Archive for the ‘Thomas Newkirk’ Tag

40 Questions for Common Core Debaters   7 comments

state school board picture photo utah

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Utah radio personality Jason Williams of KVNU’s “For the People” has asked the public to submit questions for next week’s Common Core debate, which will take place at Mount Logan Middle School on January 6th, 2014, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. in Logan, Utah, at 875 N. 200 E.

Submit questions to: jasonthe@gmail.com or kvnuftp@gmail.com.

Legislators have already committed to attend the debate. I hope thousands of teachers, parents, grandparents, students and reporters show up.

The debaters will be Alpine School Board member Wendy Hart and mother Alyson Williams (against Common Core) versus state school board members Dave Thomas and Tami Pyfer (for Common Core). The event will be moderated by radio personality Jason Williams.

I sat down to write a few questions and ended up with 40. Some are borrowed from Professors Yong Zhao, Professor Christopher Tienken, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Dr. Daniel Coupland and others. I hope Mr. Williams has time to ask them all.

40 COMMON CORE DEBATE QUESTIONS

1. Is Common Core constitutional? Why or why not?

2. How important is the defense of local autonomy and local control of schools, to you personally –and does Common Core affect local control in any way? Yes or no?

3. The Common Core itself calls itself a “living work” and it admits that the document will change. Does the Utah State School Board have authority over the copyrighted Common Core “document” to change the document itself? ( To clarify: this is not a question of adding 15% as the Common Core governance allows a state to add in-state, but we are asking about changing the national standards themselves.) Yes or No?

4. Can Utah voters remove from positions of power the people who hold copyright over Utah’s Common Core standards (Board of Directors of CCSSO/NGA) if we do not approve of the direction of Common Core? Yes or No?

5. Are those who hold copyright over Common Core subject to transparency (“sunshine” laws) –so that the Utah State School Board can supervise the decisions which affect and govern Utahns? Yes or No?

6. Where can I read for myself how the states-led (inter-state) amendment process will work when we want to change something in the Common Core standards, if a process exists?

7. Where can I see for myself the evidence that Common Core standards have been field tested prior to implementation, so they were proven to be of superior academic quality, if testing evidence exists?

8. Professor Christopher Tienken of Seton Hall University has called Common Core “educational malpractice.” Regardless of how you feel about Common Core, how would you recognize educational malpractice if you saw it; what would be its hallmarks?

9. Would widespread mandating of experimental, untested standards constitute educational malpractice?

10. Where can I see for myself the specific countries and specific standards to which the Common Core standards are “internationally benchmarked” if such benchmarking exists?

11. Where is the American process of representation of individuals in the Common Core education and assessments system, if it exists?

12. Where can I see for myself empirical, researched evidence (not opinion) that Common Core’s increasing informational text and decreasing classic literature will benefit children, if it exists?

13. Where can I see for myself empirical, researched evidence that Common Core’s move away from traditional math toward constructivist math will benefit our children, if it exists?

14. Many mathematicians and math experts, even including Common Core architect and advocate Jason Zimba, have pointed out that students who want to take Calculus in college will need to take more math than Common Core math courses in high school. What should the Utah State School Board do to make sure Utah students are truly prepared for STEM careers despite Common Core’s low math standards?

15. A mathematician is one who has an advanced degree in advanced mathematics; a math educator is one who has an advanced degree in educating students on any level of math. How do you feel about the fact that there was only one actual mathematician on the Common Core validation committee, Dr. James Milgram, and that he refused to sign off because he said the standards were not legitimate math for college preparation?

16. Several official documents show that there is a 15% cap on a state adding to the Core; we also from Common Core architect Jason Zimba and validation committee member James Milgram that Common Core math does not prepare students for STEM math careers; then how are Utahns to prepare for STEM careers?

17. If local Utahns break through the common core academic ceiling and add more than the allowable 15% to their local standards, how will that 15% be taught using common core aligned math and English tests and texts?

18. Although we have been told that Common Core was state-led, no citizen in this state received an invitation to discuss this, before math and English standards were decided. To make sure this does not happen again, please explain the vetting process for Utah teachers and parents, before we add upcoming national science, national social studies, and national sex ed standards.

19. Which element played a larger role in Utah’s decision to adopt Common Core: the chance to win Race to the Top grant money, or a thorough review of the Common Core academically? Please give evidence for your answer.

20. Where can I read our state’s cost analysis for implementing Common Core standards, tests and professional development costs?

