Tag Archives: Common Core

Education Activism for Equity: On Common Core, Pearson, and Race

Likely as a consequence of being a critical educator and my own proclivities as a non-joiner skeptic, I remain mostly an outsider in the education reform debates—although I am a 30+-year educator and an established blogger/public voice on education.

Not addressing only specific, recent debates but prompted by my own witnessing of the evolving (and muddled) Pearson monitoring controversy and how that seems as problematic as the much longer (and equally muddled) Common Core debate, I posted the following Tweets earlier today:

On Common Core (see here, here, and here) and Pearson monitoring (see here and here), I cannot be placed neatly into any major camp of the ongoing debates.

And throughout my blogging and public work on education reform, I forefront race and racism as well as poverty—noting that addressing race in the U.S. immediately prompts both harsh reactions and stunning silence.

As more context, I am regularly confronted as a union shill and union basher, depending on the detractor; although I am not now and have never been a member of a union, living and working my entire life in a right-to-work state, but simultaneously support unionism while acknowledging that organized unions (NEA and AFT) have mostly failed education.

That same pattern occurs within politics since many assume I am a Democrat (I am not) and both partisan sides bristle at my equal-opportunity criticism of mainstream politicians’ failures related to education.

None of this is intended as a pity party or a pat on my own back, but to note I am living, and thus witnessing from a privileged white/male vantage point, what I am concerned about in this post: Even—or notably among—good people with whom I consider myself in allegiance on educational goals, education activism for equity too often fails by slipping into the wrong allegiances (people and organizations) and not the ultimate goal, equity.

To understand this, I think we must return to race and other aspects of marginalized people and voices. Three powerful situations must be acknowledged:

  • Civil rights organizations with black leadership speaking out in favor of high-stakes testing and accountability.
  • Blacks identified as supporting Common Core.
  • Blacks associated with strong support for charter schools.

As well, Andre Perry has offered two important examinations of the white/black dynamic in education reform:

To understand the racial divide in the education reform debate (why do blacks support many of the policies strongly rejected by a mostly white education reform counter-movement?) requires the same considerations necessary to unpack the often misguided Common Core and Pearson monitoring debates: Simplistic analysis of white and black support fails to confront the inherent problems with white privilege and fully expand the important contributions of minority voices.

As I have examined about black support of charter schools in the context of mass incarceration, I want to flesh out the three bullet points above by arguing that all three must include “as mechanisms for educational equity.”

In other words, it is misleading to say that civil rights or minority populations embrace policy A or practice B as if those policies and practices have no goals attached to them. The support must be read as “We support X in order to accomplish Y”—and it is that Y which is vital to emphasize, educational and social equity for minorities and the impoverished.

And not to belabor a specific topic, I have continued to reject Common Core as a mechanism of educational equity because the evidence suggests:

As the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing about equity, educational quality, or the provision of adequate educational services, there is no reason to expect CCSS or any other standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by itself.

And that brings me back to my morning Twitter flurry.

Education activism for equity must not succumb to mere missionary zeal, and certainly fails when people and organizations trump the goal of equity or when winning the debate destroys the actual reason for the debate.

As I noted above, education activism for equity has failed in those ways—just as have the NEA, AFT, and Democrat Party (all of which I highlight since they are associated with being “liberal” and supposedly for both public education and economic/educational equity).

And all of this is very disappointing and disheartening—just as being alienated and ignored among those with whom I have strong allegiances is very disappointing and disheartening.

But again, this isn’t about me, although I do feel an obligation to bear witness to the failures among those I personally respect and publicly share ideologies—even when I disagree with them.

And I have failed along the way to this post, often—and will likely fail again.

But I stand by the Twitter flurry above, I stand by the unpopular positions I hold about Common Core and Pearson monitoring—despite the tensions those stands cause specific people and organizations, many of whom also pursue educational equity.

Teaching and activism are compelling pursuits for me because they both demand that we rise above personal and organizational commitments, that we rise to our individual commitment to humanity: They are all our children.

Teaching and activism require our humility, and a capacity for listening and learning, for admitting when we are wrong and moving forward.

And in both roles, we risk ourselves in order to find ourselves and the world we imagine can and should be.

See Also

Avoiding Patricia Arquette Moments in Education Reform

Responsibilities of Privilege: Bearing Witness, pt. 2

Education Reform as the New Misogyny: A Reader


Testing the Education Market, Cashing In, and Failing Social Justice Again

On Black Friday 2014—when the U.S. officially begins the Christmas holiday season, revealing that we mostly worship consumerism (all else is mere decoration)—we are poised to be distracted once again from those things that really matter. Shopping feeding frenzies will allow Ferguson and Tamir Rice to fade away for the privileged—while those most directly impacted by racism and classism, poverty and austerity remain trapped in those realities.

