Core confusion

States won’t be able to pick and choose which common core standards they adopt, reports Catherine Gewertz on Curriculum Matters.

At a meeting in Las Vegas, Scott Montgomery of the Council of Chief State School Officers and David Wakelyn of the National Governors Association, the two groups organizing the initiative, “said that when a state adopts the common-core standards, it must adopt the whole thing, not just parts of it,” Gewertz writes.

The first draft of core standards is being rewritten, in response to feedback. Reviewers said the English standards were hard to understand.

A source at the American Federation of Teachers said the union would like to see more clarity of language and grade-by-grade specificity, “so a teacher could pick it up and teach to it.” The group also spotted grade-sequencing problems in some places, the source said, such as requiring a math skill in one grade level without prerequisite skills in the previous grade.

Core standards need improvement, writes the Boston Herald.

As one example of what was wrong in English (among many possibilities), Massachusetts reviewers singled out a “core” standard for ninth and 10th grades: Students should be able to “articulate theses and themes and summarize how they develop over the course of a text and how they are expressed by the details.” The objection: “No experienced teacher would ever ask a student to do that. And an inexperienced teacher would be led to think that every work has both a theme and a thesis.”

In mathematics, among other problems, the reviewers cautioned against using words that “teachers, parents (and) members of the public may not be familiar with,” such as “transitivity” and “bivariate.”

Massachusetts already has good standards that have been tested in the classroom and won’t be eager to accept second-rate substitutes. I wonder why the core folks can’t just copy Massachusetts, modifying where necessary, rather than starting from scratch.

In an Education Week week column, a former high school and college teacher laments the “failure of imagination” in the core standards for writing, which call for students to “establish a topic, sustain focus, represent data accurately, revise their own writing ‘when necessary,’ and use technology as a tool.”

Of the 18 proposed core writing standards, eight, or nearly half, refer explicitly to writing arguments or explanations: the second and fourth, and standards 13 through 18.

Narrative writing is considered “a component of making an argument and writing to inform or explain.”

Good writers do more — and don’t always follow the rules, Edgar H. Schuster writes.

But the standards’ goal is to produce competent writers capable of writing college papers; it’s not to turn out good writers.

My high school taught nothing but expository writing — the 3-3-3 paragraph — in English for all four years. We hated it, but we were “college ready.”

About Joanne


  1. Well, I’m not a good one to comment on teaching English–I was badly let down by my teachers, and I never even knew it. I never learned how to write an essay in English class; I learned the basics of an essay from my world history teacher in 10th grade when studying for the Regents exam. I enjoyed learning grammar in junior high school but never cared much for high school English. I remember escaping 10th grade English with only having to turn in my term paper, which consisted of three typewritten pages. The teacher gave me a D, but with the rest of my grades, I ended up with an A in the course. In 11th grade, American Literature, I chose the 10 questions regarding literature on the Regents rather than write the essay. I still got an A on the Regents and an A for the course. 12th grade was creative writing, and I did well enough on the few pieces we had to write that I likewise got an A.

    In college, of course, I was woefully unprepared, but managed to finish required freshman English with a C. I never took another English course in my life.

    Although I don’t particularly like to write, I’m okay at it. It was really strange, when I was in law school, to write in the research and writing class, where the instructors wanted me to use more words rather than fewer. With my engineering background, I expect to write my sentences clearly and completely, and not have to expend three or four sentences to say the same thing in slightly different ways.

    Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I had learned to write properly during my high school years.

  2. Student of History says:

    If the goal of these Common Core Standards was to lift academic achievement, you’re right, you should simply copy Massachusetts.

    That’s not the actual goal even though it may be the naive goal of certain participants. Everything about Race to the Top and the ESEA reauth seems to be about moving away from what has been proven to be effective instruction. The question is Why?

    The expressed goal is to close the achievement gap by having one goal for all and then use rhetoric to pretend it’s a high solid academic standard and “internationally benchmarked”. To where?

