Why are schools and teachers permitting Common Core to take over what they have always done well, teaching middle and high school English/Language Arts (ELA) classes? And how destructive is it to students who don’t learn to foster ideas about what they think about a novel, instead, merely picking out technical points of the text?
The description of how some Florida teachers, in 2013, restructured their ELA classes to accommodate Common Core, should give everyone pause. The article resurfaced again recently on social media. Dropping important study of novels like To Kill a Mockingbird, in favor of nonfiction like The Glass Castle and How to Re-Imagine the World should be seen as a reckless change for the following reasons:
- Teachers should be free to decide what to teach and not feel bound to emphasize nonfiction. If they choose a nonfiction book over fiction, it should be because they decide to do so, because they have a goal for the book, and not because they are following Common Core. This is the way Common Core emasculates the teaching profession—making teachers depend and follow their commercialized plan and making it look like teachers can’t do it on their own. But teachers have been teaching ELA well for years!
- Middle and high school students are at a formative time in their lives. What they read, and what they think about what they read, should be considered critical for their figuring out their own personal point of view. Most of us can think back to at least one novel we read in our middle and high school years that dramatically affected our thinking. For me, it was Les Misérables (before the movie and play) and many others.
- Teaching about novels, should inspire students to read more. I read Up the Down Staircase on my own which might have influenced my decision to become a teacher. I find it difficult to believe that Common Core, with its emphasis on the technical, will motivate students to read other novels.
- The idea that students have missed nonfiction reading is bogus! Most ELA teachers have always addressed nonfiction, and even if they haven’t, students get plenty of nonfiction, including required reports, in other classes. Students have had assignments that centered on research and using the media center/library. This is nothing new! In fact, ELA classes have always provided balance to what a student is exposed to–essentially a break from nonfiction.
- One of the teachers in the report above, spends time “prodding” students on the importance of using close reading. I have read of this before with Common Core. Why waste time with this? A good teacher keeps in mind whether a unit or a lesson will engage students. Motivation and developing student interest should be a part of the actual dynamics of teaching. At times, students should have real choices (getting to read what they want is a good example). But picking a program and browbeating students as to why it is good for them is not a good practice.
- Contrary to commercial advertising and miracle testimonials from a wide array of politicians, reformers and people in the media, Common Core is not proven. There have been no tests or non-biased research studies to show the ELA standards work better than what was done in the past, or that Common Core will make students more college ready. Even Bill Gates said it would take years before we know if Common Core works.
- There is also no research to show that ELA teachers did a bad job in the past. Teachers should be bold and stand up for all the progress they made in the teaching of ELA throughout the years! Comparing international test scores has been shown time and time again not to adequately describe our public school system. We test everyone, while other countries are often selective.
- Much of the ELA standards include re-hashed teaching techniques that have always been a part of a teachers repertoire. All good English teachers cover vocabulary and ask questions about what students read. But now it is broken down to ridiculous tiny steps that make teaching and learning awkward. Picking out words and stopping students as they read to analyze what they read—who will want to pick up a book—any book—after such nonsense?
- Another example of no. 8. There is much discussion about “leveling” which is essentially determining the reading grade of students and matching this with books selected for them to read. This is controversial, because students might grow in their reading development by reading books beyond their so-called ability level…emphasizing that students should be allowed many opportunities to choose their own books. But the point here is that teachers have used readability scales for years! Common Core repackages this to make it seem new and creative. It’s not!
- The standards were devised under David Coleman called the “the architect” of Common Core ELA. Coleman is now president of the College Board where he is busily aligning future SAT and ACT tests to the Common Core, making Common Core a reality for EVERYONE who wants to go to a major college or university. Coleman never taught students and has no background in ELA (except for a little study of English literature in college). Why would his ideas of what students should learn, and how they learn it, be trusted, above years of ELA teaching by real teachers?
The ELA Common Core State Standards are seriously flawed. Teachers are reduced to passing on bits and pieces of information, even bypassing valuable fiction, without deepening a student’s ability to make sense of the novel’s meaning. The process shortchanges students by not trusting them to analyze and figure out the significance of the story on their own. They are not given credit for their own perceptions and beliefs about what they read. Hence, David Coleman’s belief that no one gives a (expletive) what students think or believe is truly demonstrated in the Common Core ELA standards and what happens in the classroom.
Students will come away with only a shell of understanding of what it is they read. This may eventually make workers who will follow what they are told, but it will not create innovators who are willing to think for themselves. And this should be of grave concern for all of us.