History is proof that these failures have lingered, and that they fade. Listen to James Baldwin. Listen to Martin Luther King Jr.

But in the narrower education reform debate, we have also allowed ourselves to be distracted, mostly by the Common Core debate itself. As I have stated more times that I care to note, that Common Core advocates have sustained the debate is both a waste of our precious time and proof that Common Core has won.

As well, we are misguided whenever we argue that Common Core uniquely is the problem—instead of recognizing that Common Core is but a current form of a continual failure in education, accountability built on standards and high-stakes testing.

With the release of Behind the Data: Testing and Assessment—A PreK-12 U.S. Education Technology Market Report*, we have yet another opportunity to confront that Common Core is the problem, not the solution, because it is the source of a powerful drain on public resources in education that are not now invested in conditions related to racial and class inequity in our public schools.

Richards and Stebbins (2014) explain:

The PreK-12 testing and assessment market segment has experienced remarkable growth over the last several years. This growth has occurred in difficult economic times during an overall PreK-12 budget and spending decline….

Participants almost universally identified four key factors affecting the recent growth of the digital testing and assessment market segment:

1) The Common Core State Standards are Changing Curricula

2) The Rollout of Common Core Assessments are Galvanizing Activity….

(Executive Summary, pp. 1, 2)

testing and assessment 57 percent
(Richards & Stebbins 2014).

So as I have argued before, Common Core advocacy is market-driven, benefiting those invested in its adoption. But we must also acknowledge that that market success is at the expense of the very students who most need our public schools.

And there is the problem—not the end of cursive, not how we teach math, not whether the standards are age-appropriate.

Common Core is a continuation of failing social justice, draining public resources from needed actions that confront directly the inexcusable inequities of our schools, inequities often reflecting the tragic inequities of our society:

As the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing about equity, educational quality, or the provision of adequate educational services, there is no reason to expect CCSS or any other standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by itself. (Mathis, 2012, 2 of 5)

Who will be held accountable for the cost of feeding the education market while starving our marginalized children’s hope?


Richards, J., & Stebbins, L. (2014). Behind the Data: Testing and Assessment—A PreK-12 U.S. Education Technology Market Report. Washington, D.C.: Software & Information Industry Association.

* Thanks to Schools Matter for posting, and thus, drawing my attention to the study.

Rational and Evidence-Based Responses to Standards Advocates and Critics

Because the education agendas and discourse by Democrats and Republicans are essentially indistinguishable, as I have argued before, educators have no political party.

Educators are similarly trapped, however, in the Common Core debate between standards advocates and standards critics, who are also indistinguishable for two prominent reasons: the failure to start the consideration of standards on either a rational or an evidence-based foundation.

Political leaders, the mainstream, media, and education reform advocates with the highest profiles represent the most distinct and influential evidence of this dynamic. Typically, the better considerations of standards broadly and Common Core narrowly are left to bloggers—for example, Rachel Levy’s The Common Condescension and Peter Greene’s Petrilli Reports on Common Core Wars.

While Levy and Greene offer critiques with much greater credibility than the Common Core commentaries they refute, the wider public is likely to be left with having seen only the original, and flawed, claims. We edu-bloggers who have both experience and expertise in education are more or less left to preach to the choir.

But since the most recent trend concerning Common Core is for advocates and critics to discuss and analyze the Common Core debate itself—again, evidence that Common Core advocates have in fact won—I want to offer one more time the two foundational reasons that pursuing standards is a failed structure for education reform, two reasons that standards/Common Core advocates have been successful at removing from the table entirely.

Let’s start with basic logic problems for basing education reform on standards (especially the perpetual pursuit of new and better standards).

In order for new standards to be a major or significant solution to education problems, we would need to establish that current standards (or a lack of standards) are the source of those problems. This may surprise some, but I have never seen a single careful examination of whether or not standards are the problem (see below for the evidence on what we do know about standards as a part of the reform agenda); thus, standards are unlikely to be the solution.

A practical logic problem also exists for those advocating or criticizing standards: If I am teaching, my job is to identify where any student is in her/his learning and then to take that student farther, both in terms of direct teaching and by motivating that student to learn. That fact of real-world teaching renders detailed standards irrelevant because it doesn’t matter what a standard deems any student should know and when since the reality of that student supersedes those mandates.

Calculating something such as 8th-grade reading level (a spurious venture at best) and then crafting standards to hold all teachers of 8th-graders and all 8th-graders to that goal remain mostly theory, achievable in the abstract maybe, but, again, prove pointless in the real world where any classroom of 8th-graders has reading experiences and abilities all along a wide spectrum that each teacher must work with and from.