    Hence all the language about College, Career and Civic Ready for adapting to the 21st century. Does any other country in the world believe in one standard for all? That fails the common sense test.

    This is about moving the emphasis of school away from the pesky content knowledge and genuine academic skills where individual differences are inevitable. School will be more of a socialization exercise in heterogeneous classrooms. Collaboration, lots of technology, and Project Based Learning are the mantras that permeate the “nonprofit” operators ready to reap the lucrative benefits of all these new mandates.

  3. Diana Senechal says:

    Schuster has a point, as does Joanne. Students should read examples of excellent writing, and they should learn the fundamentals of writing. The two should not contradict each other. The standards may not capture everything that is excellent about writing, but they need not limit instruction either.

    The real question, as I see it, is how to view standards in relation to curriculum. Standards should not be the end point. They are not curriculum; they should indicate the minimum that the curriculum will address. The curriculum can and should go far beyond the standards. If the class is studying an Edgar Allen Poe story, for instance, they will address many literature standards at once, and they will do more than that.

    When it comes to essays, teachers can point out that writers break all sorts of rules–but that the underlying principles (such as clarity, specificity, vividness) remain the same. Students can master certain essay forms while reading superb literary essays–essays that take liberties, create rhythm and sound, and do all sorts of interesting things.

    I took a required expository writing course in 11th grade. We learned a number of different essay structures and modes of argument. We read excellent essays (such as “A Modest Proposal”) as examples. We had a variety of writing assignments–daily assignments and a research paper (about 15-20 pages long, I think). Over the course of the semester we learned to start with a clear thesis statement and substantiate it thoroughly. But we also learned how lively an essay can be.

  4. Student of History says:


    Isn’t the requirement that states must adopt all of CCSI or none and may not deviate except to add up to about 15% additional requirements inconsistent with this just being about setting minimums?

    It appears that NGA and CCCSO and USDOE are trying to establish both an amorphous floor (because of vagueness) and a rigid ceiling on what is to be going on in US classrooms.

  5. Diana Senechal says:

    Student of history, you make a good point. But what does this mean: that states may not deviate except to add up to 15% of their own requirements? How can this be, when standards are not curriculum?

    I read the Edweek articles, and they don’t explain this. I will look around and see if there is any clarification anywhere.

  6. Diana Senechal says:

    But it appears that this 85 percent match is between state standards and Common Core standards, not between schools’ curricula and Common Core standards.

    In that case, the translation of standards into curriculum still leaves plenty of room for fleshing out. Nothing that I’ve read so far says the curricula can’t go beyond the standards. Still, there are some unanswered questions here.

  7. Student of History says:

    Gene Wilhoit said in the December presentation on CCSI that the states “must take our document and enact it” and that “alignment is not enough”.

    The 15% leeway to adopt more, he said, was to provide some latitude for state specific information.

    Later he says that “existing curricula design policies and current assessments would negate what we are trying to do here”.

    The other speaker, Dane Linn, states that “this document is an equity agenda as much as anything else”.

    It truly is impossible to watch that presentation, listen to what was said and asked, and who was praised and who was kept at arm’s length and realistically believe that CCSI is an attempt to raise academic rigor in US classrooms. That’s especially true when Mr Wilhoit says it will be “critical to ask students how they want to learn”.


  8. “States won’t be able to pick and choose which common core standards they adopt”? Really!? Says who? That’s like me telling you that you have to follow the recipe in today’s paper exactly.

    I don’t have the authority over you to make such demands — nor does anyone else.

    States can do whatever they want with these standards.

  9. Student of History says:

    Not and be eligible for Race to the Top competitive grants.

    The federal authority over the states comes from accepting those federal dollars.

    Even if a state or district decides not to participate in RTT, it looks like the reauthorized ESEA and other federal education programs will require similar state commitments in the future.

    Only a financially self sufficient state or district that can live without federal dollars would be in the autonomous position you sarcastically describe. If you know such a place, tell us. We may want to move.