The depressing idiocy of the Common Core

David Coleman
 As readers of this blog are already aware, the Common Core standards for English Language Arts were designed by a man named David Coleman, a former McKinsey consultant who was hired by the Gates Foundation and never taught a day in his life.   

Coleman has now prescribed for the nation’s schools that at least 50 percent of all assigned reading in grades K-5 must be “informational text” rather than stories, plays, poetry or other types of imaginative literature, and 75 percent "informational text" in grades 6-12. 

All but four states have now signed onto the Common Core and Coleman’s rigid instructions. Goodbye to novels or other sorts of reading that will fully engage a child’s imagination! 

In a recent EdWeek article about how school districts are preparing for these new curricular demands, Josh Thomases of the NYC DOE is quoted as follows:

 "Most teachers are not taught how to teach reading," he said. "Teachers, especially secondary teachers, need help figuring out what they're going to do to pause long enough in the teaching to have students grapple with text describing the real world. That's our task.

"It's not so much that we have the wrong materials in our schools, but [it's] actually figuring out how to structure classrooms so we speak to text and kids are using text in conversations with each other and are grappling with the meaning of text. We can do that with the texts at hand," he said.

"In the longer term, yes, we need to make sure that by the end of high school, students are reading science journals," Mr. Thomases continued. "But right now, just simply the act of reading the science textbook and absolutely making the textbook—rather than the teacher—generate the answers. ... If we did that in every classroom across America, we would see very different outcomes."

Make the textbook generate the answers?  Isn’t that rather reductionist?  Why would that help students learn or teachers teach?  

But if the new push for informational text won’t necessarily help our kids, it will clearly make a lot of money for textbook companies, already earning huge profits off the expansion of standardized testing.

According to Edweek, NYC DOE is now “talking with publishers to "push the vendor community" to create a literacy curriculum it considers reflective of the common standards.”  And:

Pearson, for one, is including more "content-rich nonfiction" material in its K-12 programs, said Mike Evans, who oversees math and reading products for the New York City-based education company. In an upcoming revision of its Reading Street program, a 4th grade unit on patterns in nature includes text selections on tornado sirens and the migration of Arctic terns. Supporting materials walk teachers through ways to help students "unlock" those texts, Mr. Evans said in an email.

Designers working on a new digital curriculum in a joint project of the Pearson Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation aim to reflect the new standards' emphasis as well.

…..Last summer, Scholastic launched Everyday Literacy, a K-6 program that incorporates brochures, catalogs, menus, and other text types, and includes suggestions for ways teachers can walk students through the elements in each type of text, Mr. Daley said.  This spring, it plans to launch XBOOKS, a print and digital middle school program with strands on such topics as forensics, which will explore DNA analysis and fingerprinting.

Florida's Broward County school district is spending $787,000 to put a new Scholastic program, Buzz About IT, into all its K-2 classrooms in response to the new standards' emphasis on informational text ….

Joanne Weiss
 In a much-cited article in the Harvard Business Review by Joanne Weiss, Arne Duncan's chief of staff and formerly head of the "Race to the Top" grant program, that held out the promise of funding to cash-strapped states if they adopted the Common Core, she wrote how the new regime would simplify and enlarge the demand for entrepreneurs to create products aligned with the new, national standards:  

The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.

According to her official bio, Weiss also has no teaching experience, but started her career as Vice President at a company where she "was responsible for the development of nearly 100 multimedia curriculum and assessment products for K-12 schools."  

The inherent denigration of fiction is seriously misguided, in my view and many other parents and teachers.   Here is a recent NY Times article showing how reading fiction stimulates children's brain in ways that other types of reading do not.

According to one study of preschool-age children, “the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind”.  As a cognitive psychologist notes, “Fiction…is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”

Even if one agreed that our children should be assigned “brochures, catalogs, and menus” rather than novels or plays, there seem to be grave problems with how the teaching of the Common Core is being force-fed to educators.

Today’s Answer Sheet features a compelling critique by Jeremiah Chaffee, a New York State teacher, of the Common Core’s pre-packaged and scripted lesson on the Gettysburg Address, which tells teachers, among other things, that their students cannot be asked to read the piece in advance (to mimic testing conditions), and “forbids teachers from asking students if they have ever been to a funeral because such questions rely on individual experience and opinion.”

It also instructs teachers to ““avoid giving any background context” because the prescribed Common Core’s close reading strategy “forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all.” 
Lincoln at Gettysburg

 As Chaffee notes, “How can anyone try to disconnect this profoundly meaningful speech from its historical context and hope to “deeply” understand it in any way, shape, or form?”  

(Here is the CC “exemplar” on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on the NY State Education Department's website, in case you’d like to check it out yourself.) 

Words cannot describe how sad it is that the education of our nation's children will be narrowed and distorted because of the massive wealth and influence of the Gates Foundation, and the US DOE’s successful effort to bribe states through Race to the Top to adopt these absurd prescriptions and methodologies.
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