Were Common Core’s ELA Standards written by charlatans? Sure seems so.
By Sandra Stotsky | June 16, 2016, 6:25 EST
To bypass statutes forbidding the federal government to develop national standards, two private organizations—the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)—in coordination with Achieve, Inc., a private organization established by the NGA and business officials in 1996, agreed to develop Common Core’s standards. Expenses for managing the project were defrayed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, another private organization. In the absence of information from all these private organizations, it seems that Achieve, Inc. and the Gates Foundation selected most of the key personnel to write the standards. We do not know why.
The “lead” writers for the grade-level English language arts (ELA) standards, David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, had never taught reading or English in K-12 or at the college level. Neither has a doctorate in language or literature. Neither had ever published serious work on K-12 curriculum and instruction. Neither had produced literary scholarship or research in education. In 2010, they were virtually unknown to the entire field of English and reading educators and higher education faculty in rhetoric, speech, composition, and literary study. The absence of relevant professional and academic credentials in the “chief architects” of Common Core’s ELA standards helps to explain their major flaws, including:
1. Most of Common Core’s college-readiness and grade-level reading standards are content-free skills. For example, one “anchor” standard is: “Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.” The grades 11/12 standard “clarifying” this anchor standard is: “Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.” This so-called standard is really a free-floating skill because it can be applied to “The Three Little Pigs” or to Moby-Dick.
Why does this matter? It matters because skill training in the absence of significant literary/historical content doesn’t prepare kids for college, career, or critical thinking.
2. Common Core’s ELA standards stress writing more than reading at every grade level. Every experienced teacher knows the foundation for good writing is good reading. Students need to spend far more time in and outside of school reading in order to improve reading and writing in every subject. Common Core’s lead writers got it exactly backwards.
3. Common Core’s writing standards are inappropriate at many grade levels. Most elementary children have little understanding of what “claims,” “relevant evidence,” and academic “arguments” are. How did this get by the hundreds of state department of education reviewers?
4. Common Core expects English teachers to spend at least half of their reading instructional time at every grade level on informational texts. Common Core lists 10 reading standards for informational texts and 9 standards for literary texts at every grade level, reducing literary study in the English class, in effect, to less than 50 percent. However, English teachers are not trained, either by college English departments or teacher preparation programs, to teach information on either contemporary or historical topics. Reducing literary study in the English class in order to increase informational reading retards, rather than promotes, college readiness.
5. Despite claims by its proponents, Common Core’s standards are not “fewer, clearer, and deeper.” They appear to be fewer in number than those in many states only because many objectives are bundled incoherently into one “standard.” Some objectives are simply classrooom activities.
Thomas B. Fordham Institute reviewers in their own 2010 review of state standards noted how poorly conceived Common Core’s ELA standards are. They pointed out their deficiencies, noting that there is an “overwhelming focus on skills over content in reading combined with confusion about the writing standards.” Yet, Fordham still gave these standards a B+.
Why did reporters, state boards of education, and state departments of education not notice the many deficiencies in Common Core’s ELA standards? Is it because they don’t know how to analyze a set of standards in ELA by themselves and instead rely on analysis by an organization that received millions from the Gates Foundation in recent years to promote Common Core?
No professional academic organization (such as the Mathematical Association of America or the Modern Language Association) has to date evaluated Common Core’s standards. We do not know why. If they had, they surely would have told us that Common Core’s ELA standards are not rigorous and do not prepare students for college-level work. They would also no doubt have noticed that Common Core’s ELA and mathematics standards are not internationally benchmarked and will not make our students competitive.
In November, Massachusetts voters will have a chance to weigh in on whether to eliminate Common Core’s standards and the tests based on them. If voters reject Common Core, that means MCAS 2.0 (currently in the works) cannot be based on Common Core’s English language arts and mathematics standards, which were adopted by our Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in July 2010. MCAS 2.0 would instead have to be based on the state’s superior pre-Common Core standards.
In the meantime, our governor and state legislators should require the teaching faculty in Bay State post-secondary institutions to decide on admission standards in reading and mathematics for their institutions as well as the contents of credit-bearing courses for freshmen.