Either you are for us or against us: Pathways to the Common Core

In Heinemann’s Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman, the first chapter states that we can read the Core as a “curmudgeon” or we can read them as if they are gold.

In other words, there are only two choices here.  Oh, my, how that premise makes me angry.  Let’s see, what does it remind me of…

I choose, instead, to read the Core as I teach my students to read: as an argument.  With an argument, there is what is on the page, what is off the page, and what is in the context.

I do agree there is gold in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  I love them as a framework, and I agree most heartily that we must all raise our expectations for students.

My worry, though, is  the CCSS are not true gold.  In fact, they are only gilded, and a potential gilded Trojan horse at that.

Lucy Calkins and group employ effective argument skills when, starting on page 3, they address critics’ arguments against the CCSS.  They acknowledge the argument that we should be talking about poverty, citing that the US child poverty rate went from 16% in 2000 to 21% in 2009.  They note the initial mystery of the Common Core authors and ratification process.  They note the expense of this process.

But they don’t debunk the arguments.  They don’t address them or counter them.  They simply acknowledge them on the page.

Let’s take a look at what is not on the page. 

They didn’t mention the 8-10 hours this test will take, as recently published in Education Week.  They didn’t talk about the centralized data base or the Brooking’s Institution Report that found that standards won’t influence NAEP scores.

They didn’t mention the loss of singing time that makes time for vocabulary work, as written in the Washington Post by Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in New York and the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State.  They didn’t mention the stress on students, including  kindergarteners facing a loss of playtime as posted in the New York Post.

They didn’t mention the questions of developmental appropriateness as written in the Huffington Post by Mark Rice, professor and chair of the Department of American Studies, St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York.  And they didn’t question if the CCSS advocate a “one right answer” approach,  such as found in this post by Vicki Vinton, author and New York literacy consultant.

And they didn’t address teacher concerns, such as this post by Colette Marie Bennett, the English Department Chair at Wamogo High School in Northwest Connecticut, where she wonders about the time demands indicated in these close readings and how we will keep kids interested for that long.

And they sure didn’t address Susan Ohanian’s questions about the research and ratification.

And so while the Calkins group present a false choice of reading the Standards as a curmudgeon or seeing the Standards as gold, I will continue to see the Standards as an argument, questioning them, but still addressing and implementing them, and working to do so always with my full integrity and expertise, because in the end, it is  experience and heart that is gold.

PS.  As I tweeted this post, the next Tweet was a post from Diane Ravitch’s blog, which also notes that the hostile relationship between states and teachers/lack of funding complicate implementation.

Why the Core is Gold

In Heinemann’s Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman, the first chapter states that we can read the Core as a “curmudgeon” or we can read them as if they are gold.

I agree there are aspects of gold.

Taken from Bill David Brooks Flickr Photostream
Taken from Bill David Brooks Flickr Photostream

Pathways asserts that an asset of the  Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is  they demand higher-level skills than ever before, and the CCSS organizes these goals “through time, across years, and across disciplines.”  I admit it; that is gold.

Pathways also asserts that the CCSS places equal weight on reading and writing.  Agreed.  No Child Left Behind did not address writing, which evolved into an imbalance and neglect.

Pathways further notes that the CCSS stress “the importance of critical citizenship,” meaning that “The Common Core document asks us to bring up a generation . . . who listen to or read a claim and ask, ‘Who is making this claim? What is that person’s evidence? What other positions are being promulgated?”  Agreed.  In the age of internet and in corporate-owned media empires, we owe this skill to our children and  our democracy.

And most of all, yes, absent the testing movement that surrounds it and the mandated programming that frightened districts are enforcing to meet the test, the CCSS appears to respect the professional judgement of classroom teachers.

So there are reasons to think of the Core as Gold.

And I applaud the stated motive of David Coleman when he observes that we live in a  “country [where] students who pass their high school courses and get their high school diplomas still, in their first year of college, are not ready for the demands of college-level work, and many of these kids do not [stay in] college or they fail” in this interview.   I get some of our school’s test results for college remediation; it breaks my heart and spurs me to work smarter.

I also think David Coleman is right when he promotes that “teachers will be sharing their best work and improving their profession, and doing it across state lines.”  We need this.  In the age of internet, we need to do more to share with and learn from each other.

So there is no denying that there is gold.  But let’s remember that gold is always complicated and often dirty, and quite often what appears to be golden is not gold, but gilded, as this post examines.