21. Does the Common Core essentially discriminate against talents and interests that are not consistent with their prescribed knowledge and skills?

22. What roles does the Utah State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS)play in reporting to the federal Edfacts Exchange and to the national E.I.M.A.C./CCSSO data collection machines?

23. How do you respond to the question asked by Christopher Tienken of Seton Hall University? He said:
“This is not data-driven decision making… Yet this nation will base the future of its entire public education system, and its children, upon this lack of evidence. Where is the evidence to support the rhetoric surrounding the Common Core standards?”
24. Do you see Common Core’s emphasis on testing as potentially harming American creativity and entrepreneurial fields in which U.S. graduate have historically led the world– or do you see this emphasis on standardization and testing as simply creating more individuals who are very good at taking tests– like students in some Asian countries– without any harm being done to creativity or love of learning?

25. The Constitution assigns education to the states, not to the federal government. Also, the federal General Educational Provisons Act (GEPA) states: “No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system …“ In light of this, please explain why our state has partnered with those who agree to micromanagement by the federal department of education such as the CCSSO.

26. Which portions of local autonomy have been traded for federally-lauded Common Core standards and tests?
27. What types of legal protections does student data have in writing that can protect us from the federal government and vendors and researchers– in light of recent changes to FERPA privacy regulations, and in light of the federally funded and federally-reporting State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS) that is partnered with the CCSSO (and PESC) under Utah’s SLDS grant agreement?

28. Why has the Utah State School Board not stood up against federally-partnered and SBAC-partnered Common Core tests to defend local control?

29. For students in the United States to be globally competitive, they must offer something different, that is, something that cannot be obtained at a lower cost in developing countries. High test scores in a few subjects can be achieved in most developing countries, so how could Common Core increase global competitiveness for U.S. students?

30. How can any test predict global competiveness or economic growth?

31. What empirical evidence do you have that high Common Core test scores could result in higher levels of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship?

32. If countries like Estonia, Hungary, Slovenia, Vietnam, Latvia, and Poland routinely outscore the U.S. on standardized tests such as PISA, why isn’t their per capita gross domestic product or other personal economic indicators equal to those in the U.S. (World Bank, 2013)? In other words, what evidence do we have that pressuring students to focus on standardized testing will improve the U.S. economy?

33. Are you aware, that when you disaggregate the data by percentages of poverty in a school, the U.S. scores at the top of all the international PISA tests? (see Riddle, 2009) In other words, why are we pushing Common Core when our previous system of local control and freedom worked better academically than other countries’ governmentally standardized systems?

34. Companies like Boeing and GE are allowed to give their technology, utility patents, and know-how to the Chinese in return for being able to sell their products in China (Prestowitz, 2012). Can U.S. emphasis on standardized test scores create global competitiveness, really, or is it more likely that we should change the policy of allowing U.S. multinationals to give away our technological advantages, to increase our global competitiveness?

35. Are you aware that 81% of U.S. engineers are qualified to work in multinational corporations – the highest percentage in the world (Kiwana, 2012) while only 10% of Chinese engineering graduates and 25% of Indian engineers are prepared to work in multinational corporations or corporations outside of China or India (Gereffi, et al., 2006; Kiwana, 2012)?

36. Are you aware that the U.S. produces the largest numbers of utility patents (innovation patents) per year and has produced over 100,000 a year for at least the last 45 years? No other country comes close (USPTO, 2012).

37. Are you aware that adults in the U.S. rank at the top of the world in creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship –and that those adults were educated during a time of NO state or national standards (Tienken, 2013)?

38. To what extent do you agree with this statement? “Common Core is a standardized education philosophy that transmits prescribed content via nationally aligned standards, aligned tests and aligned texts; the previous system was less organized, more loosely monitored, less unified, but spent more time on creativity, individual exploration and innovation.”

39. How do you feel about the funding of the Common Core: one unelected businessman– Bill Gates– funded the Common Core initiative, paid the PTA and the pro-Common Core think tanks (Fordham Institute, Manhattan Institute, Foundation for Educational Excellence) that advocate for it, he partnered with Pearson, the largest educational text sales company in the world to market it, that he publically calls American schools his “uniform customer base”, and that he has said that his goal is for Common Core tests, curriculum and standards to align? See Gates’ public speech here.

