Monday, December 19, 2011

Correction or Over-Reach?

Maja Wilson & Thomas Newkirk:

This model of reading (used by the Common Core standards) seems to have two stages—first, a close reading in which the reader withholds judgment or comparison with other texts, focusing solely on what is happening within the four corners of a piece. Only then may readers pay attention to prior knowledge and personal association or engage in interpretation and critique.

This is a good critical commentary on Edweek, but it may be too soft. There's really nothing in the Common Core that requires attention to prior knowledge at all, interpretation is highly circumscribed, and depending on your definition, critique may not be included at all.

Robert Pondiscio refers to this as a "an overdue market correction," and it certainly seems like David Coleman sees it that way too, but the biggest risk to these standards is oversteering, that the correction is more extreme than the problem. This is attributable to a few factors:

  • Standards in 2011 have a much stronger impact on classrooms than ever before. In how many English classrooms will teachers be evaluated (retained, paid) in part on whether they've got a standard written on the board that is clearly and directly related to what is going on in the classroom (to a non-English teacher)? 60%? 75%? These standards come with a compliance mechanism unlike anything we've seen before.
  • The real decisions weren't based on New Criticism vs reader response or any ideas about literature or reading, but what kinds of standards yield assessment tasks are objective and computer scoreable.
  • The pushback (which the authors probably expected) from English teachers and other interested parties which would have pushed these standards into a more well-rounded compromise never happened because NCTE and and everyone else decided to sell out to Gates and/or hope that they'd somehow win in the long run through the "seat at the table" strategy.

The thing is, it isn't easy to modify standards. They tend to just fail and be replaced frequently, so the over-reach here is not likely to pay off for Common Core advocates in the long run.

Time for the second half...

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