My 8th-grader reading above grade level and my 8th-grader reading below grade level both deserve my teaching them, and not that I try to accomplish the state-mandated standards. (And to suggest that I need someone to mandate my standards lest I know not what to teach is a truly offensive claim for a professional.)

A rational and ethical approach to teaching begins with where students are, not with standard calls for where every student should be.

However, if the rational approaches to considering standards-based reform aren’t enough (and they should be enough to show that the debate itself is fruitless, that we should be pursuing something else), let’s now turn to what we know about standards-based reform.

Modern education in U.S. has existed from and through a series of broad eras: From the 1890s and into mid-twentieth century (the foundational years of establishing standards as well as a factory, and thus standard, approach to public schooling), the volatile 1950s and 1960s with Supreme Court rulings and federal legislation establishing racial equity, and then the current accountability era begun in the 1980s, reinforced in 2001 with NCLB and later expanded under President Obama (again, the Bush and Obama agendas are indistinguishable from each other).

To be blunt, in fact, U.S. public education has never been absent arguments about what should be taught (both standards and curriculum) and how that should be taught, but the past thirty years have provided a solid research base on how accountability driven by standards and high-stakes testing impacts education reform.

And that brings us to the second problem with both advocates and critics of Common Core: They never address what we know about standards-based education reform.

A significant research base along a wide range of political ideologies has been essentially ignored, primarily because Common Core advocates have successfully established a debate about Common Core itself and thus never allowed the necessary initial debate to occur: Are standards the problem, and thus, are better standards the solution?

The bad news for both standards critics and advocates is (i) the presence or quality of standards have no correlation with student achievement, (ii) standards-based reform fails to address equity, and (iii) standards-based reform linked to high-stakes accountability has asked less of students and teachers (Hout & Elliot, 2011French, Guisbond, & Jehlen, 2013; Loveless, 2012; Mathis, 2012; Whitehurst, 2009; Kohn, 2010de Mello, Blankenship, & McLaughlin, 2009; Horn, 2013).

Educators and those who value universal public education are left with two difficult positions. One is that we have no political party, and the other is that we find ourselves outside the Common Core debate—demanding in both instances that we try something else, notably that we start by first identifying the causes of our problems so that our solutions have a chance of succeeding.

We re left with being rational, with calling upon evidence in the wider public debates, and to be honest, those are significant uphill battles in the U.S. where the irrational and unmerited thrive.

Common Core will not save our schools and our children, and neither will Common Core destroy our schools and our children—except that continuing either the pursuit of new standards or debating standards endlessly is a distraction guaranteeing we will never get to the work needed.

The Real “Low Expectations” Problem

I have asked this about the U.S. Secretary of Education: Why Is Arne Duncan Still Pushing the Dangerous Myth of Low Expectations?

And a large part of the answer may be because the uncritical mainstream media not only buy that message, but actively perpetuate it. For example, David Leonhardt beats that drum in Principals in U.S. Are More Likely to Consider Their Students Poor:

The phrase “soft bigotry of low expectations” is inevitably associated with George W. Bush, who used it frequently. But whatever your politics, the idea has undeniable merit: If schools don’t expect much from their students, the students are not likely to accomplish much.

A new international study, set to be released Tuesday, argues that the United States has an expectation problem.

The U.S. does, in fact, have a low expectations problem, but it isn’t where Duncan and the media claim. Political leaders and journalists need to heed the old adage about pointing a finger (three are aiming back at you).

Just as another example, see Colleen Flaherty’s Dropping the Ball?—a call for higher education to jump on the Common Core bandwagon:

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is supposed to prepare K-12 students for higher education — but college and university faculty members and administrators remain largely removed from planning and rolling out these new assessments and standards. So argues a new paper from the New American Foundation, which urges colleges and universities to get involved in the Common Core to ensure the program ends up doing what it was supposed to do.

Both of these pieces suffer from the press release approach to journalism that insures presenting both sides as a mask for endorsing a solid status quo (and thus, not evidence-based) position: the “low expectations” myth and the standards-driven reform paradigm, both of which fail against significant bodies of research and scholarship.

So here are my responses sent to Leonhardt and Flaherty, as my commitment to speaking against the low expectations for U.S. media:

To Leonhardt (slightly edited):

This is evidence of the problem: Principals in U.S. Are More Likely to Consider Their Students Poor

But our only low expectations in the US are for political leadership (especially in education) and the media:

Why Is Arne Duncan Still Pushing the Dangerous Myth of Low Expectations?

