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Two Responses to Common Core Standards: Ten Colossal Errors

Yesterday I posted a commentary on what I believe to be major errors that make the Common Core standards project unworthy of our support. I invited anyone to provide evidence that would contradict my point of view. Thus far, nobody has done so. However, two comments came in that suggest a different approach, and since this reflects the views of many, I thought it worthwhile to share these, and invite more discussion. 

The first came from a reader named jpatten, who commented:

I think what would make this piece stronger is to have actually identified specific standards and identified the problems with them. From what I understand from the piece, the issue is mostly how the standards were developed and not the standards. Also, by saying that, "I do not believe the standards themselves are significantly better than those of most states, and thus they do not offer any real advantages." You lead the reader thinking they are also no worse than what states currently have now. This leads me to believe spending more money (time) on increasing the feedback and input may not have led to different results. From what I understand of the standards, they do not dictate curriculum or instruction. They do not specify what curriculum should be used for English learners, children from low socio-economic environments, "gate" students, or the many other factors that influence the needs of our children (when addressing the standards.) If that information is buried in them somewhere, that would be a problem for me. I agree they shouldn't, as that is the place of our professionals in our schools. As to using some single student assessment to globally measure teacher effectiveness, that is just ridiculous. The differences in learners and the factors that influence the results of a single assessment are almost infinite. Here in California, I believe we recognize that fact, and in my experience, we have never used a single student assessment to measure the effectiveness of a teacher. Just a few thoughts on strengthening the argument...Thank you! 

The second comes from a former teacher named Jennifer Gonzalez, who writes:

Anthony, thanks for breaking the issue down here. I'll admit I have been baffled in the last few days since the Ethan Young video (TN High School Student) went viral. I have known that new teacher evaluation systems and the increased focus on testing and data have created a lot of controversy, but I didn't realize the Common Core itself was getting the blame for it. Little did I know Glenn Beck has been crusading against CCSS for months now. I guess I'm arriving late to the party, but knowing this issue is now within the FoxNews arena, I'm scared to voice my opinion. However, I'll give it a shot here.

 Part of the reason for my confusion is that I live in a state that adopted the CCSS early, and have worked with student teachers for several semesters as they developed lessons based on these standards. Compared to previous standards, I have found these remarkably easy to work with, and very flexible. [Most of my work has been with the ELA standards, by the way.] Really, I have never found anything objectionable about them. Amid all the uproar in the past week, I even went back and looked at them, to see if there was something I missed...Nope. Still pretty much an emphasis on reading literary and informational texts, developing a stance on these, and providing textual evidence to back up your stance. The writing standards require students to develop their ideas with examples, credible sources, logical reasoning. Honestly, my reaction when I first read the standards in 2011 was, "Nothing new here." 

 What I like about them, and what I do see as "new," is their structure -- the way the language and content of a certain standard stays the same across grade levels, increasing in complexity. For example, the first Writing standard concerns introducing a claim, then structuring an argument to support that claim. After using them for a while, I knew that no matter what grade level I was talking about, W.1 focused on that skill. Previous standards in the two states I have taught in were much more convoluted. 

 So my point is that I'm not really getting what's wrong with the content of the standards themselves. Having taught at the college level, I've seen the poor reading skills of many of my region's college students. The reason there has been a shift in focus toward reading more informational texts is because nonfiction makes up the bulk of what college students need to read -- and year after year, college professors are saying that students come to them unprepared to do the kind of reading a good college education requires of them. I've seen this first-hand: I'll assign 30 pages of textbook reading to college juniors over the course of a week, and half of them can't answer basic quiz questions over the material, let alone apply the concepts in a more complex way. They insist they read it, but the reading is challenging, and they demonstrate a lack of ability to pay close attention, re-read when necessary, and really process the words they're looking at. 

I agree with jpatten that more discussion of specific issues with specific standards would be useful. If most of the standards themselves are not the problem, or if people are really only taking issue with some of the early childhood ones, then it's probably time to isolate the problem areas and deal with them separately. I agree that the lack of transparency in the standards' development is problematic, but the conversation seems to simply bundle everything together, which will make it much harder to get support from those practitioners who find the standards well-constructed, regardless of where they came from.  

What do you think? Are Common Core critics such as myself throwing the baby out with the bathwater?  Should we separate our criticism of the process, and the tests, from the content of the standards themselves?

Update: Here is my response to these two comments.

Jennifer Gonzalez taught 8 years as a middle school language arts teacher and 4 years as an instructor in a university teacher preparation program. Her current project is Cult of Pedagogy, where she writes about strategy, technology, resources, and  the emotional and social forces that impact the way we do our work.

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