40. How do you feel about Secretary Arne Duncan’s stated goals for national Common Core Educational Standards and Common Data Standards? To summarize, a few of Duncan’s stated goals are:

–1) to have the federal government take more control over American schools than ever before,
–2) to make schools (not families) be the community centers, open 6-7 days a week, 12 months a year, 14 hours per day; and
–3) to partner the federal department of education with the copyrighters of the Common Core (CCSSO) for both education standards AND for data collection standards.

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THE CONTINUAL WEARYING a.k.a. THE SQUEAKY WHEEL

(More thoughts on the ongoing Common Core debate:)

If you aren’t going to attend the debate, please use these questions or your own to create more strong pushback from the Common Core disaster.

This is America! We are the people with the power to make things right when we see that they are wrong. This is not a land of centralized power, dictatorship, socialism. This is a land of liberty, where the local people self-govern. We have to wake people up to see that freedom matters– and that Common Core surely takes it away from our children.

We can use the beautiful American processes of debate, of real representation, and of constitutional balances of powers that are supposed to defend freedom and local autonomy.

If everyone who cared deeply about the damages of Common Core were to weary the school boards and governors with questions –repeatedly, weekly, persistently, patiently, unceasinglyCommon Core could not stand.

Common Core has no legs –except expensive marketing legs and lies– to stand on.

It has no academic pilot testing, no written amendment process for states to retain local control, no privacy protections for its tests’ data collection processes, no wisdom, no international benchmarking, no chance of improving “global competitiveness,” no heart, no state-led history, no commitment to local control; no hope to develop any real love of learning; no common sense.

What it does have is millions upon millions of dollars gambled on this takeover of American schools as a “uniform customer base” and many more millions spent on marketing its unsupportable talking points.

But it lacks the important stuff.

Parents (and teachers) can win back local control. We care more deeply about our children and about legitimate education than the proponents care about our children or Common Core.

We just have to be the squeaky wheel.

unrighteous judge parable

Remember the parable of Jesus from Luke 18:

“There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:

And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.

And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;

Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.”

Weary them, weary them.

We can write or call newspapers and t.v. stations.

We can politely and persistently pester our governor: 801-538-1000 or 800-705-2464 (Utah’s Governor Herbert’s number).

We can politely and persistently pester the principal and others in the school districts and especially make sure to pester state and local school board members, who are supposed to REPRESENT US, not Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, or Sir Michael Barber.

Here is the Utah State School Board’s address: board@schools.utah.gov

Here is the state superintendent’s address: martell.menlove@schools.utah.gov

Here is the governor’s education counselor’s address: ckearl@utah.gov

If you want to get 2 minutes to testify about these things at the monthly state school board meeting, contact secretary Lorraine at: Lorrain.Austin@schools.utah.gov

Dads Too, Mr. Duncan   4 comments

Countless –countless– men and fathers are publically and boldly standing up against Common Core. It’s not only “white, suburban moms” who oppose Common Core, and it’s not only the right or the left, either– despite what the U.S. Secretary of Education has so absurdly claimednot by a long shot.

A very partial list of a lot of dads who are fighting Common Core is listed below. They are professors, pastors, governors, truck drivers, psychologists, mathematicians, ministers and more. Read what they say.

First, please read this article written by a guest author, an Ohio father who is fighting Common Core.

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DADS TOO, MR. DUNCAN.

Guest post by an Ohio father against Common Core.

As a stay-at-home father of 2 elementary school children here in Ohio (where Common Core is being implemented), I take an active role in my kids’ education. I’ve tried to educate myself about Common Core – the history, the funding, how it’s been adopted – all of it. I have read many arguments, both pro and con. So when I read your recent comments labeling Common Core critics as: “white, suburban moms” who “All of a sudden, their child isn’t as bright as they thought and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought,” my reactions were varied.

First – How predictable: an elitist Progressive injecting race and gender into the debate (how does it go again? Identify it, label it, marginalize it? -something like that). I wasn’t insulted that you chose to identify all Common Core critics as white, suburban women. I don’t take offense at such things. But remember, these (the critics, whatever their gender or skin color) are the people who are seeing the actual Common Core materials and the effects they are having in the schools. Your response is to insult them.

I would think you might counter criticism of Common Core with tangible results showing how great it is. Lacking that, I guess you went with what you had. Trust me, there are serious problems and denigrating the critics only paints you as a tone-deaf authoritarian.