U.S. and Education Reform Need a Critical Free Press

My Open Letter to Journalists: A Critical Free Press, pt. 2

I have been an educator for 31 years, 18 of which as a high school teacher in rural SC. I know poverty, lived among it all my life. The claims in this study and in your piece are more of the blame the victim attitude that is corrosive in the US. We must do better.

To Flaherty*:

Higher ed, in fact, needs to lead the evidence-based resistance to Common Core and the entire accountability movement built on standards and high-stakes testing.

As Mathis (2012) shows from an analysis of the standards movement, there is no correlation between the existence or quality of standards and student achievement; as well, standards in no way address equity, but have increased inequity.


William Mathis (2012), NEPC

Standards May Achieve Equality, But Not Equity

The problem is more than CC as well: Paul Thomas: The Problem Isn’t Just Common Core, but the Entire Reform Agenda

The corrosive impact of accountability/standards/testing has already negatively impacted student learning, as Applebee and Langer have shown in relation to writing (see TCR: REVIEW: Writing Instruction That Works), but higher ed must recognize that this movement is also aimed at higher ed.

We should have been leading the resistance all along, but now we have even more vested interests in joining those who have unmasked the standards movement for what it is: not about teaching or learning, but testing in order to rank and sort (see Common Core Movement Never about Teaching and Learning, Always about Testing).

Yes, the U.S. as a society and through our public institutions—notably public education—must do a better job; we have too often failed.

But our low expectations problem rests solidly with what we are settling for in our political leaders and our mainstream media.

* I want to add that Colleen Flaherty responded to my email and plans to follow up. This is a rare positive response to my concerns, and I believe she should be commended for it.

Talk about the Passion

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

All across the upstate of South Carolina recently, yard signs have been appearing: Stop Common Core (see the one held in the photo below):

Stop Common Core from Stop Common Core in South Carolina

For those of us who have rejected the Common Core movement from the beginning, however, these signs are more a message about the “passionate intensity” of the worst and that “the best lack all conviction”:

A rally to Stop Common Core

The most fervent and vocal Common Core challengers, as the organization and signs above represent, are people making baseless claims: Common Core standards were written by Bill Ayers (they weren’t), Common Core standards are a communist plot by Obama (they are the product of the National Governors Association), and the list goes on—just search Michelle Malkin or Glenn Beck on Common Core.

While the misinformed are galvanized and passionate in their efforts to stop Common Core, the vast majority of educators have committed themselves to doing as they are told—scrambling as best they can to implement Common Core.

The reasons to reject Common Core are important and relatively clear—reasons based in the research base that shows no correlation between the presence or quality of standards and student outcomes, that shows no correlation between standards and achieving equity, and that shows the enormous costs of implementing new standards and new high-stakes tests are unlikely to produce returns to justify those costs.

And the irony is that the uninformed and misinformed movement against Common Core—a rabid group that appears to see Common Core as a harbinger of the Apocalypse, worthy of Yeats’s “The Second Coming” or Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice”—is evidence itself that “passionate intensity” trumps reason, research, expertise, and experience—notably when those armed with reason, research, expertise, and experience “lack all conviction.”

To paraphrase Einstein, the Common Core debate shows us that knowledge without passion is lame, passion without knowledge is blind.

For teachers, it is well past time to talk about the passion.

Combien de temps?

“Talk About The Passion”

R.E.M., Murmur

Empty prayer, empty mouths, combien reaction
Empty prayer, empty mouths, talk about the passion
Not everyone can carry the weight of the world
Not everyone can carry the weight of the world

Talk about the passion
Talk about the passion

Empty prayer, empty mouths, combien reaction
Empty prayer, empty mouths, talk about the passion
Combien, combien, combien de temps?

Not everyone can carry the weight of the world
Not everyone can carry the weight of the world
Combien, combien, combien de temps?

Talk about the passion
Talk about the passion

Common Core Costs Too High, Failure Guaranteed

Teaching literacy has been my career and life for over thirty years now. Having grown up in the South with my own peculiar grasp of so-called standard English, I feel fortunate to have rich and lingering struggles with using the language in ways that conform to the ever-shifting conventions of “good English.”

As a teacher, I have watched the field of literacy flounder under this failure of logic: Expert reading and writers demonstrate X, Y, Z skills; thus, the way to move novice readers and writers to expert is to give them X, Y, Z skills.

Yes, that seems compelling and doable, but it is folly.

One of the main areas of that compulsion to teaching literacy in direct and isolated ways is vocabulary instruction, often anchored by the vocabulary book.

Many moons ago when I was a pup of a teacher, my English department was faced with choosing new vocabulary books. The decision came down to selecting the book that the company had cleverly placed in bold letters on the front, “Correlated with the SAT!”

