P.S. How The Common Core Hurts Kids As Readers And Writers

 The New York Times, whose  writers have seemed to lack knowledge about the Common Core, has been a PR firm for those misbegotten and ill-conceived educational standards. But finally on Sunday, July 24th, the newspaper published ” The Common Core Costs Billions and Hurts Students” by Diane Ravitch that is critical of the Common Core.

Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education under George H. W. Bush and the author of The Life and Death of the Great American School System and Reign of Errorpointed out that the Common Core has accomplished nothing that it promised and does not meet the educational needs of children. Ravitch explained that, as a country, we have spent billions to implement the Common Core, to prepare students to take the Common Core aligned tests, and to buy the technology to administer those tests online. The results are that math scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress  declined for the first time since 1990 and reading scores are flat or decreased, the achievement gaps based on race and income persist, teachers are demoralized, causing teacher shortages, and, most tragically of all, children are receiving an education which harms them. 

I would like to add a P.S. 

Diane Ravitch writes about the damage that the Common Core does to children with disabilities, English language learners, and children in the early grades. I know that to be true. My Post Script focuses on the damage that Common Core is doing to all students because, with Common Core, they are not taught to be thoughtful readers and effective writers and to develop as creative and critical thinkers and increasingly independent learners.

There has been false advertising about the Common Core, calling those standards “rigorous”. They are not at all rigorous. If they were, the National Council of Teachers of English would have endorsed them. After careful review, NCTE did not endorse the Common Core due to the content of the standards and the way they require reading and writing  to be taught. It is preposterous to think that English language arts standards have been mandated for all k-12 students without the endorsement of the professional organization representing all elementary, middle, high school, and college teachers of reading and writing in the country.

And what is the objectionable Common Core content?

First of all, the amount of literature is restricted. We are the only country on the planet that specifies limits on reading literature. That means we not only limit the range of ideas with which students become familiar but we also reduce their opportunities to think divergently and create individual meaning in ways that only reading literature provides. Secondly, the kind of writing taught with Common Core severely limits the thinking students do because Common Core prescribes formulaic, impersonal writing. All Common Core writing assignments, according to David Coleman, the chief writer of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards, must let students know  that ” no one gives a **** what they think and feel”. And thirdly, the volume of the grammar to be taught at each grade level requires that grammar be taught separately, not as part of the writing process, even though all research for the past 30 years says that is a waste of time. Worst of all, none of the standards are about teaching students to be engaged, active, thoughtful readers or effective writers for a wide range of purposes and audiences. 

And how must teachers teach the Common Core?

Common Core teachers are purveyors of information. They teach as if the meaning of any piece of literature is “within the four corners of the page”. That outdated and discredited approach to teaching literature is called New Criticism- but “new” was the 1930’s. With it, Common Core teachers do not teach students to make personal connections, create their own interpretations, evaluate the ideas, or consider the cultural assumptions in what they are reading. The Common Core teacher requires students to dig out the one meaning from what they are reading, a meaning  the teacher already knows. Since there is only one answer, there is no point in teaching students how to discuss their initial thinking with others, question the perspectives of others, and reconsider their original thinking, maybe even changing their minds because of questions or ideas offered by their classmates.

Also, writing is not used as part of the learning process to foster individual thinking because that thinking is not sought. And revision is, as the standards state, only “as needed”, not as a mandatory part of the writing process although revision always strengthens a writer’s thinking and makes the writer more effective.

 And why is all this so bad?

Well, first of all, kids are not receiving an education that sparks their minds and touches their souls. Secondly, students are not learning the skills they need for their future. Tony Wagner, lead scholar at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, has written two books (The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators), which discuss the skills students will need in the workplace. Wagner says that our future as a nation depends on our capacity to teach students to have the curiosity and imagination to be innovators. He says the competencies that students must learn in school are:  

  • To approach problems as learners as opposed to knowers
  • To ask provocative questions
  • To engage in dialogue which explores questions with diverse people
  • To deal with ambiguity instead of right answers
  • To trust oneself to be creative and take initiative
  • To communicate orally and in writing by expressing ideas with clarity and personal passion
  • To analyze information and identify a path forward
  • To be curious, to be engaged with and interested in the world

You can’t get there from here when “here” is the Common Core.

Diane Ravitch is right.  We must stop hurting students. The Common Core must go.


4 thoughts on “P.S. How The Common Core Hurts Kids As Readers And Writers

  1. Right on, Ann!

    Not sure if you’ve seen it but you’ll like the latest EJ, specifically the Speaking Truth to Power column by Todd Destigter. He also has a similar but longer piece in Research in the Teaching of English. Great questions and analysis with our recent obsession with argumentation.



    1. What I don’t understand, and maybe you can clarify in your next posting, is how all this old research/understanding about how kids learn has been thrown out the window–I mean teaching grammar in isolation is old, old news! And so isn’t Tony Wagner’s work! I know there have been many enhancements on the old research, particularly among elementary school learners, but was it poor test scores that sent people dumping reader response, modes of discourse, inquiry, etc? Was it the business community–and with what were they upset? Who was complaining loudly enough that the Common Core even came into existence? I don’t understand its genesis and why such experts as Tony Wagner were thrown by the wayside. Can you help here???


      1. No one “dumped” Reader Response, teaching the Modes of Discourse, inquiry,or teaching grammar and usage as part of the writing process. They didn’t dump them because they never even considered them. That is the problem. No one thought to consider what is good teaching and learning or what the research said about how to develop kids as learners and thinkers.

        The Common Core State Standards were written in secret and the names of the writers withheld until there was intense pressure from journalists to release the names. There was not one single K-12 teacher of reading or writing and not one single college professor or researcher in the field of English or in the field of teaching reading or writing on the committee. The committee was composed of representatives of testing companies whose expertise was to determine what could be tested by standardized tests, not how to develop learners and thinkers. The lead writer was Davis Coleman who has zero teaching experience but plenty of ideas of his own ideas about how reading and writing should be taught. He privileged New Criticism, the reading of informational texts, and argument as the only worthwhile Mode of Discourse.

        Of course, undertaking this whole standards project was enormously expensive. And the federal government was prohibited from creating and enforcing national standards so, even if the government could have foot the bill, it was not legal. So David Coleman met with Bill Gates, and Gates agreed to pay many millions for the writing of the standards, the implementing of the standards, and a very large media buy (e.g. major newspapers like NYT, professional periodicals like Education Week, and “contributions” to the two national teachers unions)in order to convince the public of their worth.

        Meanwhile, No Child Left Behind was at the magic date when schools had to reach 100% proficiency in math and language arts or be fined from the federal government. Of course, 100% proficiency was impossible, given students with disabilities and English language learners plus chidden who suffered the effects of poverty and racism, so officials in the states were nervous. States could get relief from the sanctions of not meeting the NCLB 100% proficiency if they adopted the as yet unwritten standards. Adopting the standards also became a requirement to apply for Race To The Top money from the federal government. So a year before the standards were written, most of the states adopted the Common Core “State ” Standards although no person in any state had any idea what those standards would be. Virginia, the state in which Arne Duncan’s children are in school, did not adopt the standards.

        So the national standards were born funded by private money, conceived in ignorance, and “bought” for financial reasons by the states. Good education was not in the picture. Neither was democracy.


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