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Common State Standards, Part II (Updated)


A new version of the Common Core multistate standards has been released for public consumption. Many of the biggest changes were made in the language arts section, as opposed to the math, as I reported in my story today.
The new draft greatly expands the number of "illustrative texts," meant to show reading materials at the level of complexity that students need to be ready for on-campus studies and life in the labor market. The Declaration of Independence is in there, as was the case with the earlier draft, but so are documents like the Rev. Martin Luther King's 1963 "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," written to ministers and others who had been critical of him. Check out the Common Core documents to see more of those texts. The authors are quick to point out that this is not meant to be a prescriptive "reading list" for states.

The Council of Great City Schools is out the gate with a positive response to the latest draft. The organization says it offered comments on the early draft, and it even suggests that some of the big cities it represents might serve as "initial test sites" for implementing the standards.

UPDATE: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who has offered states a financial carrot to adopt common standards through Race to the Top funding, speaks favorably of the revised document:

"I applaud the leadership of this coalition of states in joining together to develop a common core of academic standards. The draft college- and career-ready standards that were released today as part of those efforts are an important step forward, and it is now in the hands of the public to provide critical feedback to state leadership. There is no work more important than preparing our students to compete and succeed in a global economy, and it is to the credit of these states that this work is getting done."

The American Federation of Teachers also likes what it sees. The union's president, Randi Weingarten, who has spoken favorably of creating national standards in the past, said AFT representatives had looked over an earlier draft, and the views of teachers are being taken seriously.

"We expect to see even more teacher input during the comment period and in future efforts to develop standards to guide the work of K-12 teachers," Weingarten said in a statement. "We encourage math and language arts teachers from across the country to make suggestions throughout this process...The question is: Do these standards reflect what we expect our children to know and what they should be able to do upon graduation, whether they enter the workforce or go onto college? We realize the answer is far from simple, but these standards are a solid first step."

Lynne Munson, of the group Common Core (not to be confused with the group drafting the standards) advocates for students receiving a content-rich curriculum. She likes the changes from the earlier draft, particularly the inclusion of more illustrative texts. But she questions why business memos, newspaper pages , and the like appear alongside passages of literature and historical documents. "It would be hard to imagine that someone who could master Austen, Whitman, and King would struggle to grasp the contents of a homepage, front page, or a memo on medical benefits," she writes in a blog post. "Sure, these resemble the kind of reading people must navigate daily, but school is a time when you encounter uncommon works of enduring value. The standards make that point, but more obliquely than they should."

Photo of MLK, courtesy of the Library of Congress.


I truly believe that in order to figure out where our deficits are, we need to not only have common objectives throughout the United States, but we also need to have a common assessment as to whether those standards have been achieved. Up until this point with the separation of objectives and assessment, educators have been scrambling to do whatever they can to measure up. Unless the goals and assessments are universal then we have opened up Pandora's Box.

There will be posturing by states and districts to produce the best results. There will be unfair and unjust judgments concerning educational programs in certain areas and schools. Worst of all, there will be those who cheat in order to secure their positions.

The point in having standards and in proper assessment is to assure that our students are getting what they need to survive in this world. If that is not happening, then we need to take each individual situation and evaluate them based on their own situational circumstances. Then we need to form a plan to lift the position of the students in that area. We should never use such an assessment as a means of punishing, instead we should channel the help that is needed, to improve student performance.

To often demographics and assets are not taken into consideration. They need to be in each case. Once changes are made then there should be a reasonable time period allowed to look for improvement. After those things have happened, then an assessment of the actual mechanics of the situation should be evaluated and dealt with.

We have been in such a hurry to evoke reform that we have sacrificed good teachers, administrators and systems when the only thing that needed to be done was uniform objectives, assessments and non threatening assistance.

The History Man
The History Man Blog

I plan to thoroughly review The College and Career Readiness Standards for Mathematics in the coming weeks. While my hope is that the standards will prove to be rigorous, content-rich, coherent and cohesive, at this point, I am very disturbed by the following statement which appears on page 3 of the standards document:

"Students reaching these levels will be prepared for non-remedial college mathematics courses and will be prepared for training programs for career-level jobs; however, the College and Career Readiness Standards for Mathematics should not be construed as grade twelve exit standards. Students interested in STEM fields, and those who wish to go beyond for other reasons, will need to reach these standards before their senior year in order to have time to include additional mathematics. A number of pathways for advanced learning are possible and may be integrated throughout the high school experience and beyond."

If I follow their advice and not construe these as grade twelve exit standards, then how shall I construe them? Are they saying that those students achieving only these standards by senior year will not be prepared for a STEM field? Wasn't that the goal? How could the standards be internationally benchmarked—as they claim they are elsewhere in the document—and not include STEM field preparation? Other countries prepare their high school graduates for STEM fields. Why do these standards fall short as they so openly admit?

I hope that the final draft will ensure that the pathways are open for all students, STEM and non-STEM alike. Mathematics education in the U.S. is at a pivotal moment. If the best these standards can do is prepare students for non-STEM fields, we will continue to lag behind other nations who are producing the top engineers and scientists.

Barry Garelick

Co-founder, U.S. Coalition for World Class Math

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