Before the 2005 retooling of the SAT, isolated vocabulary knowledge was embedded in the infamous analogy section of the SAT (since 2005, the value of isolated vocabulary knowledge has been greatly reduced, but instruction has failed to follow suit).

Thus, in the weird and misleading world of the tests-justify-the-means of traditional schooling, isolated vocabulary instruction and vocabulary textbooks have remained robust parts of misguided literacy instruction across the U.S. (By the way, expert readers have extensive vocabularies because they read extensively—not because they learn words from vocabulary lists.)

This anecdote about testing, classroom instruction, and textbooks is offered as context for new research examined in Education WeekResearch Questions Common-Core Claims by Publishers:

Hoping to boost their share of a $9 billion annual market, many publishers now boast that their textbooks are “common-core aligned” and so can help spur the dramatic shifts in classroom instruction intended by the new standards for English/language arts and math.

But in a Feb. 21 presentation of his research at a seminar in Los Angeles hosted by the Education Writers Association, William Schmidt, a professor of statistics and education at Michigan State University in East Lansing, dismissed most purveyors of such claims as “snake oil salesmen” who have done little more than slap shiny new stickers on the same books they’ve been selling for years.

People do not like math, but it is well past time to do the math on Common Core.

Put simply, Common Core is a guaranteed failure because it is a demonstrably failed reform strategy. As I have noted numerous times, the research base is clear that there is no correlation between the existence or quality of standards and student outcomes, and standards have not been shown to address equity (see Mathis, 2012).

Common Core and the related tests accomplish only one real positive outcome: The process creates an ever-revolving door of “new” standards and tests that feed the publishing and materials markets (the standards/testing accountability paradigm is a consumerism model).

While state and federal funds are being drained to re-train teachers, buy new textbooks, invest in new technology, and create and implement new tests (none of which will work and we’ll do this all again in 10 years or so), all of that effort and money could have (should have) been used to address the identifiable problems facing our schools—which have nothing to do with standards or tests (except that we need neither).

Common Core advocacy remains a mirage, a faith-based argument that is driven by commitments that have little to do with education, equity, democracy, or children.

If we have “new” standards and thus “new” tests, we need “new” textbooks, and if we need “new” materials, a few somebodies somewhere make $9 billion dollars.

The next time someone starts to endorse Common Core, superimpose in your mind’s eye “$9 billion taxpayers’ dollars” over her/his face because that is all that really matters.

Finally, the math:

Classroom time – isolated vocabulary instruction and texts = time for students to read

$$$ spent on Common Core – Common Core = $$$ better spent on real problems facing schools


Business Opportunities Seen in New Tests, Low Scores, Jason Tomassini

South Carolina and Common Core: A Next Step?

Oran P. Smith, a senior fellow at Palmetto Policy Forum, introduces in The State a new report on Common Core from the conservative think tank:

After the hearing, I concluded that John Hill of the Alabama Policy Institute had it right when he wrote: “Although both sides of the Common Core debate make arguments worth consideration, both the potential benefits and pitfalls related to Common Core have been the subject of exaggeration and error.”

This is why Palmetto Policy Forum recently released a paper we believe cuts through the Common Core fog, outlining an eight-point plan to return unquestioned control of education standards to S.C. parents.

Several points can be taken from the release of this report on CC.

First, the report fails as many ideological think tank reports do because it speaks uncritically to its ideological base (this report has glowing images and commentary on Ronald Reagan and Jeb Bush, for example).

Second, the report also fails by offering an incomplete consideration of the extensive research base on CC and the entire standards movement.

And third, despite these weaknesses, it seems only fair to highlight that the eight recommendations have much to applaud:

8 recs SC copy

[click to see full report; 8 recommendations on page 1]

These recommendations hold some promise but with caveats.

The report must be viewed through the lens of a detailed history of how CC developed as well as the entire standards movement begun under Reagan; see for example:

Whatever Happened to Scientifically Based Research in Education Policy?

Corporations Are Behind The Common Core State Standards — And That’s Why They’ll Never Work

The research base on CC must be examined, noting that CC is unlikely to create outcomes any different than the standards movements preceding the new standards (notably about three different waves in SC); see for example:

What We Know (and Ignore) about Standards, Achievement, and Equity

On Public Schools and Common Core: Graff’s Critique of Ravitch

Should SC Ditch Common Core?

