standards here.


The Core Knowledge objection reflects their underlying views on knowledge and learning. The cultural literacy argument is that mature reading is only possible is you have a body of background knowledge from literature, history, science and other subjects. Without that, you can't make sense or "construct meaning" from complex texts: you can't comprehend what you read.

From that starting point, the Core Knowledge critique of the common core draft standards could have been written six months ago. You plan to write language arts standards? You plan to do that separately from other disciplinary knowledge? You're guaranteed to fail.

I agree with the main Core Knowledge argument about what makes for strong reading, but don't think they can win that point with the common core project. Most people in power think language skills can be taught in isolation, and they're going to back standards based on that model.

In that context, I think they'd have a stronger impact if they said "We want those same language capacities. If you want good ideas on how to build those capacities, let us show you how the other content areas are relevant." They'd convince more people with an argument about methods than with an attack on the goals themselves.

In math, science, history, and geography, dumbing down is accomplished by bloating the curriculum with nonessential fluff, not by omitting essential topics. So I looked especially to see whether the fluff was weeded out in the math standards. It was not.

In mathematics, the leading topics of nonessential fluff – topics that are included in a curriculum to provide an excuse for engaging, academically undemanding activities – are:
- statistics ("collect data" and make a bar graph)
- probability (flip coins, roll dice)
- measurement (measure something with nonmetric units)
- geometry (explore a new shape)

Geometry appears under the worrisome title "Shape" – but it emphasizes multi-step problems and proofs, rather than playing with shapes. Good call. On the other hand, Statistics does not include the most basic concepts of statistical inference (random error, hypothesis testing, statistical distributions), so it is pure fluff. The draft standards also offer a new category of fluff, called Modeling. Even more worrisome, Statistics, Probability, Quantity (meaning measurement), and Modeling constitute 4 of the 10 Mathematical Principles in the draft standards, which suggests that 40 percent of the instructional time might be allocated to these four excuses for engaging, academically undemanding activities.

There is a lot to like in these draft standards as well. But I think the greater danger is not weeding out the fluff.

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