Second – Your comments help to dispel the “state-led” falsehood that was being thrown around some months back. Is it me, or has “state-led” become less frequently used by those who support Common Core? Like many of the oft-repeated buzz phrases and unsubstantiated claims used by Common Core supporters, when scrutinized they seem to dissolve. As the debate intensifies, and the federal government’s educrats become more vocal for the Common Core cause, it becomes exposed for what it is – a top-down, centrally-planned federalization of school curricula. Many Common Core opponents realize that it will lead to a near-total loss of local control over their schools.

Last, it may turn out that your comments have the opposite effect that you intended. It could be that you’ve drawn more interest to the Common Core from involved parents who aren’t going to be placated by claims of “college-preparedness” and “international competitiveness” that have exactly zero data to back them up. That remains to be seen. But more and more people are paying attention as this is being implemented.

Unlike others, I don’t want you fired over your recent comments. I want Common Core repealed in my state. Your removal would all-too-easily make this a “problem solved, let’s move on, shall we” scenario. And by all means, Mr Duncan, don’t suppress any contempt when making comments about Common Core critics. I actually appreciate the honesty.

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Many thanks to this Ohio Dad and to all the fantastic fathers who are fighting for their children, for legitimate education, and for freedom.

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tim-scott_thumb

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina

emmett m

Emmett McGroarty of the American Principles Project

Dr Thompson

Dr. Gary Thompson, clinical child psychologist

yong z

Dr. Yong Zhao of the University of Oregon

rella

Superintendent Joseph Rella, NY

evers

Dr. Bill Evers, Stanford University

stergios

Jim Stergios, Pioneer Institute

esolen

Dr. Anthony Esolen, Providence College

milgram

Dr. James Milgram, mathematician on official Common Core validation committee

jamiegass

Jamie Gass, Pioneer Institute

robertsmall

Robert Small of Maryland

robertscott

Robert Scott, former Texas Education Commissioner

tienken

Dr. Christopher Tienken, Seton Hall University

dan forest nc

Lt. Governor of North Carolina, Dan Forest

in scott schneider

Rep. Scott Schneider, Indiana

paul horton

Paul Horton, Chicago high school history teacher

DADS AGAINST COMMON CORE (Including the men pictured above):

Robert Small, father in Maryland; Superintendent Joseph Rella of Comsewogue District, New York; Dr. Bill Evers, of Stanford University’s Hoover Institute; Dr. Christopher Tienken, professor at Seton Hall University; Emmett McGroaty of the American Principles Project; Rep. Brian Greene of Utah; Dr. Gary Thompson, Utah clinical child psychologist; Robert Scott, former Commissioner of Education, Texas; Senator Mike Fair of South Carolina; Rep. John Hikel of New Hampshire; Nick Tampio and Fr. Joseph Koterski, professors at Fordham University; Oak Norton, author at Utah’s Republic; Senator Mike Fair, Alabama Governor Bentley; Dr. James Milgram of Stanford University, Emeritus; Ze’ev Wurman, mathematician and former Dept. of Education advisor; Dr. Terrence Moore and Dr. Daniel Coupland, of Hillsdale College; TX Governor Rick Perry; Paul Horton, high school history teacher – Chicago, Illinois; Maine Governor Paul LePage; Dr. Yong Zhao, professor at University of Oregon; Dr. Alan Manning, professor at Brigham Young University; Dr. Gerard Bradley and Dr. Duncan Stroik, both of the University of Notre Dame; NC Teacher Kris Nielsen; NY Father Glen Dalgleish; UT teacher David Cox; Dr. Robert George of Princeton University; Jamie Gass, of Pioneer Institute; Dr. Anthony Esolen, Professor of English at Providence College; Dr. Kevin Doak and Dr. Thomas Farr, professors at Georgetown University; Dr. Ronald Rychlak of the University of Mississippi; Professor Kenneth Grasso of Texas State University; Dr. James Hitchcock, professor at Saint Louis University; Francis Beckwith, professor at Baylor University; Dr. John A. Gueguen Emeritus Professor at Illinois State University; North Carolina Lt. Governor Dan Forest; Pastor Paul Blair, Fairview Baptist Church, Edmond, Oklahoma; Reverend Dr. Perry Greene, South Yukon Church of Christ, Oklahoma; Reverend Tim Gillespie, Seminole Free Will Baptist Church, Oklahoma; Reverend Dr. Steve Kern, Olivet Baptist Church, Oklahoma; Reverend Dr. Tom Vineyard, Windsor Hills Baptist Church, Oklahoma; Reverend Gerald R. Peterson, Sr. Pastor, First Lutheran Church, Oklahoma; Reverend Dan Fisher, Trinity Baptist Church – Yukon, Oklahoma; Reverend Christopher Redding, Stillwater, Oklahoma; Reverend Dr. Kevin Clarkson, First Baptist Church – Moore, Oklahoma; Reverend Bruce A. DeLay, Church in the Heartland – Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Reverends Chilles Hutchinson, David Evans, Dr. Bruce A. Proctor, Dr. Jim D. Standridge, Donnie Edmondson, Paul Tompkins, Craig Wright, Jesse Leon Rodgers, Ken Smith, Dr. Charles Harding, Rod Rieger, Ron Lindsey, Glen Howard, Dr. Jim Vineyard, Brad Lowrie, Jerry Pitts, Jerry Drewery, Mark McAdow, Jack Bettis, Stephen D. Lopp, Mark D. DeMoss, Jason Murray, Dr. Eddie Lee White, Mike Smith, Alan Conner, Dwight Burchett, Bill Kent, Keith Gordon, Wendell Neal– all Oklahoma Reverends; Glenn Beck, t.v. producer; Dr. Richard Sherlock, professor at Utah State University; Dr. Thomas Newkirk of the University of New Hampshire; Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina; Indiana Representative Scott Schneider.