Please note the research base:

  • Hout and Elliott (2011), Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education: Most recent decades of high-stakes accountability reform hasn’t work.
  • French, Guisbond, and Jehlen (2013), Twenty Years after Education Reform: High-stakes accountability in Massachusetts has not worked.
  • Loveless (2012), How Well Are American Students Learning?: “Despite all the money and effort devoted to developing the Common Core State Standards—not to mention the simmering controversy over their adoption in several states—the study foresees little to no impact on student learning” (p. 3).
  • Mathis (2012): Existence and/or quality of standards not positively correlated with NAEP or international benchmark test data; “Further, the wave of high-stakes testing associated with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has resulted in the ‘dumbing down’ and narrowing of the curriculum” (2 of 5).
  • Whitehurst (2009), Don’t Forget Curriculum: “The lack of evidence that better content standards enhance student achievement is remarkable given the level of investment in this policy and high hopes attached to it. There is a rational argument to be made for good content standards being a precondition for other desirable reforms, but it is currently just that – an argument.”
  • Kohn (2010), Debunking the Case for National Standards: CC nothing new, and has never worked before.
  • Victor Bandeira de Mello, Charles Blankenship, Don McLaughlin (2009), Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto NAEP Scales: 2005-2007: Why does research from the USDOE not show high-quality standards result in higher NAEP scores?
  • Horn (2013): “The 2012 NAEP Long-Term Trends are out, and there is a good deal that we may learn from forty years of choking children and teachers with more tests with higher stakes: IT DOESN’T WORK!”

Smith argues at the end of his Op-Ed, “This is not a time for mutual destruction,” and I agree.

I remain skeptical, but I wonder if this report suggests the possibility that SC is moving toward a reasonable reaction to CC.

I hope so because SC remains a high-poverty state stratified by wealth and poverty; no one in the state, especially the children in our schools, can afford more partisan political grandstanding over education policy.

I am willing to set aside the misleading nods to Reagan and Jeb Bush (both key causes of this problem) in order to enact the 8 recommendations above because at least then we will have a space within which to confront the issues left unaddressed—notably the inordinate cost of yet more commitments to new standards and tests that will, I guarantee, fail our children in SC.

Supporting Common Core Is Supporting Entire Reform Machine

Supporting Common Core is supporting either an increase or diversion of education tax dollars for funding CC-aligned textbooks, CC-aligned materials, CC-based high-stakes tests, CC-related teacher inservice and workshops, and expanded analysis of CC-based test data.

Supporting Common Core is supporting a continuation (at least) or an expansion (likely) of high-stakes testing for children, despite standardized testing negatively impacting the schooling and futures of African American, Latino/a, high-poverty, ELL, and special needs students—as standardized testing remains class, gender, and race biased and overwhelmingly a reflection of out-of-school factors.

Supporting Common Core is supporting the move to VAM-style teacher evaluations and merit pay.

Supporting Common Core is supporting the belief that teachers are inadequate, both lacking and not deserving professional autonomy.

Supporting Common Core is supporting Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, and edu-governors across the U.S.

Ultimately supporting Common Core is a concession, an abdication to the education is in “crisis” rhetoric reaching back to the mid-twentieth century, built on claims that standards are low, schools are failing, teachers have low expectations, and everyone is depending on excuses.

If you remain committed to Common Core, I invite you to read and respond to the following:

Corporations Are Behind The Common Core State Standards — And That’s Why They’ll Never Work

Are Common Core and Testing Debates “Two Different Matters”?

Faith-Based Education Reform: Common Core as Standards-and-Testing Redux

GUEST POST: Literature, Young Adult Fiction, and the Common Core, Lauren Girouard

Lauren Girouard is a student in my first year seminar (writing intensive). Lauren is an avid reader—a Neil Gaiman fan—and when she chose to write about Common Core, I asked her permission to post this as a rare voice of a student. I hope you enjoy this fine essay by a student who has come to love reading in the way we often claim we are seeking.

Literature, Young Adult Fiction, and the Common Core

Lauren Girouard

I have never been one to appreciate the adage that “we are what we read.” Undoubtedly, we are informed by what we read, we can learn from and be inspired by our choice in reading material, but are we really what we read?

Literature certainly has the ability to ignite our passions and spark our imaginations. As a child, I adored C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, and while I was far too young to understand the deeper meaning behind the words I was reading, all I knew was that the world he created was beautiful. As I grew older, I was fortunate enough to have an English teacher who, while he taught all the literary standards inside the classroom, dispensed booklists of young adult fiction we should read to better appreciate the beauty and value of the written word in our lives. From a young age, I viewed literature as a beautiful notion to place on a pedestal and adore. Unfortunately, many students are not so fortunate and they struggle to achieve that same love for literature.

