Standards at the core

Skeptics are giving surprisingly positive reviews to the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s proposed language arts and math standards, which are now available for review.  Curriculum Matters rounds up “interesting” responses, including  support from E.D. Hirsch of Core Knowledge Foundation (“a not-to-be-missed opportunity“).  

K-12 reading standards are “pretty damned impressive,”says Fordham’s Checker Finn.

Besides doing justice to the “skill side” of English language arts (from early reading on up through sophisticated writing), they’ve taken language “conventions” and content seriously–and cumulatively–in a dozen ways. They’ve devised deft ways of incorporating literature (including means by which monitors of state/district curricula can gauge the quality and rigor of what students are actually asked to read). They’ve delicately balanced between “traditional” and “modern” approaches, between “basic” and “21st Century” skills, etc. They’ve imaginatively incorporated the reading sides of science and history as well as English per se. They’ve supplied plenty of compelling examples of what kids at various levels should be reading. And they haven’t overpromised. Indeed, they state plainly at the very start that proper implementation of these standards hinges on also having a topnotch curriculum in place.

Lynne Munson, who feared the standards would emphasize skills over content, gives the draft an A-, saying it has far exceeded her expectations.

 In the reading standards for literature for grades 3-5 students are required to “compare and contrast thematically similar tales, myths, and accounts of events from various cultures” and “compare the treatment of similar ideas and themes (e.g., opposition of good and evil) as well as character types and patterns of events in myths and other traditional literature from different cultures.”  This cannot be done without reading and deeply comprehending mythological stories. 

The standards “push schools, teachers, and students hard in the direction of reading the best of the best, Munson writes.  The appendix lists examples of works students should be able to read at each grade as well as historical and literary documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Federalist Papers.  

The English Language standards have an “elegance” and “leanness” that most state standards lack, writes Rick Hess, who sees many challenges ahead in changing testing, data systems, teaching and training.

Tom Vander Ark praises the math standards, but warns that implementation is difficult and states are broke.

. . . we’re about to make a big mistake.  Instead of designing new assessment systems that take full advantage of technology, most states will adopt another version of paper and pencil bubble sheet standardized tests.

On the negative side, Sandra Stotsky critiques the “content and culture-free” reading standards and Ze’ev Wurman thinks “too many pieces are missing” from the math standards to prepare students for algebra.

Some states — notably Virginia and Minnesota — are signaling they prefer theor own state standards. That’s OK, writes Finn. There’s no need for everyone to jump in at once.

Jay P. Greene, blogging at Education Next, is surprised that so many have jumped on board the common standards train, which he predicts will derail.

The standards will inevitably be diluted and made even more 21st century skill-like to gain sufficiently broad support.  The standards-based reformers at Fordham and Core Knowledge will end up renouncing the final product, but will continue to believe that if only the right standards were adopted all would be well.  And we’ll start this all over again in about a decade. 

On Pajamas Media, Andrew J. Coulson faults the false premise of national education standards, pointing out that kids learn at different rates.

Another nay sayer is Neal McCluskey of Cato, who predicts the standards will be ignored or dumbed down. His real fear is a slippery slope toward centralization of education.

The Alliance for Childhood thinks standards ask too much of young children.

I’m blogging from Australia’s Hunter Valley. We’re staying with Silicon Valley refugees turned winemakers.  Saturday we’re going to a rodeo.

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