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.

About Joanne


  1. I have to hand it to you, Joanne. It takes balls to make the claim that Checker Finn, Rick Hess and Tom Vander Ark are “skeptics” of national standards.

  2. Wow. Jungian archetypes in 3rd grade? So the lit set/choice approach to fostering reading is finished with a mandated curriculum centered on myth (think bible here, too, please, as that’s where bible as literature is usually tucked into the curriculum) for late elementary. I’m sure the anthologies are being developed at a feverish pace.

    I’ve looked at the high school standards, as well, and I think that they are not developmentally appropriate in places. Yes, our brightest students are capable of inferential thinking, but the AVERAGE 9th grader is still operating on a literal level (this is why algebra is so hard for them — symbolism isn’t clicking for them yet). It is great to reach for this level with all students (and I do — that’s how I know the rough level at which it is attainable), but of course the new tests will mandate that all get to this level of abstract thinking or I will have failed (not the students). The little hard research we have in education centers on the brain, and some of these standards don’t reflect what’s been learned there.

    Not to worry. In ten years of teaching I’ve spent enormous numbers of hours realigning things for two different tests (one more year and I’d have done 3). I figure I have three or four more sets of standards to go before retirement.

  3. Homeschooling Granny says:

    I haven’t read the standards and I would like to know whether the math standards includes statistics. The high school I attended (in the 50s) didn’t teach statistics and I didn’t elect it in college but as a young adult I soon realized that I needed statistics in order to read the newspaper. I bought a text and workbook to learn on my own.

    If, as Lightly Seasoned says, 9th graders need literal material, I think statistics might be right for them. They could have fun fact checking some of the assertions adults make.

  4. SuperSub says:

    You know what too-high standards teach students? That no matter what effort they put in, they will fail.

  5. It’s not just that the proposed standards “ask too much of young children,” but that they ask the wrong things.

    The writers of these standards clearly have some serious problems. They would be good candidates for that T-shirt that reads “Do you spell anal retentive with a hyphen?” Why otherwise would they be requiring kindergartners to be able to count forward _and_ backwards starting at _any_ number from 1 to 100? What’s the purpose of that, other than to torture children and their teachers?


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