Goodreads, a social networking site based on sharing and categorizing literature, serves as an organizational tool for avid readers, English teachers, and authors, and features lists of books that have been frequently organized into the same category. Goodreads’ list of Popular High School Literature Books is very starkly contrasted with Goodreads’s list of Popular Young Adult Fiction Books, suggesting a widening gap between what adolescents must read in school and what they consider enjoyable literature. This disconnect between the texts most often read in a classroom setting and the books students choose to read in their free time would not be concerning if the works selected for the classroom were truly superior examples of how students should write or offered deeper insight than that offered by popular young adult fiction. However, recent findings and a blossoming in the field of adolescent literature suggests that the disparity between what young adults want to read and what they read as a part of their curriculum need not be so large.

Some will always adhere staunchly to the classics. The Argumentative Old Git suggests that literature must be taken much more seriously, that we even go so far as to diminish literature as a subject when we allow students to select their own reading material. The idea that adolescents should not be responsible for their own curriculum in the English classroom is spawned from the notion that serious literature, that is to say what is commonly accepted as classroom literature, will make students feel that literature is a graver, more important subject. Yet a recent article in “The Telegraph” suggests that students are less well-versed in literature than they used to be because they are dropping the core subject in favor of lighter fare. This runs in direct contrast to the arguments of The Argumentative Old Git and those like him who continue to fight for a curriculum rooted solidly in the literature that has become canon for high school teachers.

While Great Britain struggles to work out whether literature should be taught at all, the United States system of education is embroiled in a feud over Common Core, which would shift the study of reading in high school even further away from fiction and certainly from young adult fiction, and focus more squarely on informative texts. The program has been widely instituted, as this map from their official website shows:


While some would prefer to make the debate over these new standards political, even going so far as to substitute Common Core for Obamacore, others are more willing to consider the pros and cons of such a program more fairly, even when they come to the same conclusion: the program is detrimental for most literature in the public education system. Common Core simply cannot seem to win on any front, even when it tries to introduce “The Hobbit” as a piece of fiction suitable for classroom reading.

If it is abundantly apparent to many that these Common Core standards, which stifle a teacher’s ability to select their own literature or allow their students to have a voice in the standard curriculum, are harmful to schools, why then do so many still insist upon keeping such a wide range of young adult literature out of the classroom? The American Library Association seems to wonder as well, going so far as to tout the literature most frequently banned in the classroom each year. The comparison of these lists to the Goodreads lists above reveal that far more Young Adult Fiction is being banned than the tried and true literary standards that so many have become comfortable with.

Some teachers continue to fight against regulated reading standards that stifle the freedom of students to choose what they read. In radical steps, some like teacher Lorrie McNeill are implementing a new reading workshop strategy where children pick their own titles for discussion in the classroom. These attempts to combine education and pleasure have not gone unnoticed, but the continued implementation of Common Core standards suggest that these methods are simply not accepted in as wide a context as would be necessary to put choice of literature in the hands of the students.

Despite the backlash against Common Core standards and curriculum, there seems to be relatively few voices championing teacher and student choice in crafting an educational list of literature for use in the classroom each year. No wonder students are increasingly opposed to even taking an additional English class, when popular young adult fiction is being stifled, whether by petitioning parents or government regulation.

Common Core in the Real World: Destroying Literacy through Standardization (Again)

I have a brief comedy routine I use with my students, typically early in each course I teach—in part to introduce them to me, and in part to make a point about literacy.* The joke goes like this:

“When I graduated high school,” I say, ” I had 7,000 comic books,” slight pause, “and no girl friend.”

The students typically laugh, and then I deadpan, “That’s not funny. That’s sad.”

When they suddenly stop laughing, I smile widely, and we all laugh together.**

I began collecting comic books—primarily to draw from them—in the summer before my ninth grade, the summer I learned I had scoliosis and would have to wear a huge back brace throughout my high school years (23 hours a day at first and throughout school hours into my junior year of high school). That situation provided me with yet another joke for my students; when I tell that part of my life story, I say that I called my back brace “the chick magnet.” More laughter.

By my sophomore year of high school, I was collecting, drawing from, and reading dozens of comics each month. I also had begun reading science fiction (SF) voraciously. I can still recall Lucifer’s HammerRendezvous with Rama and Childhood’s End vividly—not the contents of the books so much as the reading was hard and that I felt accomplished by making my way through each one.

Lynn Harrill was my driver’s education teacher the summer before my tenth grade, and then my English teacher in both my sophomore and junior years. Lynn would prove to be the most important man and mentor in my life after my father, but during tenth grade, he told me that I needed to stop reading SF and start reading “real literature.”

And I did (well, I starting reading real literature, but didn’t stop reading SF). In the next several years, I had read everything by D.H. Lawrence (to whom Lynn introduced me), F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, and many other literary authors.