Rella 7

truck

Top Ten Scariest People in Education Reform: # 9 – David Coleman   59 comments

David Coleman:  Bye Bye, Classics

Countdown # 9

This is the second in a countdown series of introductions, a list of the top ten scariest people leading American education reform.  (#10 on the list is posted here.)

David Coleman, lead “architect” for the English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the Common Core, is not an educator, but a businessman.  Recently promoted to president of the College Board, he has promised to align the SAT with the Common Core that he built.  He plotted education for K-12 students, and now he’s plotting it for postsecondary students, too.

How can a one-size-fits-all alignment make sense for all students –whether bound for a minimum wage job, a two-year college or the top university in the world– prepare each using a one-size-fits-all Common Core program?  Either the lower-level students are to be pushed beyond reasonable expectations, or the higher level students are to be dumbed down.  Or both.

Coleman is an outspoken antagonist to narrative writing and is no fan of classic literature, so he singlehandedly slashed most of it from the education most children in America will know, either already –or soon.  Ask your kids, but remember, Common Core testing begins in 2014, so the intense pressure for teachers to conform to Common Core is yet to be fully felt.

What did Coleman do to Language Arts? He mandated that dreary informational text, not beautiful, classic literature, is to be the main emphasis in English classes, incrementally worsening as students get older.

What it looks like:  little children in an ELA classroom may read no more than 50% classic literature. High school seniors may only read 30% classic literature. The other 70% must be informational text, which means everything from historical documents (um– why not read those in history classes?)  to insulation installation manuals,  presidential executive orders, environmental programming, and federal reserve documents.  These are actually on the recommended reading  list.

Another weird twist to Coleman’s Common Core is that he says students must “stay within the four corners of the text” as if that were possible.  Context is not to be part of a discussion?  Outside experience is not to be compared to the informational text?  For a thorough, and eloquent, explanation of what has happened to English Language Arts because of Coleman’s influence, please read “Speaking Back to the Common Core” by Professor Thomas Newkirk of the University of New Hampshire.

What Coleman does not understand (–hmmm, maybe actual English teachers should have been invited to those closed-door meetings–) is that narrative is so much more than a style of writing.

Narrative isn’t just using the “I” word.  It’s more than “What I Did Last Summer.”

Narrative is a pattern woven (often unconsciously) into every style of memorable writing, whether argumentative, persuasive, expository, etc.  The best informational texts are narratively satisfying.

Coleman’s knocking down of narrative writing and slashing of it from academic standards is both ignorant and, to English teachers and astute kids, really confusing. For a funny, punchy review of the muddly ELA writing standards, read Professor Laura Gibbs’ “Inspid Brew of Gobbledygook”.

David Coleman is largely ignorant in the field of writing language arts standards.  One member of the official Common Core validation committee, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, pointed this out and refused to sign off on the validity of the Common Core standards.

And David Coleman is not even nice, as you’ll see from the video linked here, where he mocks student narrative and uses the “sh–” word in a professional development seminar for teachers.

