Some public figures in Connecticut, both elected and appointed, say that the content of the Common Core is rigorous and just the implementation has been the problem. Others who served on the Governor’s Task Force on the Common Core have said that the content of the Common Core does need a little “tweaking” but is basically just fine. However, the highly respected National Council of Teachers of English does not agree with either point of view.
The National Council of Teachers of English was not consulted in the creation of the Common Core Standards although the organization has for more than 100 years been the standard-bearer for excellence in English language arts education in the nation’s elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. NCTE, however, was invited to respond to each draft of the Common Core Standards. In each of its review of the drafts of the Common Core Standards, NCTE took issue with the content of the standards, took issue with the very way that reading and writing is taught with the Common Core Standards. The NCTE review teams cited the reduction of the teaching of narrative thinking and writing in high school, the lack of teaching of metacognitive (learning-how-to-learn) skills, and the lack of collaboration as a way of creating individual meaning as students read and write as serious problems. The review teams pointed out that all the countries with which we compete have standards for those skills. NCTE also took issue with the Common Core Standards because they are not supported by any evidence that those standards will develop students as readers, writers, or thinkers.
The National Council of Teachers of English, after conducting their careful reviews of the Common Core Standards, decided to not endorse the Common Core Standards. You can read the NCTE reviews at http://www.ncte.org/ or contact me for copies. It is remarkable and unfortunate that standards in literacy are being mandated for all the children (kindergarten through grade 12) in the United States without the endorsement of the professional organization representing all the teachers of reading and writing in the country.
The voice of that highly regarded professional organization should be part of the conversation in Connecticut about the quality of the Common Core Standards. It is reasonable that anyone in that conversation who passes judgment on the Common Core Standards for English language arts should have three qualifications:
1) They have read the 42 standards and fully understand the pedagogy for teaching the discrete and random skills students should know and be able to do in each grade (90 such skills in kindergarten and 190 such skills in 11th grade).
2) They have experience and expertise in teaching English language arts.
3) They have in-depth knowledge of child and adolescent development, including how children and adolescents learn.
The National Council of Teachers of English review teams meet those qualifications. Many others in Connecticut who comment in the public arena about the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts do not. I think it is time of us to bring professional educators, such as those who understand why NCTE did not endorse the Common Core Standards, into the conversation in Connecticut about education so that all of our children have opportunities for real learning as they progress through Connecticut schools.
Here are a few pivotal quotes from the NCTE reviews of the Common Core State Standards to begin that conversation:
1. The literacy environment is one that demands innovation, creativity, and adaptability within an accelerating rate of change. In our classrooms across the nation, the impact of these changes is already apparent. That impact, however, is not apparent in the draft of the Common Core State Standards, which, with a few exceptions, could apply as well to the schools of 1950 as to the schools of this decade and the realities the nation and the world face today. (NCTE Review, July 2009)
2. For affluent students whose lives are already privileged, objectives like the ones listed in the Common Core State Standards draft might be taken for granted in their schools. Students who come from more privileged families and communities will meet these goals quickly, and so their curriculum will move beyond the low-level objectives to more sophisticated and enriched learning. For students from marginalized groups, especially ethnic minorities and students from low-income households, however, we anticipate school experience sharply narrowing to focus on only the limited skills enumerated in the document, omitting the literacy practices that motivate, engage, and inspire, as well as those that represent real power in civic life, the workplace, and the academy. (NCTE Review, July 2009)
3. The standards are articulated as individual, testable actions rather than as authentic performances in college classrooms or workplaces. (NCTE Review, July 2009)
4. As drafted, the standards leave out very important dimensions of literacy learning—and if one imagines a teacher adhering tightly to the currently proposed standards, one must imagine a teacher who is prevented from preparing students for the real world. (NCTE Review, July 2009)
5. We note that the document presently contains a claim that these standards are evidence-based, but we note that none of the evidence has been drawn from peer-reviewed research journals or similar sources. Rather, the evidence offered at present consists of surveys conducted by the testing companies that stand most immediately to gain from the testing of these standards. This seems to represent a conflict of interest in the development of the standards. (NCTE Review, July 2009)
6. Exclusion of metacognitive strategies is particularly contentious for us, as it is referenced in the introduction to the standards: “The Standards, with their emphasis on observable outcomes, do not enumerate various metacognitive strategies that students may need to use to monitor and direct their thinking and learning” (p. 4). First, the notion that only observable outcomes are worthy of being named in the standards seems spurious. Perhaps current standardized tests are not sensitive enough to measure such outcomes, but teachers have been, in fact, measuring “in-the-head processes” for decades. (NCTE Review, January 2010)
7. Omission of strategy language represents a grave concern and jeopardizes the viability of these standards to be able to achieve their intended outcome. Additionally, metacognitive strategies such as making connections, seeing relationships between items, questioning and determining importance, as well as demonstrating an awareness of one’s thinking, are all needed for success in the 21st century. Furthermore, a review of the high school standards of the ten nations/regions identified by your organization as exemplars for international benchmarking shows that 70% of these standards (of other countries or regions) make direct reference to metacognitive strategies as being important. (NCTE Review, January 2010)
8. Without negating the importance of and relative difficulty of other forms of writing, omitting narrative writing as a form for high school students does not represent the rigor that is possible and necessary within these documents. Again, a search of the benchmark standards demonstrates that 90% of these nations/regions that outperform the United States in student achievement actually do emphasize narrative writing at the high school level…..Narrative writing has had tremendous power and will likely continue to lead to new thinking necessary for humanity to both thrive and survive in the 21st century. Omitting or reducing the role of narrative writing to a technique does not represent (the Common Core) stated goals of being more rigorous, or of being internationally benchmarked, or of trying to ensure that students are well prepared for the 21st century. (NCTE Review, January 2010)
9. The danger with having so many grammar skills enumerated is that teachers or districts become overly focused on grammar instruction, a practice that research has widely shown to be unhelpful to developing quality writers. (NCTE Review, January 2010)