I owe a great deal to Lynn, despite his being wrong about his proclamation marginalizing SF (and indirectly my comics) and honoring literary fiction. But another moment in my sophomore year of English deserves mentioning.

A required book in my tenth grade was A Tale of Two Cities. The summative assessment on the novel was a multiple-choice test—on which I scored a 96, the highest grade in the class. Most of the students in the class—which was the highest track—made much lower, and they all were mad at me from ruining any chance at the grades being curved.

But that isn’t the important aspect of this story—what is?

I never read the novel.

I scored a 96 by reading the Cliff’s Notes and taking careful notes in class.

Common Core in the Real World: Destroying Literacy through Standardization (Again)

An essay in the Educational Research Bulletin addressing reading requirements in high school opens with the following:

Within the last few years heated discussion has centered around the question of free reading for high-school students in English classes. Critics have insisted that interest as a basis for book selection merely tends to establish poor taste; they have stressed the importance of organization in reading as in any program; they have assumed that free reading, with its emphasis upon pupil-direction, lacks content. Indeed, the arguments in slightly more abstract form are those frequently advanced against any program in whose construction pupils participate, and have been offered as criticism of the whole progressive-school movement. (p. 29)

While this could easily be a description of the debates surrounding Common Core, this is by Lou LaBrant, written in 1937.

LaBrant presents a careful study of the positive consequences of free reading in the context of the traditional view that students must be assigned reading and that students must also read primarily (if not only) from the Great Books. She concludes from the study:

The theory that in a free or extensive reading program designed to utilize interest and to serve individual needs there will be fruitless reading of light fiction gains no evidence from this study. The report does, however, point to the possibility that the adolescent has much greater power to read and to think intelligently about reading than the results of our conventional program have led us to believe. (p. 34)

In the seventy-plus years since LaBrant’s piece, as literacy scholars such as Stephen Krashen have argued and detailed in their research, student literacy has been shown to spring from choice reading and access to books (in the home and libraries)—not from prescribed reading lists, not from revised standards, and certainly not from testing reading.

Advocates for Common Core insist that CC is not prescriptive and that CC is not the tests to come from these new standards.

Those advocates are simply ignoring the real world and the history of standards-bases education in the U.S.; they are, in fact, confusing the use of “to be” verbs with “should.” It may very well be that CC should not be prescriptive and should not be reduced to the tests. But should does not dictate what most surely is and will be.

Last week, for example, a former student of mine who is now a high school English teacher texted me distraught. Her English department is aggressively pursuing a new policy to end the use of young adult (YA) literature in the high school courses at her school. Why?

The department leaders have argued that CC requires literature that is “rigorous.”

Despite having abundant evidence on her side (including research and that students do read voraciously YA literature), she has been told to stop her resistance.

Another former student of mine who teachers high school English also faced harsh evaluations during her first year of teaching because she designed and implemented a wonderful unit around The Hunger Games. Despite the huge popularity of the unit among her students (and among student not in her class who were drawn into the books because of word of mouth), the leaders of her department also reprimanded her for depending on lesser literature—arguing that her students needed higher quality reading (required Great Books, again).

In the real world, CC and the tests that are to follow have and will once again reinforce the exact practices that have harmed literacy among students for a century; teachers will be emboldened to assign Great Books (and marginalize further everything else) and teachers will be compelled to teach to the test.

In the real world, as Gerald Bracey has explained, what is tested is what is taught—especially when standards and testing are part of high-stakes accountability. CC may in fact raise (eventually) some reading test scores, but I guarantee it will only harm the teaching of literacy and the literacy of students.

I have slipped past the age of 50. I have read thousands of books and written several myself.

My greatest literacy joys remain authors I was never assigned, but discovered for myself—Milan Kundera, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman.

My literary life can be traced back to my mother and the wealth of children’s books that populated my childhood home and then my deeply self-conscious nerd self as a teen sitting in my comic book room surrounded by comic books and stacks of Arthur C. Clarke novels.

I graduated high school with mostly As in math and science, intending to be physics major, because school had profoundly misled me about the joy and wonder of words.

In college, on my own, I learned otherwise.

There is no justification for CC and the tests that have and will follow if we genuinely seek to offer children the rich and valuable literacy that every child deserves. Denying students choice is ignoring what we know about literacy development as well as the essence of basic human agency.

Common Core in the real world is once again destroying literacy through standardization.

* This blog was inspired by Christopher Lehman @iChrisLehman.

** My newer joke springs from The Big Bang Theory; at some point I tell students I watch and enjoy the show, and then pause before saying quite seriously I don’t understand, however, why people think it’s funny. Then I smile widely.