Lastly, Coleman’s large financial contribution to the campaign of  Education Committee Senator Todd Huston (Indiana) whom Coleman hired for the College Board after his election, forms another branch of reasons that I can not trust this man to make wise decisions affecting children.

Professor Thomas Newkirk of University of New Hampshire Speaks About Common Core   1 comment

Thomas Newkirk image

Professor Thomas Newkirk of the University of New Hampshire has laid out the problems with Common Core in Speaking Back to the Common Core.  It is well worth our time to read every word.  He eloquently addresses each of the following points that characterize Common Core:

1.  Conflict of Interest.

2.  Misdiagnosis of the problem.

3. Developmental inappropriateness.

4. A sterile view of reading.

5. Underplaying role of narrative.

6.  A reform that gives extraordinary power to standardized tests.

7.  A bonanza for commercialism.

8. Standards directing instruction.

9.  Drowning out other conversations.

Newkirk explains this so well that I find myself reading and re-reading his words.  Not all articles are created equally.  This one is above and beyond.  I’ll post the first half and then the link:

Speaking Back to the Common Core

Thomas Newkirk

The Common Core initiative is a triumph of branding. The standards are portrayed as so consensual, so universally endorsed, so thoroughly researched and vetted, so self-evidently necessary to economic progress,  so broadly representative of beliefs in the educational community—that they cease to be even debatable. They are held in  common; they penetrate to the core of our educational aspirations, uniting even those who might usually disagree. We can be freed from noisy disagreement, and should get on with the work of reform.

This deft rollout may account for the absence of vigorous debate about the Common Core State Standards. If they represent a common core—a center—critics are by definition on the fringe or margins, whiners and complainers obstructing progress. And given the fact that states have already adopted them—before they were completely formulated—what is the point in opposition? We should get on with the task of implementation, and, of course, alignment.

But as the great rhetorician Kenneth Burke continually reminds us, all arguments are from a debatable perspective— there is no all-encompassing position, no argument from everywhere. The arguments that hide their controversial edges, their perspective, are the most suspect. “When in Rome act as the Greeks” he advises us. So in that spirit I would like to raise a series of concerns.

1. Conflict of interest. It is a fundamental principle of governance that those who establish the guidelines do not benefit financially from those guidelines. We don’t, for example, let representatives of pharmaceutical companies set health guidelines, for fairly obvious reasons. But in the case of the CCSS, the two major college testing agencies, the College Board and ACT, were engaged to write the standards, when it was obvious that they would create products (or had created products) to test them. The College Board, for example, almost immediately claimed that “The SAT demonstrates strong agreement to the Common Core Writing Standards and there is very strong agreement between the skills required on the SAT essay and the Common Core State Standards” (Vasavada et al. 2011, 5). In fact, the College Board claims that there is also a strong alignment between other products, the PSAT/NMSQT and Redistep, which starts in eighth grade.

Clearly, there is a conflict of interest here.

2. Misdiagnosis of the problem. A central premise of the CCSS is that students are not reading difficult enough texts and that we need to ramp up the complexity of the texts they encounter. I would argue that the more serious problem is that students cease to read voluntarily, generally around middle school—and fail to develop the stamina for difficult texts (Newkirk 2008). Once they get to high school, they are “overmatched” by standard books like Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird (Smith and Wilhelm 2002)—and they resort to SparkNotes and other strategies that allow them to avoid reading the books. This evasion is epidemic in our schools. Increasing the complexity of what they read—and requiring books like Grapes of Wrath in ninth or tenth grade, as recommended by the CCSS—will only exacerbate the problem. In order to develop fluency and real reading power (that will enable students to tackle the classics), students need abundant practice with engaging contemporary writing that does not pose a constant challenge (or maybe a range of challenges) to them. The reading workshop models of Penny Kittle and Nancie Atwell provide a much more plausible road map for creating readers who can handle difficulty.

3. Developmental inappropriateness. It is clear now that the designers of the CCSS took a top-down approach, beginning with expectations for eleventh and twelfth graders and then working down to the earlier grades. The process, it seems to me, is one of downshifting; early college expectations (at least what I do in my college classes) are downshifted to eleventh or twelfth grade, and the process continues right into kindergarten. The target student texts in Appendix C are clearly those of exceptional, even precocious students; in fact, the CCSS has taken what I see as exceptional work, that of perhaps the top 5 percent of students, and made it the new norm. What had once been an expectation for fourth graders becomes the standard for second graders as in this example:

Write informative/explanatory texts in which they [i.e., second graders] introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points and provide a concluding statement. Normally this would be the expectation of an upper-elementary report; now it is the requirement for seven-year-olds.

