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Common Core Non-Fiction Reading Task #1: The DC Erasure Study Memo

As all educators know, the reading of non-fiction is supposed to be significantly increased as a result of the new Common Core (wanted to be national) Standards.

It seems to me that the recently uncovered "Erasure Study" memo, written by investigator Sandy Sanford in 2009 makes a fine primary source document to be used as the basis for student inquiry. This memo has been hidden since it was first written. Its existence sheds light on the behavior of some of the nation's most well-known education reformers, including Michelle Rhee.

Rich Cairns suggests:

Primary sources provide authentic materials for students to practice the skills required by the CCSS. Encouraging students to grapple with the raw materials of history, such as photographs, newspapers, film, audio files, government documents, and economic data, provides opportunities for them to practice critical thinking, analysis skills and inquiry.

So how might one use this approach to analyze this memo?

First of all, students might begin with this "written document analysis worksheet" from the National Archives. This asks them to read the document closely, and determine the purpose for which it was written, and make inferences about the circumstances it describes.

But to really understand this document will require some deeper inquiry.

For background, watch this documentary by John Merrow, aired four months before the Erasure Memo came to light.

To understand the significance of the source document, read the reporting of John Merrow, who broke the Missing Memo story.

Then watch this video of Chris Hayes interviewing Merrow about the story.

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Here are some questions to get at the basic facts of the story:

  • How did Michelle Rhee approach improving schools in Washington, DC?
  • Review this set of stories in the Washington Post and create a summary of the key changes Rhee set into motion. Cite at least three separate news stories in your summary.
Critical Analysis:
  • What does the "Erasure Memo" tell us about what was happening in the schools in Washington, DC?
  • Why was this information so "sensitive"?
  • What do you think this story says about the way schools are educating and testing students in the past decade?

This lesson is offered as a means by which students might understand an important episode in the history of education in the 21st Century. It is NOT meant as an endorsement of the Common Core (want to be national) Standards.

What do you think? Is the DC Erasure Memo a source document worthy of study?

Continue the dialogue with @AnthonyCody on Twitter.

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