It might be argued that high standards, even if they are beyond the reach of many students, will still be useful in raising performance. But if legitimately tested, these standards will result in a substantial proportion, in many schools a majority, of students failing to meet them—thus feeding the narrative of school failure (already the case in Kentucky). Given the experience with the unrealism of the No Child Left Behind demand for 100 percent proficiency, it seems to me unwise to move to a new set of unrealistic expectations.

4. A sterile view of reading. Another serious issue is the view of reading that underlies the standards. This view is spelled out by two authors of the English/Language Arts standards, David Coleman (now President of the College Board) and Susan Pimentel (2011) in a set of guidelines that are designed to help publishers align their material. It is a revealing and consequential document that helps us move beyond generalities to the way standards are to be taught (and most likely tested). Much of what Coleman and Pimentel say is appealing. I like the focus on thoughtful reading—and rereading. I agree that discussions can move away from the text too often (I can think of many examples from my own classes). I like the idea of helping students engage with challenging texts. And I like that they urge publishers to refrain from making pages so busy with distracting marginalia that they come to resemble People magazine.

The central message in their guidelines is that the focus should be on “the text itself”—echoing the injunctions of New Criticism during the early and mid-1900s. The text should be understood in “its own terms.” While the personal connections and judgments of the readers may enter in later, they should do so only after students demonstrate “a clear understanding of what they read.” So the model of reading seems to have two stages—first a close reading in which the reader withholds judgment or comparison with other texts, focusing solely on what is happening within “the four corners of the text.” And only then are prior knowledge, personal association, and appraisal allowed in.

This seems to me an inhuman, even impossible, and certainly unwise prescription. Test it out yourself on the opening to Jennifer Egan’s

 A Visit from the Goon Squad:

Found Objects

It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel. Sasha was adjusting her yellow eye shadow in the mirror when she noticed a bag on the floor beside the sink that must have belonged to the woman whose peeing she could faintly hear through the vaultlike door of the toilet stall. Inside the rim of the bag, barely visible, was a wallet made of pale green leather. It was easy for Sasha to recognize, looking back, that the peeing woman’s blind trust had provoked her. We live in a city where people will steal the hair off your head if you give them half a chance, but you leave your stuff lying in plain sight and expect it to be waiting for you when you come back. It made her want to teach the woman a lesson. (2011, 3)

My own reading focus was on Sasha’s thought process, how she is beginning to rationalize the taking of this woman’s wallet. But when I shared this opening with female readers, many of them picked up the detail of the yellow eye shadow, something I had totally ignored. What kind of woman wears yellow eye shadow? What do you say about yourself when you wear it? Combined with the fact that Sasha seems familiar with bathrooms in swank hotels, some speculated that she was a prostitute (not a bad guess as it turns out). But these readers were hardly staying in the four corners of the text; they were using their knowledge of makeup and the message it sends. It’s what readers do.

To get down to practicalities, there is bound to be great confusion about what a “text-dependent question” is. Must that question stay within the “four corners of the text” and not draw on prior experience or knowledge? Purely literal questions can be confined in this way, but any inference or judgment rests on some information not in the text (as in the case of the eye shadow). Even language itself evokes a world beyond the text. As two Stanford psychologists put it: “The bare text is something like a play script that the reader uses like a theatre director to construct in imagination a full stage production” (Bower and Morrow 1990, 44). We can never stay within the four corners of the text—even if we tried…

5. Underplaying role of narrative. The CCSS present us with a “map” of writing types that is fundamentally flawed—because it treats “narrative” as a type of discourse, distinguished from “informational” and “argumentative” writing. In doing so (and the CCSS are not alone in this), they fail to acknowledge the central role narrative plays in all writing, indeed in human understanding. Mark Turner, a cognitive psychologist and literary critic, puts the claim this way: “Narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend on it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, of explaining”…

Read the rest: http://heinemann.com/shared/onlineresources%5CE02123%5CNewkirk_Speaking_Back_to_the_Common_Core.pdf

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Thanks to Professor Newkirk for his research, talent and the time spent on this topic –which must not be drowned out by the loud messages of those who benefit financially from the fact that few understand what Common Core really is.

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